Disney’s Tangled is a 2010 animated film loosely based on the German fairytale “Rapunzel.” The story begins with a golden flower containing special healing powers that has been used for hundreds of years by a witch called Mother Gothel to retain her youth. When they flower is taken to heal the ailing queen of a nearby kingdom, its powers become apparent in the queen’s daughter, Rapunzel. Gothel then kidnaps her from the kingdom and raises her as her own in an isolated tower. As Rapunzel grows older, she longs to see the world outside of the tower, but Mother Gothel claims it is too dangerous. The rest of the film follows Rapunzel and her journey of escaping the tower and finding out who she is really is. Tangled contains both positive and negative messages that can either empower children or expose them to dark topics when they are simply seeking entertainment.
At first glance, it is the typical Disney princess film: the princess has a problem, gets help from some of her animal sidekicks, and a prince comes to save the day. While some of these elements are apparent, Tangled contains several elements of feminist ideology as well. For example, Rapunzel cooks and sews – which is the typical female role – but she also reads, paints, and it interested in astronomy. Thus the film makes the argument that women shouldn’t spend their lives at home all of the time and encourages young children to want to explore their world. Tangled even passes the Bechdel test! Rapunzel’s relationship with her mother is fairly complicated – which is a whole other issue in the film – and they discuss much more than just men. The relationship between Rapunzel and Flynn Rider, the male protagonist, is not even the central focus of the story, but rather a sub-plot. The main focus of the plot of the film was Rapunzel escaping her mother, figuring out her actual identity, and getting to the flying lanterns she had always wanted to see. And while she and Flynn help each other throughout, it is Rapunzel who ultimately saves Flynn in the end. Overall, this is a positive message to young female viewers that women can be interested in more than the stereotypical female hobbies, are allowed to do more than remain inside the home, and don’t need a man to save them; all of which is a significant change from earlier Disney princess films.
Tangled displays some darker themes as well, which we see in the relationship between Rapunzel and Mother Gothel. Gothel kidnapped Rapunzel from her parents – the king and queen – soon after she was born and raised her in isolation for her entire life. Rapunzel suffers emotional abuse from Gothel in the form of derogatory and threatening comments. Gothel consistently shuts down Rapunzel’s dreams so that she and her magic hair don’t attempt to leave. Examples of this are seen in the song “Mother Knows Best,” where Gothel tells Rapunzel that she is “sloppy, under-dressed, immature, clumsy…gullible, naïve…and ditzy,” making her believe that she would not survive on her own. And the only reason Gothel wants to keep Rapunzel close is because her hair keeps Gothel young; she doesn’t actually love her as her own child. In addition, Gothel puts Rapunzel to work and makes her complete chores all day long before she can do anything she wishes to do. Kidnapping and emotional abuse are intense topics to present to children at such a young, impressionable age. In some households, parents turn off the TV when such themes are presented. Mother Gothel is arguably Disney’s scariest villain because what she does is so real.
While the emotional manipulation and abuse was overarching the entire plot of the film, incorporating new feminist themes into the film was a big leap forward for Disney and has a much stronger impact on the young viewers. Regardless of the darker theme, the film was still very successful and earned $591 million worldwide. Thus, I would rate it 3.5 stars for the positive feminists themes and minus 1.5 stars for the dark abuse theme.