Tangled was my last movie received from Netflix. It’s Disney’s version of Rapunzel, the girl with the super-duper long hair. The cast was okay, with Rapunzel played by Mandy Moore, former pop idol, and her love interest played by Zachary Levi, of Chuck fame.
As is Disney’s habit, several changes were made from the original text. Rapunzel was not the daughter of a poor couple living near a witch. And Eugene, her Mister Right, was not a prince, however charming he may have been. The witch stole Rapunzel from her royal parents to make use of her innate magic, instead of making the parents hand her over to satisfy a devil’s deal. These changes, as well as certain elements included in the story developed into a much more pro-feminism storyline than is normally packaged in Disney princess movies.
Multiple times Rapunzel in reinforced as a more modern woman. Not only is she spunky, she’s capable and seeks to fulfill her own desires. (Unlike Cinderella, who has her own desires, but refuses to do anything about them, or Mulan, who is obviously capable, but is more focused on protecting her family and denying herself in the process.) Rapunzel is persistent in her goal, not losing hope when denied, but finding another route.
She defends herself consistently, finding a weapon she is capable of wielding, but that also is a symbol of her emerging self: a frying pan. Traditionally a woman’s tool, the frying pan in question looked to be a cast iron model, also known as a brain-basher. When you hear those stories of an abused woman finally going crazed on her dirt-bag husband, she’s usually brandishing this particular implement because it is hand, heavy, and can very easily do a lot of damage.
There is a delicious sort of irony that a prop like a skillet is used to injure, even potentially kill, a man who has harmed women. A woman using a woman’s tool to rage against the male-dominated world. Rapunzel turns this on it’s head though, as she doesn’t just use it against the patriarchy, or a man; this is her tool against everyone.
She also is able to use her hair, which Disney has imbued with magic powers, to defend, heal, and change the world around her. It is her great gift, the ultimate symbol of her womanhood. It is as much a hindrance as a help, though. She can use it to move things around her, or to make others happier, but it ultimately also trips her up when she’s in danger, and causes her more stress than I would consider worthwhile.
At the end of the movie, Eugene takes Rapunzel’s hair by force, a violation she was unprepared for. He does it to save her, but also to keep her from over stepping her rights to make a decision for himself. But by that act, she isn’t just saved, she’s also set free. She is of no use to the witch, who is quickly dispatched, and is able to find her way back to her parents to join them once more. You would think that this would be a setback, but it seems to be more of a natural progression.
It’s like this: I originally likened her hair to virginity when I saw this scene. That was my immediate gut reaction, the violence and savagery of the moment actually hurt me. But the more I thought about it, the less it was about sexuality and more about adolescence. Her hair wasn’t just womanhood, it was a perception of womanhood. It was her status as a girl, a female child who had yet to experience real pain or despair. Yes, she had been locked away for so long, but she never really found herself wanting for anything but maybe a bit more attention from her (supposed) mother and a walkabout every once in a while.
Eugene is seriously injured, really dying literally in her arms, and he makes the choice to refuse her help so that she will be better off. This sacrifice is the most pain Rapunzel has ever had to deal with. By losing her naivete, she isn’t harmed, not really. She’s just put in a position to grow.
From that point, she’s able to move away from the sheltering mother figure, and begin her way back to her parents. The closing monologue from Eugene makes it apparent that she spends years becoming a kind and wise ruler, and then, years later, chooses to marry Eugene. She doesn’t fall into the decision, it was made knowing herself as a capable adult, a powerful woman.
All in all, I’m actually quite proud to see what Disney put forth with this film. The message I see is one that I would feel comfortable passing to my daughters and sons.