Disney’s First White Princess in 20 Years: Tangled’s Rapunzel
As I said in yesterday’s post, I love Tangled. It was initially conceived in 2003, released in 2010, and follows the adventures of a young princess who doesn’t know she’s a princess (Rapunzel), and a decent guy pretending to be a ruffian (Flynn). I never really liked the original fairy tale. I found it boring. In this version they actually explain how it’s possible for hair to grow 70 feet (it’s magic). I find Rapunzel the most human and relatable of all the Disney Princesses: she obsesses over small things, get anxiety and fears the big wide world.
However, Rapunzel’s fear is entirely from an outside influence. She’s been raised to fear the world outside her tower for eighteen years. Her mother figure sings an entire song about all the frightening things waiting for her out there, including men with pointy teeth, poison ivy, quicksand, the Plague, cannibals… not only using the outside dangers, Gothel insists that Rapunzel is too “Gullible, naïve… Ditzy and a bit, well, hmm vague…” to handle herself out in the real world. And then just to top off her fear and insecurities, Mother Gothel guilts Rapunzel into staying locked up in her tower by reminding her that she’s the only one Rapunzel’s got, that she raised and loved and fed and nursed Rapunzel and that wanting to leave the tower is no way to repay someone who sacrificed everything to keep her safe.
Rapunzel, being the good, dutiful, domestic daughter that she is, succumbs to parental pressure and submits to Mother Gothel’s will. Even in the event of Flynn Rider climbing her tower and intruding on her solitude, her first reaction is to keep herself safe by interrogating him to find out if anyone else knows her location. This is the blazing start of Rapunzel’s bravery. She locks Flynn in her closet, impressed with how she handled the situation, and tries to explain upon Mother Gothel’s return that she’s been underestimated and she can look after herself. Mother Gothel, of course, scares Rapunzel into backing off, but Rapunzel appeals to Gothel’s motherly nature by asking for a birthday gift that will take some time to acquire. Now that her mother is out of the way, Rapunzel can talk freely with the ruffian locked in her closet.
Once Rapunzel and Pascal realise Flynn isn’t there to steal, cut, or sell her hair, the unknowing princess comes up with the bright idea that Flynn can escort her to see the floating lights/lanterns she’s watched from her window every year on her birthday for her whole life. Of course she needs a guide: she’s so wary and intimidated by the outside world, and her mother’s disapproval, that she needs any kind of help she can find. Blackmailed, Flynn agrees to escort her. Now Rapunzel is able to take the first step out of her tower in eighteen years. This is where she really begins to shine.
First she has a crisis of conscious, which I pretty much find hilariously funny, in which she struggles with her desire for freedom and her wish to keep her mother happy. She outwits the thugs who want to claim the reward on Flynn’s head by appealing to their better nature, she escapes when the guards chase her and Flynn through a dam and she rescues Flynn as well. The two get trapped in an underwater cave, and while Flynn now genuinely seems to care for her, she is, once again, the one to save them with her magical hair that glows when she sings. Who needs an escort? Oh yeah, Flynn does. Rapunzel has rescued him numerous times by now, and healed his injured hand. Seriously. Flynn doesn’t do any rescuing in this film at all. That’s how cool Rapunzel is.
And then they see the lanterns, which is Rapunzel’s lifelong dream. It’s so pretty. It’s been compared to Bell and Beast’s ballroom scene in Beauty and the Beast. And yes, this is when I start crying. in my defence, it’s because I identify so strongly with Rapunzel and I’m so emotionally involved in the film and also, I only cry when there’s that shot of the King and that single tear running down his face… eighteen years later and he’s still torn up over losing his baby girl.
Unfortunately, things have to end up going bad somewhere. I mean, a film needs conflict, right? Otherwise we’re watching a film where nothing happens, there are no stakes, there’s nothing to be worried or concerned about… you know, the exact reason Stephenie Meyer wrote James the vampiric tracker into Twilight, so there would actually be something at stake beside Edward Cullen’s virginity.
Mother Gothel is a crafty villain. I don’t often write about the villains in these Disney posts because I focus on the princess, but Mother Gothel often gives the impression she genuinely cares for Rapunzel – I think it would be hard not to care for someone after raising them for eighteen years but hey, some parents here in the real would should be sterilised or licensed or something. Gothel manages to outwit Flynn’s allies/nemesis into working for her to dispose of Flynn, and convince Rapunzel that she was wrong about the world, that Gothel was right, and that everything would be better if Rapunzel just returns to the tower and pretend her little adventure never happened.
Rapunzel falls into some sort of depression over Flynn’s sudden ‘betrayal’, but she quickly has an epiphany and figures out that she’s the lost Princess the lanterns are lit for… I mean, they share a birthday, a name, the same golden hair and the same enormous green eyes, why did no one else notice Rapunzel was the missing princess? Mother Gothel should have been smart enough to rename and give the princess a new birthday when she kidnapped her, really. I have a hard time Flynn didn’t make the connections necessary but I resolve this by believing Flynn is from an entirely different kingdom and doesn’t know this essential information. When Flynn escapes his captors and comes after her – finally, to rescue her – he is abruptly killed by the very woman Rapunzel trusted her whole life. So yeah… when Rapunzel tries to rescue thing, she’s successful like seventy billion times but Flynn? When he tries a rescue, he gets killed.
But fear not! Rapunzel can heal injuries with her hair. Cool, right? Except that Flynn, having figured out the entire situation, cuts off her hair before he dies in her arms. Now there is no reason for Rapunzel to stay in hiding, and as an added benefit, Mother Gothel does the typical Disney Falling Villain death. But still, after all the pain and fear and betrayal, Rapunzel can’t help but reach out to her. Because she’s a lovely princess.
Turns out that it’s not just her hair that’s magical. Her tears are, too. in fact, her tears can bring the dead back to life. So Flynn is resurrected – thank goodness not as a zombie – and they go to royal castle and Rapunzel is welcomed back as the lost princess and everyone lives happily ever after.
Posted on August 31, 2011, in The Wonderful World of Disney and tagged Disney Princess, feminism, film, gender, movies, Rapunzel, stories, Tangled, Writer, Writing. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.