Disney's Tangled: Fun, But Not Feminist

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Nov. 23 2010 11:27 AM

Disney's Tangled: Fun, But Not Feminist

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Disney's take on the story of Rapunzel, Tangled, is out tomorrow. We'd hate for you to be unprepared.

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Go yourself, or send Grandma? Go yourself, absolutely. Take Grandma. Tangled is fun, fast, and even a little unexpected, and there's nothing not to enjoy (once you get past the completely unnecessary 3-D glasses).

But what about the boys? Boys, too. Disney's aimed Tangled pretty squarely at the boy market, obviously figuring that girls would see it no matter what their long-tressed heroine did or didn't do. Tangled 's "prince" is no prince at all, but a snarky thief named Flynn with a heart of gold and a narrative voice to match. (What is it with Disney and good girls who reform bad boys?) The film is told largely from his point of view (about which more later) and also features a bar full of thugs and mal-doers of every sort and a decent dose of gross humor. In fact, other than Rapunzel and the evil witch, every single character of note is male.

So can we have a big feminist debate about the message of Tangled ? Why, yes, yes we can. I know why the narrator is the male lead, of course (see above), but really, why does the narrator have to be the male lead? Why can't Rapunzel tell her own story? Other than the whole marriage-as-happy-ending thing, Flynn's character could have been a girl and Rapunzel's daring escape from her tower and her realization that the woman she called "Mother Gothel" wasn't her mother at all could have been one big girl buddy movie. The fantastically fierce horse sidekick could have channeled Sue Sylvester instead of Sylvester Stallone, the adorable chameleon could have had a whole lot more shades of pink. Girls could very easily have ruled this one. The Little Mermaid , The Princess and the Frog --those are fairy tales where the narrative necessarily leads to romance. Rapunzel could escape her tower without male help, and her destiny didn't have to be marriage. But that's not the movie Disney made.

Will Tangled teach my daughter that a girl in a tower needs a rescuing prince? "Teach" is a strong word, and it's not quite the rescue you may be imagining, but we can't deny that that's ultimately what happens. Flynn doesn't set out to rescue Rapunzel; in fact, she has to force him to take her along. But his appearance does set her tale in motion. Disney creates Rapunzel as a girl who believes her "mother" keeps her in her tower to keep her safe, to protect her from an evil world where she will be too weak and kind-hearted to survive. Rapunzel doesn't want to escape; she just wants to satisfy her curiosity about the lights that float above the water outside her window every year on her birthday (lanterns sent up in her memory by the king and queen). It's a psychologically sound premise (Rapunzel with Stockholm syndrome) that makes the story stronger, but no one could call it girl-power. When Rapunzel gains strength, she doesn't use it to defy the witch and take her rightful place in the kingdom, but to offer herself as a sacrifice for the life of Flynn, whom she's come to (this is really hardly a spoiler, but spoiler-alert just the same) love. In the end, Flynn has to save her from herself. For a heroine who's out to fulfill her own dreams, go back to The Princess and the Frog . That's not this Rapunzel's story.

So, girly message, prince who saves the day--why should I see Tangled again? Because it's still a really good story. It's funny. It's clever. You know the ending, of course, but you may not guess how they get there. I didn't. Tangled isn't a girl-power movie, or even a classic princess fairy tale, but a romantic comedy of errors about a mismatched couple that's better than any of the live-action versions that have come out in years. See Tangled not for its message but for itself. Have fun. Have popcorn. Enjoy.