[As with any discussion of a movie or book, there’s always the possibility that something I say might be considered a spoiler.]
I saw Tangled, Disney’s take on “Rapunzel,” a few days ago. As it turns out, birthdays and aging help move the plot along, so it was entirely appropriate that I saw this movie on my birthday. It was the best kind of children’s movie: one that an adult can enjoy, and I noticed that I wasn’t the only woman in the audience unaccompanied by children. I didn’t see a male of any age in the audience. That’s not surprising, given the movie, but really, they’re missing out on something. And the movie got a PG rating. Wow. I didn’t know the Disney princess movies were allowed to get anything stronger than a G, although I think the end of the film was just fine the way it was and would’ve been insipid if it had been softened to G standards.
I suppose it’s the mark of a good film that you keep thinking about it after you’ve left the theatre. In my case, thinking about a film often leads to me analyzing it to the point of sounding like I hated seeing it. Not true. In the days after I saw Avatar, there was so little there beyond the (absolutely gorgeous) surface that there was nothing for me to think about at all. I thought Tangled was doing well in the beauty department as well. Oh sure, Rapunzel herself is pretty, but it’s other things, like how the flowers looked in her hair or the rough surface of the cast iron skillet or the sight of all the lanterns rising over the water, that left me thinking maybe I’ll buy this when it comes out on DVD. But anyway, as the days pass, a few points have come to mind about the film, probably none of which Disney intended me to think of.
The Penal Code
It’s a good thing Rapunzel went out, had her adventure, and learned a little about the nastier side of life. She’ll need that experience when she becomes queen years from now. After all, as we can infer from the film, this kingdom has a death penalty for theft and no guaranteed right to a trial, fair or otherwise. Presumably Flynn will be working to modify those laws. I know, I know—for drama’s sake, you need a threat to Flynn that children can understand instantly, and the prospect of a trial followed by several years of imprisonment is a little hard to convey symbolically. Nor can you have a hero who’s committed the sorts of crimes that often receive the death penalty: who wants to see Rapunzel fall in love with a murderer? Now despite the lack of constitutional protection, all the subjects appear reasonably happy and healthy, and the king and queen seem quite nice and not like power-crazed despots. But if Gothel had survived to see Rapunzel’s return to the kingdom, what would the penalty have been for kidnapping the heir apparent? Probably something that would’ve cost the film that PG rating.
Under Mother’s (and Father’s) Watchful Eye
Oddly, even though she was confined to a tower for the better part of eighteen years, Rapunzel may have been freer there than after she returned home. For whatever reason, it sounds like Gothel gave her a fairly well-rounded education and didn’t really care how she spent her days as long as it didn’t damage her hair and she didn’t leave the tower. Yet everything I’ve ever read suggests that the life of a princess is terribly constrained. She’d probably get to continue painting—and I’m guessing she won’t miss the housework—but what if she enjoyed cooking? And no more wild adventures! Only days after she’s laid eyes on a man and she’s fallen in love with one who happens to be on a ream’s worth of wanted posters . . . yes, that’ll reassure her parents no end. Gothel locked Rapunzel in a tower because she didn’t want to lose her personal fountain of youth, but after having lost their child for years, what are the chances that the king and queen will ever let her out of the castle without an armed guard ?
The Aging Dilemma
Admittedly, if you’ve just spent an entire film using the fear of aging as the villain’s primary motivation, then you probably want to depict aging as a scary thing. But would it have been so bad to make the queen look old enough to be her mother rather than her older sister? Yes, a delicate streak of white in her hair would probably have been too much to ask, although I think it could have worked as something to show that the queen—the good mother—wasn’t insanely terrified of what clearly pushed Gothel—the bad mother—over the edge. I suppose my seeing this on my birthday didn’t help matters. I figure the queen might be semi-close to me in age. I assure you, I do not look that young. Honestly, they didn’t have to make her look like a fairy godmother (what passes for a positive view of feminine aging in a Disney movie), just not like she was in her twenties.