Disney created what I consider to be a feminist masterpiece about a young woman who, despite consistent psychological abuse and torture (even though she doesn’t recognize it as such), overcomes her own ignorance and anxiety to succeed in the world and achieve her dreams. Here’s why.
1. Rapunzel is ignorant, but not stupid.
Rapunzel, at first glance, could be mistaken for stupid. Just as Mother Gothel says in her song “Mother Knows Best”, Rapunzel is “sloppy, underdressed…and getting kind of chubby.” But the film makes the astute point that these are qualities that would be shared by anyone literally trapped in a tower their entire life.
When Rapunzel finally gets out of the tower, she navigates run-ins with all the goonies chasing Flynn with a certain ease. She is surprisingly resourceful, armed with only magical hair and a frying pan. The point is that these are qualities that Rapunzel always had inside of her and if she wasn’t LITERALLY LOCKED IN A TOWER, she would’ve been able to cultivate them even more.
2. She gets a man to do her bidding, and doesn’t use sex to do it.
Now, this might not strike a lot of other people as super feminist, but I think it’s downright inspired that Rapunzel coerces Flynn (by means of frying pan) to take her to see the lights. It’s inspired for a couple of reasons.
First, it means that she knows what she doesn’t know. Her confidence and determination in getting to the lights doesn’t turn into arrogance or forgetting that she has no idea what she’s doing. She knew she wouldn’t make it alone. She assessed her goal, targeted her ignorance, and created a solution.
Second, she doesn’t do this, as so many Bond women do, for instance, by promising Flynn sex. She does it on the condition that she will release him from the tower. She literally turns her harrowing experience in captivity on its head and promises him the same if he doesn’t help her accomplish her goal. That flips gender norms so hard it’ll make your head spin.
3. The song “I’ve Got a Dream” totally bashes hyper-masculinity.
The scene with the giant ruffians in the bar seems to play out exactly like Mother Gothel said that it would. Rapunzel is unprepared to deal with the scalawags and degenerates of society, and seems to be in over her head. That is, until they all begin singing.
First, at her prompting, everyone in the bar is forced to admit that the front they put up of being tough bar scoundrels is exactly that – a front.
“Paul would like to quit and be a florist, Gunter does interior design.”
The second way the song bashes hyper-masculinity is in the reactions to Flynn’s “dream.”
Everyone in the bar is thoroughly unimpressed with his desire to be on an island, “tan and rested and alone…surrounded by enormous piles of money.”
Tangled exists in a society that tells men that masculinity is all about sexual conquest and making money (and, to a lesser extent, having a great body.) I’ve Got a Dream crushes that and says that manhood is about the courage to follow your dreams, and to make those dreams worth having.
4. Flynn puts personal relationships over material gain.
This one makes my heart all warm. Even though Flynn has created his whole identity based on money, when given the opportunity to screw Rapunzel over for the crown, he doesn’t do it (even though Mother Gothel convinces her that he did. Which is what evil Mother Gothels do.)
To me, there’s a strong parallel here between the ideas of motherhood often seen in movies, the ones that say the greatest achievement of motherhood is putting aside personal gain for relationships. The mother will give up a high-paying or glamorous job opportunity to be with her children, and in the movie she’ll be lauded for it, while in society, we say it’s good because she’s back where she belongs, anyway (in the kitchen.)
Tangled transfers this idea to the man. It says, “Hey, what if it was okay for the man to put aside his aspirations of wealth for a personal relationship? And what if it didn’t make him any less of a man?”
Tangled is a masterpiece for creating men and women that function like they ideally should, and for challenging norms that have come to be accepted in society, but don’t bear out in reality. It’s one that I will watch over and over.
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Photographer: Rodrigo Suárez