So, I guess I'm the only person in the country who wasn't amazed at Tangled. As my eleven-year-old daughter said when asked whether she liked it, "It's just another Princess movie." And, if you have any doubts as to how strong the Disney Princesses brand is, note that when my three-year-old saw a picture of Peter Pan the other day, he said, "That's the guy from Tinkerbell."
So, what's wrong with another Princess movie? Not much, but it is 2011 now. Is the only story line available one that features a naive female teenager, preferably royalty or lost royalty, who has been secluded most of her life venturing out into the big old world, hopefully with the help of a worldly older male? The only part of this story that we seem willing to change is that the male lead no longer has to be a prince; he can be a rogue, a la Shrek. Is this still a viable story? Do we still think it charming to watch young beautiful girls puzzle over how a fork works or mistake lanterns for stars? Well, I don't. I'm waiting for the movie where the world-weary older girl takes the naive young guy under her wing, without getting shot a la Les Miserables.
OK, I'll go ahead and get my other complaint out of the way. The premise is sick. (Maybe the title should be Tower, like the current bestseller Room.) Maybe fifty years ago it was quaint thinking of royal parents lovingly letting their daughter be raised in a cottage in the glen by kindly women who lie to her for sixteen years for her own good (Sleeping Beauty), but the premise in Tangled is a little too Elizabeth Smart for me. A baby is stolen from her crib by an old crone and put in a high tower. The only way in or out is Rapunzel's hair (though our dashing rogue seems to get up there just fine). But Rapunzel is kept in the tower not by force, but by psychological torture. The crone, who poses as her mother, tells her that the outside world is horrible and dangerous and that she must remain in the tower for her safety. (We gloss over the fact that the crone comes and goes as she pleases.) And, Rapunzel must sit daily while her faux mother brushes her hair, restoring her mother's youth through the magic of the hair, which disappears when the hair is cut. The crone is not overtly mean to Rapunzel, who seems to have her material desires and needs met, but she definitely manipulates her to keep her prisoner. She doesn't demean Rapunzel or humiliate her, and Rapunzel would say that she has a happy life, but from the outside it is very, very creepy. I was really squeamish to see Rapunzel run to get the hairbrush so the crone could hurry up and get her fix.
If we can put the stereotype whining and child abuse kidnapping thoughts aside, then the movie is enjoyable. The songs are fairly catchy; the characters are likable. The basic narrative has Rapunzel being squired by Flynn/Eugene the rogue to see the annual release of the lighted lanterns before the crone returns from a 3-day trip. (No one seems to realize that the lanterns are being released in honor of the missing princess' birthday, which also happens to be Rapunzel's birthday.) Rapunzel has a very infectious joie de vive, etc. She also has incredibly long hair. For those of you non-animators out there, animating long hair with a computer is more difficult than splitting the atom. Note how Shrek's Fiona always has that braid? That's why. But Rapunzel has no braid; she has yards and yards of hair. And she never trips over it or seems to get it caught much. She carries it when she runs, and usually this is out of view for us so we won't get too worried about how she is running so fast with all that hair. The hair is reason enough to go see it.
I can almost forgive the movie everything for one, spectacular scene. Our heroes are at an impasse. Flynn/Eugene is dying, and the queen has Rapunzel in the tower once again. Rapunzel bargains with the crone to let her heal her true love with her hair and in return, Rapunzel will stay with the crone forever and never run away. As she bends to heal him, the only postmodern act in the movie happens, and it's very liberating. Let's just say that none of us should be a slave to our hair!
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