Friday, August 26, 2011

Tangled: Rapunzel gets the princess treatment

(I'm moving posts from my old blog host so they are all together. This originally posted Aug 26, 2011)


There is a ton of buzz about the movie “Tangled” right now. The previews make it look completely adorable, and everyone I’ve talked to loved it, so I decided to give it a go. I was definitely disappointed in the adaptation of the story of Rapunzel.
Let me start by saying that there was a lot to like about the movie. It was well drawn, the music was beautiful, and the characters were fun to watch. I loved the scene in the bar where all the rogues and rapscallions revealed their secret dreams, and I love the chameleon.
Rapunzel is one of my favorite fairy tales, though, which may be why I was disappointed with “Tangled”. I love it mostly because of the questions that swirl around my head about the motivations of the characters. The parents of Rapunzel seem thrilled to be having that baby. So what eager mother could have a craving so bad during pregnancy that she would be willing to give up her child to fulfill it? What doting husband would allow her to make that promise, or make that promise himself? Then there is the witch. Wow. I always shake my head in amazement at her overprotectiveness over her stolen daughter. What could have happened in her own life that would lead her to believe that the best way to protect that beautiful child is to lock her up away from the world forever?  Preserving innocence is a noble goal for a time, but there comes a point when we need to allow our children to grow beyond us. These questions just beg a back story – and one of these days I’ll write it.
“Tangled” took the complexity of the human spirit away from the tale. Rapunzel’s mother wasn’t satisfying an extreme craving, she was dying. The plant she sought wasn’t just a bit of greens – it was a magical cure. And it wasn’t stolen from a neighbor, because it didn’t really belong to Gothel. “Tangled” took away all the moral ambiguity from the start of the tale.
Gothel’s simplification was also disappointing. Rapunzel wasn’t the witch’s one way to take on a motherhood role – she was a source of life prolonging magic. So she wasn’t valuable enough as just a child to love? She needed to be the cup that held the fountain of youth? There was no question of why she was overprotecting the child, it was entirely selfish. I wasn’t left with nagging questions about Gothel’s own childhood or background, in an attempt to understand her motivations. It was all spelled out for me, with agonizing clarity.
Rapunzel was more of a mixed blessing. There were some wonderful things about her. She was a lot more spirited and intelligent in this adaptation than she is in traditional tales. The fact that she was royalty irritated me a little bit (does EVERY heroine need to have royal blood? Sheesh!), but the fact that she isn’t rescued by a prince – he joins HER family in the end – made me feel a little bit better about that. But let’s talk about her eyes. She is eighteen years old, and her eyes make her look like a toddler. Yes, it emphasized her sheltered innocence, but eighteen is an adult. I think her childlike hobbies would have been more than sufficient to make the point.
Now, I get the fact that movies for kids – especially animated ones - try to make things as “black and white” as possible. But it’s a disservice to them. Kids need to learn that humanity as a whole is beautiful and broken –at the same time. There are no unblemished heroes. There are no souls so black that they don’t have a glimmer of light within. Snape from Harry Potter is a perfect example of this. Wondering about the real motivations of the characters is – to me – a great way to help us learn to empathize with the real humans who surround us. Making the good guys too good, or the bad guys too bad, just interferes with the depth of the tale. 

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