Tangled: Going Beyond the Disney Princess Mold

Official Disney poster for Tangled
Official Disney poster for Tangled

**SPOILER ALERT: Key plot details revealed**

By Valerie Martin

The new hit Tangled – Disney’s 50th animated motion picture – is in many ways what you would expect from a Disney princess movie: the beautiful, thin, white, green-eyed, blonde-haired heroine waits for her life to begin (AKA waits for her prince or other good-looking savior to come), guy comes along and rescues her, they are endangered by dark forces but their love ultimately prevails, and they get married and live happily ever after in a castle. Thank heavens for the dashing (and criminal) Flynn Ryder, or Rapunzel would have stayed in that tower forever and never gotten to discover the outside world! Kind of a tired plot, right? Perhaps. But if you write it off at that, you’re missing something.

To begin with, Tangled is a visually beautiful, laugh out loud, feel-good flick that’s hard not to like, if you can live with the Princess formula. As Disney made very evident in the film’s trailer, they wanted to tone down the “girliness” of the Brothers Grimm tale and appeal to more boys, which is why Rapunzel’s name didn’t even make the film title. After Princess and the Frog fizzled at the box office last year (though critically acclaimed), Disney decided that Tangled, which was in production for three years before it hit theaters, would be its last fairytale princess movie for the foreseeable future as the company focuses its efforts on bringing more boys to the theater.

Veronica at Viva La Feminista commented,

“Hopefully this means our girls can be girls again and not perpetual princesses.”

So aside from following some of the typical Disney groan-worthy gender and cultural stereotypes, what does set Tangled apart from your typical princess film?

Actress and singer Mandy Moore
Actress and singer Mandy Moore
  • Instead of a faceless voice like those behind many of the classic Disney princesses, Tangled’s Rapunzel is voiced (including songs) by the charming and talented Mandy Moore. Despite her start as a 15-year-old blonde, bubblegum popstress in the late ‘90s, Moore has grown into an impressive, inspirational young woman who, unlike the majority of the pop starlets of her era, did not starve to an unhealthy weight under the pressure of fame, bare it all for Playboy, or earn a reputation as a partier. Instead, she worked hard to become an award-winning actress and singer with quite a diverse résumé. The choice of Mandy Moore for the role of Rapunzel was right on.
  • Rapunzel not only sings beautifully– a Disney princess requirement, of course – but she is also a gifted painter and not just a gifted homemaker like Snow White or Cinderella. This important distinction was also evident in the Princess and the Frog with Tiana, chef extraordinaire.
  • Flynn may be good-looking and charming – but he is no rich prince, unlike so many Disney love interests. Instead, he is more like your Aladdin or your Beast (well, pre-Prince) – and it’s the authenticity and rough edges underneath his self-important, tough exterior that Rapunzel likes about him.
  • Near the beginning of their journey outside the castle, Flynn brings Rapunzel into a pub full of the surliest, most dangerous-looking “thugs and ruffians” you can imagine, attempting to lure her back to the castle. Instead of falling for his bait, she connects with the tough-looking, knife-yielding men and asks them if they, too, have ever had a dream – resulting in one of the movie’s most touching (and hilarious) tunes.  Tangled shows that even these “thugs” – many of them balding or fat or with hair where it doesn’t belong – have dreams and soft personalities that go far beyond what the viewer might think upon first impression.
  • At the end of the film, Rapunzel actually has the power to save Flynn’s life, not the other way around. Sure, there is a sacrifice involved, but at that point we all know there’s no way she’ll end up locked in the tower forever. (Love conquers all – at least in Disneyland.) When Flynn stealthily cuts her magic hair to keep her from potentially sacrificing her freedom, Rapunzel’s long blonde locks are transformed into a short, brown pixie style – magic-free. It is in this brown pixie cut that we see Rapunzel and Flynn live happily ever after – a nice, at least somewhat diverse, refresher from the princess norm.
  • Last but not least – this Rapunzel can wield a frying pan as a deadly weapon like nobody’s business!

Here at Adios Barbie, we like to examine news, issues, and pop culture not only about body image specifically, but also about how the media portrays people. Certainly, Disney has a long way to go before it receives any awards for body image, gender equality, or cultural sensitivity – but Tangled is a step in the right direction. If you haven’t seen it already, make sure to put this one on your must-see movie list for 2011.

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5 thoughts on “Tangled: Going Beyond the Disney Princess Mold

  1. I loved Tangled for all these reasons and more! Rapunzel fits the typical Disney mold of kind and sweet young woman, but she also has varied interests (guitar, painting, reading, etc.), has a hilarious sense of humor, and is brave and pretty-darn take-charge!!

  2. Nice, job, Val! And the fact that it has a happy ending isn’t too much of a spoiler, since it IS a Disney movie!

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