Over the last several years, the week between Christmas and New Year’s has become an orgy of media consumption for me. A not insignificant part of the reason for this is that I usually spend the week visiting with my partner’s family in Ohio. Since she and I are both non-drivers, our activities here are usually governed by factors we can’t control, which means we spend a lot of time watching DVDs at the house and a decent amount of time going to movies that we — or at least I — wouldn’t ordinarily see.
Tangled was one such choice, although Patty had gotten me excited about it via her favorite movie blog (sorry, dude, I don’t actually know what it’s called, so no shout out) when we were in Cardiff in the fall. For me, even the faintest desire to go to this thing was pretty odd as I tend to go for wrenching drama over family fare and I claim, despite my parents being artists, not to have the receptor sites for animation.
So when I tell you that you should stop what you are doing and go see Tangled immediately, you should absolutely listen to me. If you’ve seen any marketing for it at all, you know it’s the Rapunzel story. And if you’ve paid any attention to that marketing you may have walked away with the sense that the boy is an idiot and the girl falls in love with him anyway and isn’t that just revolting?
Well, that’s not what happens. It’s more like Rapunzel is Buffy Summers. She’s super feminine, and she doesn’t want to make her mom sad (okay, her mom turns out to be evil, and Joyce was never evil except when she was a fake Joyce), but dammit, she wants to leave her tower, even though it seems scary, and see these lights that have been calling to her, her whole life. And how’s she going to do that? Well, a thief named Flynn Rider (odd and confusing after having seen Tron: Legacy a few days ago — who wants to write me that crossover?), who’s sort of super competent but complete crap at applying that competency, has just stumbled into her tower. She’ll get him to help, and so they set off on an adventure.
And this is where, despite entirely forgettable songs Tangled becomes completely awesome. Because it’s not a story about a scared girl in the big bad world. It’s a story about identity, and the gulf between who we are and who we want to be and how we get caught up in stories and use them to make and remake ourselves. It’s also a story that absolutely celebrates physicality, both in the slapstick way one expects from animation and in a simple, real, glorious and human way as Rapunzel sees the world outside of her tower. The dancing in this film, especially in the one musical number without words, really does feel like dancing, to the point that for someone like me it was hard not to be up on my feet in the theater.
What’s perhaps most remarkable about the film, however, is how much the tyranny of Disney gender roles almost isn’t in play. And it’s not a simple reversal either. Both our lead characters have traditionally male and female traits. The boy isn’t weak for being gentle and liking stories. The girl can defend herself physically, but isn’t held up as, or worse, vilified as, a tomboy (hence the Buffy Summers comparison). And while other people keep framing Rapunzel and Flynn’s interactions in the context of relationship stuff, it’s really the B story.
At the end of the film, the two do live happily ever after, and for half a second, Disney does the most daring thing I could have possibly imagined in a Disney film, and it made me want to stand up and cheer. However, after a pause, the characters inform us it’s a good-natured joke. Weirdly, though, I still wanted to stand up and cheer, because for Disney it was a revolution.
I often walk out of films wanting to conquer the world. I don’t often walk out of films wanting to do it wearing a dress.
Run, don’t walk, to this one.