Disney’s ‘Tangled’: Feminism and The Big Dorky Review

It finally happened: a quirky, interesting, active, BLONDE Disney Princess.

By the time I watched Tangled, I felt like I’d been waiting my whole life to see it. I mean, come on – Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty are so excessively passive that they were practically catatonic (and you can take that literally for Sleeping Beauty).

And then Rapunzel came along, and I did that thing that I always do with Disney movies: I over-identified. Massively. (Apparently other people grow out of that after their childhood? Huh.)

It’s not just the blondeness, although it helps.

Rapunzel is smart, despite her naivety. She’s a scientist (an astronomer, at least) and an artist – the first Disney princess to be an artist, I believe (correct me in the comments if I’ve forgotten one though.) She has about a bazillion hobbies. She has a lot in common with Ariel from The Little Mermaid – my first Disney favourite, and that can’t be a coincidence. Both fairytales are about a girl coming of age (and, yes, sexual maturity), and in both cases the heroine has agency: the plot is driven by the choices she makes. Ariel chooses to become human; Rapunzel chooses to leave her tower.

Hijinks ensue.

(For an excellent article on feminine agency in Disney films and Tangled in particular, please refer to this piece at the Analytical Couch Potato.)

Bare feet touching the ground for the first time - you can't deny the mermaidy-ness of it all!

I have a whole ‘nother essay (perhaps several) to write about The Little Mermaid, so I’ll focus on the little nuggets of feminism within Tangled for now:

1. Tangled passes the Bechdel Test.

For extra marks: discuss other classic Disney films with reference to the Bechdel Test in the comments. Do any others pass?

*/teacher moment*

2. It’s totally about a girl losing her virginity.

Well, kind of. A surprising number of Grimm’s fairytales can be seen to revolve around this issue.

When Mother Gothel gives Rapunzel the crown, she sings [sarcastically]:

“Rapunzel knows best, Rapunzel’s so mature now
Such a clever grown-up miss!
Rapunzel knows best – fine, if you’re so sure now
Go ahead, then give him this!
This is why he’s here! Don’t let him deceive you!
Give it to him, watch, you’ll see!
Trust me, my dear, that’s how fast he’ll leave you
I won’t say I told you so…”

[emphasis mine].

Read that (or better yet, watch the clip) and tell me she’s NOT totally singing about Rapunzel’s virginity. Yeah. That’s what I thought.

This isn’t a pro-feminist thing, necessarily, but anything that even touches upon issues of female sexuality – even in a completely subtle and allegorical sense – gets to count as ‘feminist’ just by virtue of existing in the medium of children’s entertainment.

3. The King cries.

When we see the King and Queen mourning the loss of their daughter, it is the King who is emotionally distraught and the Queen who is stoic. How many kid’s films show a grown man crying – not as the object of laughter and ridicule, but with dignity and real feeling?

(Big hat tip to ‘The Ferret’ who also wrote about the King crying and made me yell “Yes! That! Exactly!” at my computer screen.)

4. The Frying Pan.

Refer to DVD cover above.

The frying-pan-as-weapon gag is a recurring one in the movie. Now, Flynn Rider is obviously the ‘Cool Guy’ in this film. He is dashing and handsome and witty, and at one point he stands there holding the fying pan, staring at it in amazement and exclaiming, “I have got to get me one of these!”

You got that? The Cool Guy. Wants a frying pan.

Subliminal messaging? Check. Encouraging young boys to see a stereotypically ‘feminine’ object as something other than what it traditionally symbolises?

Yes, please!


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. moonmanmad
    Jun 29, 2011 @ 01:12:45

    Was the princess the one who ultimately saved the day, or did the man save her? If she wasn’t the hero in the end, then all of the stuff you’ve pointed out could simply be Disney’s idea of parody. Which would be sad, of course, but unsurprising. And I’m wondering why you’re not vilifying Disney for making the protagonist a princess (and therefore part of the moneyed, oppressing elite) rather than a peasant.


  2. Jen
    Jun 29, 2011 @ 09:25:29

    I’m not going to vilify Disney for telling a fairytale. Princesses are fairytale fodder – as are fairy godmothers, absent parents, quests and magic objects. It’s a stylised genre.


  3. moonmanmad
    Jun 29, 2011 @ 15:46:51

    While princesses might be “fairytale fodder,” I’d like to point out that this is not a fairytale; it’s based on a fairytale, but it’s a modern film that’s been produced and distributed to the world, and it’s doing what films do: it’s presenting a certain moral perspective for (in this case) young people to emulate. In fact, you applaud this aspect of it by raving about all the positive lights the female hero of the story is shown in. But, as I pointed out, you neglect to comment on the fact that at the same time it blithely ignores the fact that the hero comes from a station granted to her by birth right, not by individual merit–which is something I thought was a bit of a bugaboo with you liberals.


  4. Acacia Pepler
    Jun 29, 2011 @ 16:37:12

    Well, I find Rapunzel a bit vapid, personally, and much prefer Tiana from Princess & the Frog who is poor and dedicated and EARNS her way. But the “Princess” story has been something that girls are taught they should aspire to, and while yes it has issues – particularly the fact that we should aspire to be [beautiful pampered princesses and not powerful queens – if we protested everything then we would just be called humourless bitchy feminists, we really can’t win.


  5. Jen
    Jun 29, 2011 @ 18:46:09

    A princess in a fairytale is not the same as a monarchy in the real world. Being “the princess” in a fairytale is just ascending to the highest level possible (in the societies and cultures in which fairytales originated). It’s a metaphor of self-actualisation, and doesn’t actually have anything necessarily to do with money or power. It’s a symbolic position.

    K (Acacia) is right too – I didn’t start this blog to bitch about every tiny thing that’s wrong with the world… It’s called seriously WHIMSICAL for a reason. You learn to pick your battles. 😉


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