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!