Disney princesses, who doesn’t love them? Since Snow White’s debut in 1937, the ‘Disney Princess’ line has become a $4 billion franchise, whose merchandise includes everything from miniature ballgowns to designer handbags…for a mere $2.49 one can even purchase their child a personalized phone call from the princess of their choice.1 They’ve become an icon worldwide, representing the dreams of every little girl, the love of which is passed from generation to generation.2 The latest figure in this royal lineup is Rapunzel, Disney’s first CG princess and the heroine of their 50th animated classic, Tangled.
Most of us are probably familiar with the old fairy tale by the brothers Grimm. While the original tale was a pretty poorly written story, Disney has rearranged it a bit, applied their expert craftsmanship and added a dose of modernity for good measure. The plot line is still similar- a beautiful girl is kidnapped by an old hag, locked away in a hidden tower, the hero finds and rescues her, and they all live happily ever after. This time, though, Rapunzel is a princess whose hair possesses magical healing powers- an impetus for our old hag, Mother Gothel, to keep her locked away. And, instead of wandering around in misery and despair, Rapunzel and our hero, Flynn Rider, go on a grand adventure. Sounds pretty innocuous, right? Well, not exactly. The film is filled with beautiful imagery, delightful characters, great humor, and a story that never drags, but as I walked out of the theater last week, my thoughts were on a different vein. It was, in fact, the film’s perceived harmlessness that made it so disturbing. To be sure, there are a number of things to pick on- from thugs delivering sermons on the basic goodness of man, to magic droplets from the sun god, valley girl vernacular, and much more, but the most troubling parts of the film were the overarching themes.
As this new-fashioned fairy tale unfolds, we’re treated to an interesting commentary on homemakers and why these captives to domesticity are setting themselves up for eventual disenchantment. In spite of the fact that Rapunzel has been locked away from the world and dominated by a sugary sweet despot, we find her a delightful, adorable girl, with a zest for learning and a creative flair. Eventually, though, she wearies of the monotony. Though it’s a mockery and misrepresentation of homemaking, it holds an interesting element of truth. When life is divorced from a larger dominion purpose, the eventual result will be frustration and misery.3 Rapunzel was disheartened because even her more useful skills had no point beyond filling her time and whiling away the hours.4 The real problem here is that, within the world of the film, we’re only given two options, two choices in life- both of which are unsuitable, but one of which is deemed acceptable by its creators. The first, obviously, is for Rapunzel to stay in the tower trapped forever in a life of childish meaninglessness. The second is presented shortly as Rapunzel, in turmoil over her choice to run away, is advised by Flynn,
“Does your mother deserve it? No. Would this break her heart and crush her soul? Of course, but you just got to do it…..This is part of growing up—a little rebellion and a little adventure. This is healthy.”
This is the first major sermon statement of the story, and from here things spring into action as we’re shown, for the remainder of the film, that chronic rebellion is innocent, healthy fun, and disobedience in pursuit of our heart’s wildest desires actually leads to enlightenment and maturity.5 Biblically speaking, maturity isn’t defined by the childish assertion of our autonomous wills, but rather by a life lived in terms of God’s Word.6 What Tangled doesn’t tell little boys and girls, is that there is a third option of dealing with the situation in Biblical maturity and wisdom, or that the Bible paints an entirely different picture of the home and its purposes. Instead, Tangled only teaches that behind door number two lies all the adventure we’ve been waiting for. Of course, we could overlook this because, after all, Mother Gothel is really just a wicked captor bent on using Rapunzel for her own ends. But, the fact is that Rapunzel’s actions are carried out in the understanding that this is her mother and it’s really not until the last few minutes of the film that she finds out otherwise. Theirs is the relationship which is modeled throughout the film as mother/daughter. Parents are sinners, just like their children, but one person’s sin doesn’t excuse the sin of another.7If we’re prepared to say that Mother Gothel’s sins are inexcusable, we must be prepared to say the same of Rapunzel’s.
But the story marches on, and we find that rebellion has its rewards as romance fills the air. We also find out that children’s movies are a great way to ensure a break down of morality in the future. We see this in a number of ways- running away from home with a complete scoundrel, camping out in the woods with said scoundrel, an unbiblical view of love, emotional enticements (e.g. smolder), and also, within the dialogue.8 In the beginning, Flynn steals the tiara of the missing princess (Rapunzel) in order to fulfill a utopian, childhood dream. The tiara bounces around until it comes into Mother Gothel’s possession and as she confronts Rapunzel, the lines read like a teenage romance about losing one’s purity. Mother Gothel tells Rapunzel that the only thing Flynn is after is the tiara and as soon as he gets it, he’ll leave her. Then later, after they’ve ‘fallen in love’, Rapunzel tells Flynn that she has something to give him(the tiara)- she was scared to give it to him before, but she’s not scared anymore. Though we’re talking about a tiara now, we won’t be in a few years as similar lines are heard in teenybopper films. To a great extent, the things that we watch and listen to as children are the most influential in forming our character and worldview, in defining who we’ll become as adults. It’s those who control the education of children that will control the future of nations.9 But, education isn’t merely academics, all of culture is educating and it, in turn, flows from underlying religious beliefs. Tangled is schooling its viewers in the acceptance of immorality.
It’s no surprise then, when we find that our hero is really nothing of the sort. Even among his fellow thieves, he commands no respect. Then again, Rapunzel doesn’t appear to be in much need of rescuing anyway. Their relationship is one of mutual, self-serving interest. He’s a helpless, sensitive, emotional male- an accessory to the capable, brilliant, amazing Rapunzel. And, because she’s an emancipated princess who knows how to get her man, in the spirit of Indiana Jones she wields her 70 foot hair, pulling off all kinds of daring feats and rescues. But, as the film climaxes, we’re assured that this is all okay. As Rapunzel is offering to rescue Flynn one more time and give her life for his, he pulls a clever move- picking up a shard of broken glass, he cuts off her magical hair, sending the wicked Mother Gothel spiraling into old age and oblivion and assuring us that we modern women can have our feminism AND the heroism of men(of course, Rapunzel’s magical tears do have the last word since they’re required to bring the now deceased Flynn back to life.)
In the end, Rapunzel is finally reunited with the king and queen and as the film closes, we discover some final lessons- that good governments reward sin and indulgent parents are real parents. Flynn is embraced, his thievery ignored, and welcomed, as Rapunzel’s new husband, a prince in their kingdom. His fellow thugs realize their dreams, too, and all of this was achieved, of course, without good character on anyone’s part; by the end of the film, we’re left without a single good role model in sight. The credits roll and that’s The End.10 Or is it? While the intellect may recognize danger, a film that appears as innocent and adorable as this delights the emotions. We exit the theater and, as our bodies go back to the real world, our minds are still in false one. In this make believe world, freedom is equated to license and duty to bondage. But, this so called freedom is nothing more than bondage to sin. The reality is that we live in a world governed by a sovereign Creator and only a life lived on his terms leads to blessing and freedom.11 Tangled is aptly called a fairy tale, because in the real world sins have their rewards and a life of unmitigated bliss is not one of them. Packaging all of this in a humorous, expertly crafted children’s film is ingenious, really. As such, it is heedlessly given the stamp of ‘wholesome entertainment’ and we, leaving our discernment at the door , imbibe the beliefs of a culture that is at war with God. Among children, though, one brilliant exhibition isn’t enough. They’ll consume it, again and again, until, through sheer repetition, their souls are imbued with depravity.
All photos copyright Disney.
3 An interesting discussion on dominion can be found here.
4 It is interesting to note that the things Rapunzel does are considered by many as quintessential traits of stay at home daughterhood. (Not recommended for young readers) Here is an excellent article on the wise use of time.
5 This is youtube, click at your own risk.(Tangled soundtrack,’I See The Light’)
6 Jer. 1; Ex. 3-4; “Man was created a mature being, not a child. This is a fact of central importance. We thus cannot make child psychology basic to an understanding of man…Humanistic psychology looks backward to a primitive past in order to explain man, whereas Biblical psychology looks neither to the child nor a primitive past to explain man but to a mature creation, Adam, and to God’s purpose in man’s creation…Man’s sins and shortcomings represent not a lingering primitism or a reversion to childhood but rather a deliberate revolt against maturity and the requirements of maturity. By ascribing to man, as humanistic psychologies do, a basic substratum of primitivism and racial childishness, this revolt against maturity is given an ideological justification; the studied and maturely developed immaturity of man is encouraged and justified. If man is reminded rather that he was created in Adam into maturity and responsibility, his self-justification is shattered. It has become commonplace for persons seeking counselling to discuss, not their problem, but their childhood, their parents, and their environment in order to “explain” their present “situation”, that is, their failure. The fact of mature creation is one of the basic and most important facts of a Biblical psychology. It is a fact of incalculable importance.” Revolt Against Maturity-pgs.6-7, R.J. Rushdoony
7 Eze. 18
8 Jn 14:21; “Love is a living active principle of obedience to the whole law.” Matthew Henry, Rom. 13:10; “Love works no ill to the neighbor, and love means the keeping or fulfilling of the law in relationship to other men. Love is thus the law-abiding thought, word, and act. Where there is no law, there is also no love.” Institutes of Biblical Law, vol.1, RJ Rushdoony
9 “He alone, who owns the youth, gains the future”-Adolf Hitler; “Give me just one generation of youth, and I’ll transform the whole world.”-Vladimir Lenin; Deuteronomy 11:18-25
10 This, fittingly, is what plays as the credits roll. Again, this is youtube, click at your own risk.(and watch the volume, it’s a little raucous)
11 Romans 6