Click to read Part 1 (Snow White), Part 2 (Cinderella), Part 3 (Aurora), Part 4 (Ariel), Part 5 (Belle), Part 6 (Jasmine), Part 7 (Pocahontas), Part 8 (Mulan), and Part 9 (Tiana).
We're down to the last three entries into this series. We've also come to one of the most popular modern Disney princesses, Rapunzel from 2010's Tangled. It is at this point that I realize that it's been seven years since that movie came out, so there are children in second grade who weren't born yet at that time--and that is odd to realize since I feel like this is still a new movie.
Because they came out just a year apart, Tangled and The Princess and the Frog gave us the opportunity to analyze some things about what audiences liked. Of course, I was still preferring traditional animation at the time, so I preferred it to the computer animation of Tangled--but most people were latching onto computer animation at this time. There seemed to be a preference for the generic Medieval fantasy setting, as compared with TPATF's fairly modern New Orleans setting. Then, even with its less modern setting, Tangled had a more modern style, even in its one-word title. And while I thought that Tiana was a wonderful character and role model, it was Rapunzel that everyone instantly loved and wanted to go meet at Disneyland (they built a whole tower in Fantasyland for her) and it's Rapunzel that I still see people in their twenties dressing up as.
I'm in danger here about making this a post simply about my inability to see why people love Rapunzel so much in particular--when I'm supposed to be analyzing what she does or doesn't offer as a character in the Disney princess lineup. There is, though, some crossover between the two concepts.
For instance, I know one thing that people like about Rapunzel. They like that she sticks up for herself. She hits Flynn with a pan when he climbs into the tower, then ties him up and questions him. She finds a way to reach the ruffians at the pub instead of being intimidated by them. Etc. But let me return to that frying pan--it kind of bothers me. In the past, fiction has shown women using pans as self-defense because it's the only thing they have access to or are able to wield. So I'm not exactly sure I want to praise a modern character's self-defense that is so heavily reliant on the traditional frying pan. Then again, part of the point of Rapunzel's character is that she is repressed by Mother Gothel. If her "mother" keeps her locked in this tower, then doesn't it make sense that she also encouraged Rapunzel to cultivate such gentle hobbies as cooking and painting instead of anything that might border more on independence and self-defense? So the reliance on the frying pan and the continued shock Rapunzel has about her own bold actions make sense within the story--but I find myself wondering why we're running through these same old themes while supposedly using a modern approach.
The fairy tale of Rapunzel is basically a coming of age, loss of innocence, and facts of life story. It's basically all about pregnancy and birth and ah, marriage. So how do you translate that into a "modern story?" By switching the birth bit to motherhood (through both Rapunzel's mother and Mother Gothel) and continuing to emphasize the relationship that forms between Rapunzel and Flynn.
We end up, then, with a character who has this growing sense that she is missing something. The lanterns call to her because they represent the parents who are looking for her--and the lies that Mother Gothel is telling her, in particular that she is her mother. That's a very weak place for Rapunzel to begin, as a person, so I suppose it is telling on her decision to be strong that she manages to overcome the obstacles keeping her from the truth. Against her "mother's" word, she leaves the tower. She finds the lanterns. She finds her parents. She falls in love with Flynn, and he helps her overcome the bondage that Gothel has placed her in. Interesting to note there: when Rapunzel's ready to vow to stay with Gothel just to save Flynn, he's the one who cuts off her hair and thereby forever saves her from Gothel or anyone who would try and use her again in that way. So even though Rapunzel took it into her own hands to discover the truth, she needs help to get out of the situation she's in. I don't mind characters getting help from each other; I just see this as what people generally complain about concerning Disney princesses, even though it's coming from one of the most popular of the group. So that I don't really get.
I also don't get Rapunzel's style. She has a very pop voice, both in speaking and singing. It makes her sound too pre-teen to me, even though she's supposed to be turning eighteen and not twelve.
Now, the previous princesses had all been introducing a new race or hair color, so Rapunzel was the first since the fifties to have a look that had been done before. That is, Cinderella was a blonde back in 1950, as was Aurora in 1959. While Rapunzel is technically a brunette, we see her blonde for almost the entire movie and she's always portrayed with her signature blonde hair in marketing because the long, golden hair is quintessential to the story of Rapunzel (even though Once Upon a Time did give Rapunzel black hair and it worked just fine, so sometimes things that we think are irremovable from a story actually aren't). I'm not saying that this is a bad thing because it isn't; I'm just making note of it.
Rapunzel is intended to share her story with Flynn Rider, and they do so in a similar way to Aurora and Philip in Sleeping Beauty--except that Rapunzel and Flynn have conversations and Aurora and Philip just sing and dance in the woods. Let me note here that the "Once Upon a Dream" sequence makes sense because it's at the beginning and shows them falling in love. But "I See the Light," while a very nice song and a beautiful scene, makes less sense because it takes places towards the end. Yes, they see the light because they realize they've fallen in love, but the song is arranged in the movie as if it's when the plot begins to resolve. So is the movie saying that their stories resolve because they fall in love, rather than simply showing the falling in love as part of the story? These are just questions that I ask.
Have I come to no conclusions at all this time? Don't misunderstand me, I like Tangled (after "When Will My Life Begin?" ends, that is). And I don't really mind Rapunzel's character; it's just certain things that bother me when I begin to overanalyze. That is, she was never my favorite Disney princess and I don't like her more as time goes on (possibly I like her less), so I don't find her the most interesting addition to the mix. She's more of a neutral, super-animated CG character who doesn't need my praise to be herself and to be loved by the masses.
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