Friday, December 17, 2010

Tangled: A Feminist Film Review

A Guest Post by Whitney

Last Friday, I saw Disney's "Tangled" with my husband.  I thought it was a pretty good feminist-y movie, especially considering that it was a Disney princess-type movie. Because I am lazy, I have written my review in bullet-point form:
  • Rapunzel's father (the king) cries on Rapunzel's birthday as he remembers his kidnapped daughter.  It seems like usually in these kind of movies, you see the mom crying and the dad consoling her; but here, it's the other way around.  Win!  Men can express emotion, too!
  • Rapunzel sews and bakes, but she also reads, does astronomy, and paints like no other.
  • She is so awesome with her hair!  She ties the male protagonist up, lets herself down from the tower, and climbs everywhere.  Seriously, it's very impressive.  She can do just about anything with that hair--it's not just for show.  
  • Rapunzel ends up with short hair!  Okay, that's just a little thing, but have you ever seen a Disney princess with a pixie cut before?  Even Mulan had longer hair!
  • So yeah, the mom is the bad guy because she's vain/wants to be young forever, blah blah blah.  But I don't know how they could have had a male villain or some other way for the mom to be the villain without straying too far from the original.  But at least she gets some jokes.
  • The frying pan proves to be a superior weapon compared to the sword!  This might be getting a little too psychoanalytic, but I saw the frying pan as symbolizing a kind of feminine/transgressive power, while the sword represents traditional masculine power.  I just thought it was neat.  You don't have to be a swashbuckling dude to kick butt.
  • Her story and her adventure starts not because the guy "whisks her away" or something; but rather, she plans and schemes: she catches him breaking into her tower, and strategically decides to use him to reach her goal of seeing the flying lanterns on her birthday.
  • Spoiler alert: in the end, she's not 'saved' because of her compassion, but in spite of it--her compassion might actually have been her downfall.  Unlike other movies/fairy tales where a woman's only redeeming quality is self-sacrifice, this ending suggests that self-sacrifice isn't always such a good thing--or at least that it's not solely the domain of women.  Men can be self-sacrificing too!  (Didn't want to reveal too much here.  Go see the movie if you want to figure out what on earth I'm talking about.)
  • I liked the ambivalent nature of how it shows her mom's and her relationship when Rapunzel leaves the tower for the first time.  She feels guilty, but MAN is she happy and excited and brave!
  • She doesn't get married at age 18!!!!
  • In my opinion, the relationship was not even really a central feature of the story, but rather a sub-plot.  The main plot was getting away from her mother, figuring out her actual identity, getting to the flying lanterns she wanted to see.
  • I felt like it was good and feminist because it was a major improvement from how Disney usually is.  Also, overt sexism did NOT distract me from what was otherwise a visually appealing, witty movie (as it usually does).  And that is really saying something.
  • Even the rich, hypermasculine stereotype is challenged--the male protagonist reveals his true name/identity, as an orphan, and she says she likes him better than the fictional (hypermasculine) character that he aspires to be like.  
  • In the end, i think it makes a good case for women's 'proper place' NOT being just in the home, but out in the world/public sphere!  I'm not sure how you could get any other moral out of it.  Even in Mulan, after she saves China, she ends up returning home, and (we suspect) marrying the army captain guy, instead of taking a job with the emperor.  In "Tangled," the movie's premise is centered around the idea that it's wrong and horrible to expect a woman to spend her whole life at home.
  • When the male protagonist breaks into her tower, she kicks his butt; she stands up for herself in the bar; and she stands up to her mother in the end (about having been kidnapped).
  • At the end of the movie, SHE dips HIM and kisses him.  (I always hated it when guys would dip me.  If I want to kiss you, I am going to kiss you, so just let me stay on my own two feet.)
  • Body image stuff:   Okay, so Disney's not breaking down any boundaries here.  Also, infantilization much?  Rapunzel's face is that of a two-year-old.  
  • So, I'm not very good at remembering specifics, but I DO remember not getting angry at seeing her needing rescuing again and again and again.  It seemed like mostly she was able to save herself, and the guy didn't save her a whole lot.
  • In the bar, Rapunzel and the guy (Flynn) meet a whole bunch of rough guys.  They sing a song about how everyone's got a dream: the one tough guy says to Flynn, "Your dream stinks," referring to his dream of getting rich.  The other tough guys have dreams of becoming mimes, finding love, being a pianist, becoming a baker--and one made little tiny unicorns.  Even tough guys have nuance and feminine qualities!
  • Rapunzel's animal companion is Pascal the chameleon.  Pascal is super cute, and is possibly named after Blaise Pascal the mathematician (suggesting that Rapunzel is a math nerd like me, though that could just be me reading too much into it).  Pascal can't talk, and I felt like that was a good thing (feminist-wise), so he couldn't show her up and become the hero (remember Mushu the dragon in Mulan?) 
My points are random and some are not very significant. But still, small wins!  And when it comes to Disney princess movies, any hint at feminist ideology is a HUGE win. And if nothing else, it at least passes the Bechdel Test:

Whitney is a graduate student studying sociology.


  1. Thank you so much! That told me exactly what I needed to know.

  2. This is a very good analysis of Tangled from a feminist perspective.Apart from that as a married feminist, I do appriciate if you tell about "some" people what is feminism and not(Because some think that if you are a feminist you are against men in your life as husband, boyfriend, brother, etc.)
    Thank you.

  3. I don't think she looked like a two year old rather it was an attempt to do a big eyed anime style face on a 3D character which usually ends up being awkward in it's execution.

    Other than that I agree with all your points, I quite liked the movie.

  4. "...I saw the frying pan as symbolizing a kind of feminine/transgressive power..."

    I've just seen the movie for the first time. I think the frying pan, while it was a good gag on several occasions, was the only thing that bothered me in terms of feminism. She used it well but at the end of the day it's a kitchen implement - not a positive message IMO.

    There's also the question of why she chose to arm herself with that rather than the dagger that was in the draw that we saw at the end of the movie!

    1. But that's the author's point - it's a kitchen instrument, but it's not being used for traditional (anti-feminist) purposes. She is "taking it back," so to speak. And she uses it because as it turns out, it's a great tool. Flynn even talks about how he needs to get one!

  5. I do agree with the terms of your points you had put here in your blog. The one thing I was bothered by was at the end when Flynn cuts off Rapunzel's hair. Rapunzel should have saved Flynn, THEN cut off her own hair by saving herself and getting rid of Mother Gothel. Also it is true that Flynn had to be saved by Rapunzel (more than once), but I was bothered when Rapunzel was singing with the thugs in order to get Flynn and herself out of trouble. In other words, the movie is saying when your about to be robbed or your in trouble, it's easy to get rid of your troubles by just singing or explain to other person of what's going. That's mostly it, but this is one of my most favorite movies of all time. (^-^)

    1. Sorry I just have to say that repunzel didn't start the song with the thugs, she asked them if any of them had ever had a dream and one of the thugs said yes, and started the song. Sory but if it's one of your 'most favorite movies of all time'you need to watch it again and pay better attention because obviously you don't know the movie that well.

    2. There was no indication that they were about to rob or harm her. They were a group of thugs. From an anti-classist perspective, I thought it was great to show that the "thug" stock characters were more 3-dimentional, and that even "low class" people or ruffians have dreams, goals, and personalities, not just main characters or royalty.

  6. I have only a few issues with your review one; you kept calling Mother Gothel the mum, she wasn’t repunzel's mother. Yes, Repunzel called her that but that’s how she was brought up by Mother Gothel who took her as a child because she possessed the flower that has kept her young. Mother Gothel was the 'evil person' and the queen is Repunzel real mother, which either a) didn’t notice or b) just failed to mention here. Two; Vlad COLLECTS doesn’t make COLLECTS ceramic unicorns. Three; she does get married at 18 they just don't SHOW it they SAY it at the very end just after Repunzel dip-kisses Flynn\Eugene. Four: you kept saying how this movie is not overly sexist because of repunzel’s character being so 'kick-butt' and not all 'damsel in distress' but you failed to mention the fact that she was a princess BEFORE Flynn. She doesn’t marry into royalty, unlike every other Disney princess who marries into their 'princess' title.
    And lastly don't assume things; she doesn't change into a stay at home wife, which you would know if you had ever seen Mulan two since the 1st thing you see is Shang proposing to her so yes she eventually gets married but she still saves China's butt again at the same time.
    Just saying