Monday, November 22, 2010

'Tangled': The Disney Movie I Needed As A Kid...

It shouldn't be a secret that when I was a kid, I was enamored with the Disney Princesses. Maybe more accurately, it was Ariel from The Little Mermaid. I dressed as her one year for Halloween; I was probably five or six at the time, and it was a harsh fall in New York City in which my mother was worried about me wearing such a skimpy outfit walking around the streets at night, so she made me don a flesh-colored turtleneck underneath the shell bra. I put up with it.

I also put up with the fact that my birthday cake that year was supposed to be Ariel but the people at Carvel only heard "mermaid" and ended up sending a sexy fish-lady with no shell bra. Thankfully my mother noticed that before the other parents at the party did, and she managed to smear some of the green, scaly frosting on her chest to give the illusion of a bathing suit top.

Meanwhile my parents put up with my obsession to learn every word and every note from both the movie and the soundtrack, rewinding the cassette twenty times a day to nail each and every part of "A Part of Your World", fighting paper-thin walls and a tone-deaf kid. They put up with my incessant whining about how I wanted the old blue carpet of my earliest days back in my room to simulate water. And while they were at it, I wanted my walls painted blue, too, so it was like I was living in the ocean. Instead, they placated me with a movie poster, which hung on the wall across from my bed so each bedtime I could say good night to my first true love, Prince Eric.

My mother loved the magic of Disney as much as I did, though for very different reasons. She would marvel over the spectacle and talent behind the animation; she loved the creativity behind talking animals and the re-telling of Grimm's (and sometimes grim) fairy tales. She wasn't someone who read too deeply into these movies (or any, really); she preferred to just let them fulfill the entertainment angle. So it wasn't her seeding that I began to resent the image Disney set up when I was in my teenage years and realized that in each and every tale (even the ones that finally featured princesses of other ethnicities) had the princess being too naive or gullible or otherwise falling into a ridiculous spot of trouble and then relying on a prince to save her.

Well, not anymore.

Tangled opens this week, and though it features many of the traditional staples of a Disney animated film (such as the musical element, the Princess at the center of the story, the animal sidekicks, and both the big bad of an "evil" old lady/maternal figure as well as smaller time thugs who turn out to just be a bit misunderstood), it steps it up quite a few notches by allowing the Princess to be the one to have the adventure in order to learn her lessons, and then (gasp!) actually get to save the guy for a change.

Tangled is a re-telling of the classic story of Rapunzel, the girl with the golden locks, who has been locked away in a tower by an evil old woman who wants the healing power of her hair (transferred from a very special flower) all for herself. For those who don't know that background, the movie opens with it in storybook form, before diving into its own plot. Because in Tangled Rapunzel is on the eve of her eighteenth birthday and has never left the tower for even a day. She trusts her mother-- well, the evil old woman who she presumes to be her mother-- regarding the reasons as to why she never should. But she has a dream, and with the help from a petty thief (Flynn Rider) who finds her tower and means to hide away in it, she plans to make that dream a reality.

Though Rapunzel has been taught to fear the outside world, when she finds Flynn in her space, she doesn't simply slink into the shadows. Nor does she allow his smoldering charm to win her over. No, she's stronger-- and smarter-- than that based purely on instinct and something within her gut. She is a modern-day Princess: not afraid to take matters into her own hands and capable of using anything at her disposal to protect herself (her hair, and quite comically, a frying pan). She is the role model I needed but was not available for me at the time. Thankfully little girls today (and okay, yes, some of us adults who grew up with skewed images and beliefs) can fare better.

It is Rapunzel's idea to leave the tower, and she enlists the help of-- or forces, in a way-- Flynn to escort her. She wants to see the dancing lights in the sky, which she thinks are just big stars, and which only occur once a year, coincidentally on her birthday. Really they are paper lanterns that the King and Queen release, hoping their long-lost daughter will see them and return home. But it is a long and somewhat treacherous trek for Rapunzel and Flynn, especially since he has palace guards, his cohorts in crime, and one magnificent steed on his heels for stealing the royal crown. So while Flynn bumbles and trips his way around, Rapunzel casts her fears aside and storms ahead. And when times get really tough, she uses her magic hair to get them out of quite a jam.

The witty banter and the bad guys with ultimately good hearts (and dreams of their own) just seem like icing on this little cupcake of a Disney movie!

Tangled is not a perfect movie by any means. For those of us old enough to remember (and have idolized) earlier Disney Princesses, a few moments within this one feel directly ripped from a mid-nineties favorite (*cough, Beauty & the Beast). And the mere fact that it has taken so many years for a film of its kind to introduce the idea that girls can have adventures and be the brave ones, too, feels a bit dated; we should be so many more strides ahead by now that I shouldn't have to point it out, let alone be so excited by the fact that it's there.
But the movie does have all of the right elements to make it a modern classic nonetheless. It is heart-warming and endearing with a spattering of somewhat snarky humor to keep it light and pockets of action to hold the attention span of today's "pulled from all angles" youth.

It probably wouldn't be Disney if Rapunzel didn't eventually join the ranks of the "Happily Ever After" but there is even a nod to a sign of the times today with that. Key word being "eventually".

Therefore, what is especially intriguing is how it is no longer "love at first sight" between the characters. We turned that corner a few years ago when Enchanted openly mocked the notion, and the studio knows we can never go back. Whereas little girls of my generation most likely grew up with their parents still married and living under the same roof and therefore looking for a relationship that could be equated on screen, it's a different world today. It's more accepting, more free, and with such opposites as Rapunzel and Flynn, it is only natural that they would butt heads and find the other a nuisance at first. The fact that they have to begin to grapple with very real feelings that jeopardize the dreams they had for themselves raise the stakes.

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