Tangled: The Seven Standards of Disney
In 2010, Walt Disney Animated Studios released their fiftieth animated feature within the animated canon and the tenth Disney princess. Tangled hit the theaters and made loads of money for the studios. Tangled spent six years in production, a step up from the renaissance era which sometimes made movies just a year apart. Tangled is the adaptation of Rapunzel, and tells the story of a lost princess who is being hoarded by a greedy woman named Gothel due to her golden hair possessing youthful properties. Rapunzel learns to trust the wanted thief Flynn Rider who guides her to the Kingdom so she may satisfy her curiosity towards the floating lights she sees every day.
Since Snow White, Disney has held itself up to seven different standards, aspects if you will, that set them apart from the typical movies made in Hollywood. These standards will be the ones to judge whether a Disney movie is truly deserving of the hype it gets, particularly in this day and age. These days, all Disney has to do is market the movie, people will watch it, they will advertise and market the positive reactions and it will generally be seen as a success, any failures be damned. This is why holding it critically to its usual standards it held to in the past is important.
There are seven standards Disney must hold itself to: Origin/storyline, Disney Princess, Disney Relationship, Disney Villain, Disney Music, Disney Settings and the Side characters that add color to the story. Does Tangled hold itself up to those same standards, particularly being among the most expensive films Disney made?
Tangled is based off the fairy tale by Brothers Grimm called Rapunzel. In fact, Rapunzel was the movie’s original name before it was changed to appeal to a more widespread audience besides girls. Tangled did a very different spin on the original material than most Disney films. The original story starts out with an pregnant woman who longs for a plant. The man steals it from a garden belonging to a witch named who proceeds to take the child away at birth. The child grows her hair long and golden and is locked away in a tower with no means of escape but a single window from which she lets her hair down for the witch to climb up upon the utterance of the words ‘Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair, so I may climb the golden stair.’
One day, a Prince happens by and hears the words. He yells those same words and Rapunzel, thinking it is the witch, lets her hair down only for her to meet the Prince. They agree to marry and the Prince and she make a plan to facilitate her escape. However, she gives him away by accident one day by indicating her own pregnancy and the witch casts Rapunzel out to fend for herself after cutting her hair off. When the Prince comes, the witch lets the hair down, draws him up, and pushes him off the tower where he goes blind from the thorns below. The Prince wanders for a long time until he hears familiar singing. He meets Rapunzel and the twins she gave birth to. They are reunited and upon kissing, his sight is restored. He takes her and the children away to live with him in his Kingdom and they live happy ever after, as is the ending for most fairy tales.
Tangled took some liberties as Disney usually does. They kept the concept of the flower but gave it powers of youth by a single drop of sunshine from the heavens. Gothel hoards the flower and when it is taken to heal the ailing Queen, Gothel kidnaps the child who inherits the sunshine, hence why her hair is golden. Rapunzel stays locked in a tower, eating the lies Gothel tells her about how the world is cruel and dangerous. Meanwhile, the Kingdom lets up lights in hopes that the Lost Princess would return one day, each year on her birthday. Rapunzel notices this, and feeling that the lights are meant for her, wants to go outside desperately.
A wanted thief Flynn Rider, (not a Prince) happens upon the tower by climbing it when he is being chased by guards after stealing a tiara. Rapunzel enlists his aid when Gothel is out and they escape from the tower, journey to the Kingdom where Rapunzel enjoys the lightshow from up close, and after a climax against Mother Gothel they live in the Kingdom, she is reunited with her parents and they live happily ever after.
Tangled features Rapunzel. Rapunzel is a secluded Princess who grew up in a tower after being kidnapped by a woman she was forced to call Mother her entire life. In fact, it is because of Rapunzel that the audience refers to the villain of the movie not as Gothel, but Mother Gothel. Rapunzel grew curious as to why there was floating lights in the sky every year on her birthday, feeling in her heart that they are meant for her. Despite her pleas, Mother Gothel forbids her from ever leaving her tower and due to the love Rapunzel nonetheless feels for her, she concedes each and every time. It is because of this that Rapunzel lacks the usual confidence of a girl her age.
This adds the issue of growing up to the Princess. The fact that she is still somewhat naïve and innocent makes this young lady, at 18 years old relatable even for the younger generation of kids. It becomes not only a film about Rapunzel running off with a stranger to view the floating lights up close, but a movie about finding her independence. Co-director Nathan Greno said as much about the character and the movie’s underlying message.
The great thing about this movie is that the place where a lot of people have been is that everyone wants to find their independence. Everyone wants to be their own person, so it’s the same thing. At the core of it, that is what Rapunzel is going through.
Rapunzel meets the wanted thief Flynn Rider. She nearly gives him away in an attempt to prove she can handle herself. Mother Gothel takes it that she is whining about the outside again and yells, making Rapunzel fall silent. This ultimately and ironically proves to be Mother Gothel’s undoing and Rapunzel leaves the tower for the lightshow. The closer she gets, the more uncertain she feels, worried about what she will do next, after she has achieved her dream.
Each and every Disney Princess is unique in her own way. We all know Belle for being the book-smart Princess, Cinderella who chased down her dreams and held on to faith, Ariel the mermaid, Jasmine the adventurous Arab, Pocahontas the Native American denied her happily ever after, the list goes on. Whether or not Rapunzel holds this unique quality is what will decide whether Tangled passes this standard. Rapunzel represents a first for Disney on many fronts. She is Disney’s most proactive and most talented Princess. Indeed, the first song of the movie is When Will My Life Begin and it shows just how many talents she possesses. She reads, paints, plays guitar, she sings daily which unknowingly grants Mother Gothel eternal youth. This is a play on the purity Rapunzel represents. Having been secluded her entire life like Aurora, she is naïve of the outside world and she quickly learns that Mother Gothel was not lying about the world she wanted so much to venture into.
Rapunzel has similarities to Aurora in that she was secluded and unaware of her heritage. She learns of her heritage through the floating lights, finds love in the wanted thief which makes her the first Disney princess to fall in love with such a character. In fact, Rapunzel, in a way fell in love with the very danger Mother Gothel warned against. Disney definitely passed this standard.
The relationship between Rapunzel and Flynn is perhaps one of the most developed relationships Disney has to offer and worthy of the Renaissance era. Snow White fell in love at first sight, so did Cinderella (not to mention that marriage was also out of convenience), Aurora fell in love in a dream and Ariel fell in love with Eric because he is a human. It was not till the nineties when the relationship started being built with Jasmine slowly growing to love Aladdin (though it took a lie to do it), Belle found love for a monster, John Smith fell in love with Pocahontas at first sight though he had to grow on her, and Tiana and Nevine were built up and realized over time.
Tangled makes it a point to build this relationship up too. It starts out with both being, if anything annoyed with the other. Flynn would give anything to just take the satchel Rapunzel hid from him back and go on his way and Rapunzel just wants to see the lights and be back in her tower before Gothel gets home. By the middle of the movie, Rapunzel starts feeling that perhaps Flynn is in love with her and despite Mother Gothel’s ire, she falls for him too. Because their relationship just started blooming, Mother Gothel tries destroying the base of it and challenges Rapunzel to give him the satchel and see what happens.
“Go ahead and 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!”
Rapunzel bravely says she will give it to him but holds off. Their base proves strong as steel when she gives it to him in the middle of their At Last I See the Light sequence and he puts it down to kiss her. He meets the thugs he previously worked with and hands the satchel back, deciding he found a new dream, that being Rapunzel. Had it gone his way, they would’ve lived happily ever after but Mother Gothel had other plans. Together, they overcame the obstacle, her love for Flynn saves him from the fatal stab wound and they truly do live happily ever after (and married.)
This relationship did not start at first sight; it was built towards and realized. Disney’s beginning would have seen such a relationship as idealistic but that ideal became a reality. This was not out of convenience or for the sake of being human, but true love. Ironically, it is Prince Charming’s kiss that saves Snow White and Prince Phillip’s kiss that saves Aurora even though both were borne from first sight and nothing else. This was built, developed, the audience grew to root for them and in the end, yes, her tears and true love saves him with that last golden drop of sunshine. Disney magic at its best.
If Disney magic isn’t enough, the audience is introduced to Mother Gothel, a hording, narcissistic witch who plays as the main antagonist in the movie. Each an every Disney villain is memorable in certain ways. Jafar is remembered for being a sorcerer, Maleficent is the Mistress of all Evil, there is the Evil Queen who is known primarily for that poisoned apple, Frollo for his twisted desires and much more. Mother Gothel is your hoarding, narcissistic witch who also plays as a loving and caring mother.
Unlike many other Disney movies though, many dimensions of Gothel is shown. Mother Gothel starts out by hording the pivotal flower infused with a golden drop of sunshine that can heal any illness and keep one young. When the flower is taken away from her and given to the ailing Queen of the nameless Kingdom, Gothel grew angry. The Queen gives birth to a baby girl who inherited the sunshine’s gold in the form of her golden hair.
Gothel kidnaps the child and hides her away in a tower with, you guessed it, no apparent doors and a single window. She has Rapunzel sing to her the song of youth to keep her young, all the while acting very motherly and protective of her and disallowing her to venture outside on the grounds that the world is dangerous and she won’t be able to handle it. Judging by Rapunzel’s immediate naivety, her assumptions prove to be accurate. Rapunzel reaches her eighteenth birthday and starts hungering for the outside world.
Gothel, of course is very protective of Rapunzel for obvious reasons but there stand two sides to this villain. One is the motherly figure who Rapunzel loves dearly. She is the usual kind of mother, protective and caring but also stern and strict around hot-button issues. In her theatrical villain’s song Mother Knows Best, she warns Rapunzel about how dangerous the world is. Ruffians, thugs, thieves and the like and indeed, shortly after Rapunzel leaves, she does meet ruffians and thugs. It’s just lucky that they weren’t as bad as they seemed and all the while, Gothel kept a close eye on her without her knowing. As of then, Gothel, while her true intentions are no secret, still plays a motherly figure who tries to take Rapunzel back with soft power (pressuring her through fear of the world.) She is the first villain to have dual personalities (the next one being Hans from Frozen.)
As Gothel is the first Disney villain to have dual personalities (though not the last), she is expected to make a transition to the villainous personality the audience is introduced to at the beginning of the movie. Gothel transitions from motherly figure to narcissistic villain in her ominous line:
“You want me to be the bad guy? Fine! Now I’m the bad guy.”
Allying with the very thieves and thugs she warned against, she proceeds to chain Rapunzel and force her to submit and when Flynn comes in to aid her, she stabs and kills him. Rapunzel begs to be allowed to save him, swearing to fight her all her life unless she is allowed to heal him. Flynn has other plans and by cutting her hair off, Gothel’s ages accelerates and she falls off the tower, ending up as a heap of dust.
Alan Menken is at it again in Tangled. The one behind the music of Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, and much more, he returned to compose the music for none other than Disney’s adaptation of Rapunzel, Tangled. Of course, it was well expected that Menken would deliver. When did he ever steer a Disney movie wrong? As expected, he did not sacrifice his dignity with the movie but delivered his best magnificently, holding little back with the typical villain’s song, a romantic duet, and everything in between.
It can be debated which song is the first since Flower Gleam and Glow was sung at the very beginning as part of the Prologue but was also very short. The first full song, When Will my Life Begin is sung by Rapunzel. Both set the tone of the movie. Rapunzel is a child in an eighteen year-old body, waiting for life to start, waiting to venture out of the tower and explore the outside world. This song also shows off Rapunzel’s many talents, and as a girl of many talents, many can relate to her whether it’s because of pottery, singing, being a guitarist, painting, reading or all of the above, it introduces not only the movie but the Princess herself.
As a follow-up, Rapunzel asked to venture out once again and the song that followed was none other than the villain song, sung very early in the movie. Mother Knows Best is a jumpy tirade by Mother Gothel warning against the outside world, demeaning Rapunzel for being sloppy, poorly dressed, immature, and even chubby (which she’s not). This makes clear to the audience that she’s the villain even if Rapunzel does not realize it yet. With the song and insults come the basic theme of the song which is that mother does in fact know best.
To follow this, Rapunzel meets a bunch of thugs which Gothel did warn her against. Strangely enough, they too had a musical number of their dreams and what they hope to achieve. They turn out to be much the same as Rapunzel and her new companion as they sing their dreams including one memorable one who just wants to find love. As part of this song, Flynn Rider gets to be the first Disney character to note that everyone around him is singing. This song serves to connect Rapunzel and Flynn to who may have been potential villains. In the end, they help them escape from the guards. This leads to a chase scene and when all hope seems lost, Flower Gleam and Glow makes a comeback. This comeback is well done because when it first served as the song of youth, it then serves as the song of light when Rapunzel uses her glowing hair to see underwater, allowing them to get out and avoid drowning.
Flower Gleam and Glow is sung once again when Rapunzel introduces and explains her power and uses it to heal Flynn’s injured hand, making it a song of healing as well as youth and light. Yet another reprise makes itself known when Gothel approaches Rapunzel and in response to her belief that there might be a relationship between her and Flynn, Gothel responds with a reprise of her villain’s song but this time in a sarcastically mocking tone called Rapunzel Knows Best. Gothel, in the song challenges her to give Flynn the crown which he said himself he’s after, and watch how fast he ditches her. She ends with a final insistence that mother still knows best, and leaves. The song is the challenge. Gothel switches from motherly to challenging and Rapunzel is left conflicted, thus the first conflict in the movie comes in.
The next piece is not a song and therefore not part of the standard, but it’s worthy of note as an instrumental because it introduces the Kingdom and the happiness of the citizens. This is important because as the unknown lost Princess who the Kingdom still believes in, Rapunzel unknowingly gets along with all of them.
As was her dream, Flynn fulfills his promise and takes her on a boat to watch the lights and this serves as the duet of the film and the film’s conclusive ending of love. Rapunzel gives the crown back, Flynn puts it down and leans in to kiss her with the realization At Last I See the Light. The song is spectacularly visual with music and rhymes. It shows how blind the characters have indeed been to the light that was right in front of them. The song serves as a sort of enlightenment period for the couple. The movie could have ended there and left it at a good ending… Gothel had other plans.
Unlike Frozen which would not let it go, Tangled ended it music on a high note. At Last I See the Light was the last song in the movie, acting as the duet between the couple and almost reminding everyone of the classic A Whole New World sequence from Aladdin, (except instead of a carpet, they use a boat.) The movie quit while it was ahead and concluded itself with the final battle. The problem Frozen had was that its songs, from the beginning, got better and better until climaxing with Let it Go, and then falling down and never reaching that pinnacle again with its other songs. Tangled climaxed with At Last I See the Light and quickly concluded the movie to end on a high note. One last song is sung, and that is a reprise of Flower Gleam and Glow, this time with the purpose of healing and rebirth with that one last golden drop of sunshine. Flower Gleam and Glow turns out to be one of the most meaningful songs not only in the movie but in all of Disney with its powers of youth, light, healing, and rebirth.
Each and every Disney movie, without fail, has at least one single setting the movie is known for. Ever since its beginnings in Snow White, it has introduced memorable settings without fail. There is New Orleans (or even the Bayou) in Princess and the Frog, Agrabah or the Cave of Wonders in Aladdin, the Dwarves Cottage in Snow White, or Atlantica from Little Mermaid to name a few. Tangled is known for three memorable settings. It is known for the hidden tower, the Ugly Duckling Pub, and the nameless Kingdom.
Usually, the fact that the Kingdom lacks a name would be a major minus for a movie but in Disney, which failed to name Snow White’s Kingdom or even Cinderella’s Kingdom, this is not a minus by Disney’s standards. It is for this reason why Disney is not held to the same standards as other movies and rightfully so. A series that prides itself on love-at-first-sight plotlines and only recently started developing relationships should not be held to the same standards as others. If a Kingdom without a name is ok in Cinderella and the Little Mermaid, it is definitely ok in Tangled when it has two other memorable settings to back it up.
That is one defense, though. The fact that Disney does not have to name their Kingdoms does not mean the Kingdom is fine. It must be judged according to how memorable it is. The Kingdom serves not only as a setting but a destination. While the movie begins and ends in the hidden tower and the Ugly Duckling Pub is only a stop in the road, the Kingdom is alive with tradition, song and dance. Indeed, the fact that the Kingdom appears traditional in their yearly releasing of the lights, one can also argue that its tradition extends to Disney itself, which is why they failed to name the Kingdom. Disney returned to its roots in Tangled.
In contrast to their rulers, the people appear very happy. This reflects on the King and Queen who the audience knows little about. Despite their personal sadness, it fails to reflect in the Kingdom. The fact that they kept their people happy despite all says a lot. Even in a modern classic where settings are indeed usually named (as they were during the Disney Renaissance) Tangled did not fail this standard.
Disney tries its very hardest to make its aspects memorable. As with settings, there are side characters throughout Disney that are never forgotten. Side characters’ role in Disney movies is to add color. They make the movie what it is. The mice in Cinderella are perfect examples of this, all seven dwarves from Snow White take the cake but there is also Jiminy Cricket from Pinocchio who is widely loved and used by Disney second only to Mickey Mouse, Tinker Bell from Peter Pan who is Disney’s fairy mascot, and the Genie from Aladdin voiced by the ever-loved Robin Williams and that’s not counting Sebastian from The Little Mermaid or Zazoo from Lion King.
Tangled had side characters too and only time will tell if they truly are memorable or not, let alone hold a candle to Sebastian or Jiminy Cricket. In the meantime, it is worthy enough to pick out their aspects and judge them based on those. The side characters in Tangled are the pub thugs and their various dreams, Pascal the Chameleon, and Maximus the canine horse. Do any of these characters hold aspects that may make them memorable and well-loved in the years to come? Will they ever be able to gain the special pedestal with Sebastian and Lumiere and Cogsworth?
Pascal is Rapunzel’s loyal companion, her loyal pet and he cunningly uses his small size to his advantage to hide from Gothel throughout the movie, and he delivers the final trip that makes her fall from the window. Pascal is a very different type of companion. We’ve all seen the parrot the villain has, pirates are known for this, let alone Jafar from Aladdin. What else would a mermaid have for a sidekick other than a fish? Snow White herself practically commanded the respect and help of all the animals in the forest just by crying on the floor. Rapunzel, as Nathan Greno wisely said, had something different, something no other protagonist has had before.
“This girl, she’s not a dainty, precious girl. She is this rough and tumble girl next door. So what would she have? She’s not going to have a little, pretty bluebird on her shoulder. She’s going to have a lizard.”
Even more memorable is Maximus, who is Disney’s first character to act like a dog when he is not really a dog. Frozen tried doing this with Sven the reindeer and fell short due to repetition. Maximus is the first and at the time, he was cute. Not only does he sniff around like a dog, he pulls a crowd aside with his two front legs like a human. That alone might have made him very memorable and if Frozen had not tried to repeat this with Sven, it may have been remembered for years to come. Unfortunately, it may now be seen as typical Disney, especially if they continue such mannerisms. Hopefully, even with that, Maximus will outshine them all.
The pub thugs are known for their various dreams, many of which come true in the end in an attempt to give all, not just our main couple, a happy ending. Should Maximus fail, the thugs who came to their aid at the very end may very well take memory as the kindhearted people they really were. One would become a concert pianist, another found love, yet another is making ceramic unicorns and all of them make up a team of thugs who not only helped them escape the guards in the middle of the movie, but broke Flynn out of prison at the end.
Once again, Disney has done it. Tangled is no failure by any means. In fact, it passed with all seven standards. All seven aspects Disney is known for were met by this movie. It may well be a mistake when people claim Frozen is the best since the Disney Renaissance thanks primarily to Let it Go, especially when the latter movie failed with a couple of its standards. Tangled took them all and with such a talented Disney Princess, a dancing Kingdom, and a memorable band of thugs, Tangled is indeed a brilliant movie and has earned its place among Disney’s classics.
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