Friday, October 26, 2012

Guest Post: Tangled with Matthew

Hey all. Cassie here. Personal stuff is still going on -- my grandpa passed away, and his funeral is tomorrow, and today was full of prep for that and time spent with family. I appreciate your patience while things are a bit off kilter. I've finished Zel, but the review isn't quite done, but because you deserve something on a Friday, here's a guest post from Matthew!
 
Disney’s Tangled

or “How Disney Should Have Done Sleeping Beauty
 
The sad fact of the matter is that faerie tales don’t always make sense. As Cassie has pointed many times in her “<insert faerie tale here> according to Cassie” segments, things are often confusing, characters are often under- or undeveloped, and questions often go answered. That’s why the distinction between a “retelling” of a faerie tale and an “adaptation” of a faerie tale is so important. Retellings usually just tell the faerie tale again, maybe with a historical backdrop or a twist on a character, but pretty much the straight up faerie tale. Adaptations, on the other hand, seek to tell the classic faerie tale story in the context of another story in order to make sense of it.
 
Six of the seven faerie tale Disney movies are retellings. Love them or hate them, most of Disney’s faerie tale movies do stick pretty closely to the stories they’re telling. They make changes and so on, but Disney’s Cinderella is still telling the classic story of Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast is telling Beauty and the Beast, and The Little Mermaid--albeit with a different ending--is telling The Little Mermaid.
 
Tangled, on the other hand, is an adaptation of the Rapunzel story. It is not, strictly speaking, Rapunzel. It’s telling a different story, and the elements of that story makes sense of many of the aspects of the original story that don’t quite stand up to scrutiny, though in all fairness, Rapunzel doesn’t have nearly as many issues as some of the other faerie tales in this series.
 
So exactly what story is Tangled trying to tell? Let’s take a look, shall we?
 
The story opens with the love interest, Flynn Rider, saying this is the story of how he died. (Insert End-of-Doctor-Who-Series-2 joke here. [Um . . . This is the story of how I died . . . starts Rose at the beginning of the Season 2 finale, which is just what Flynn says here . . . not a very funny joke, Matthew. -- CG]) He then introduces us both to our main villain and what will become our central plot device: the flower that, when sung to, will heal any injury or illness and restore youth to whoever it touches. The evil villain, Gothel, uses this flower to stay eternally young.
 
Okay, so she hasn’t really done anything evil, yet. I mean, she knows about this thing and doesn’t share it, and that’s pretty selfish, but not, strictly speaking, evil. But as a rule, anyone seeking to live forever is not usually a good guy. So fast forward several generations, and the Queen is giving birth. But the Queen is very ill and in danger of dying and losing the baby, so the King, having heard about this magical healing flower, sends his various guards to search for the flower. They find it, cut it, and use it to heal the queen. But because it was cut, it loses its healing power . . . or rather, the power transfers to something else. (Remember this. It will become important later.) That something is the newborn baby’s golden hair.
 
(It should probably be noted at this point that the newborn’s name as Rapunzel. I mean, obviously, you know this, but really think about it for a minute. In the original story, Rapunzel is named for the leaf that her mother craved so much that her father stole it from Gothel’s garden, thus precipitating the story. However, this particular backstory doesn’t exist in the movie, so . . . why on earth would they name her Rapunzel? It’s never explained, just as it’s never explained why “Cinderella” is named “Cinderella.”)
 
Anyway, Gothel realizes that the powers have been transferred to Rapunzel’s hair, and plans to take a clipping of said hair to use for her continued youthening sessions. This, however, doesn’t work, as the hair loses its power and turns brown the moment it’s cut away from Rapunzel. If Gothel wants to continue to use the healing power of Rapunzel’s hair, she’s going to have to take Rapunzel. Which she does.
 
The kingdom searches for the lost princess, but Gothel has hidden her away in a secluded tower. So every year, on her birthday, the kingdom launches hundreds and hundreds of floating lanterns into the sky, in the hopes that Rapunzel will see them and return home.
 
So, at this point in the story, a number of things are different, but a number of things have also been explained. First of all, Rapunzel’s parents aren’t the horrible people they are in the original story, because the father doesn’t make any kind of deal with Gothel about trading away his firstborn and whatnot. Second, we find out why Gothel wants to keep Rapunzel for herself and why she wants to keep her locked up. And third, we learn more about the magical nature of Rapunzel’s hair. Specifically, we get an answer to the question of why Rapunzel didn’t simply cut off her hair and use it to climb down from the tower. Her hair has magic, and she doesn’t want to lose that. [Also, it probably never occurred to her, since she didn't think of running away until Mother Gothel pushed her too far. --CG]
 
So, fast forward roughly eighteen years. Rapunzel, as the king and queen hoped, has in fact seen the floating lanterns every year on her birthday. She wants to learn their significance, and of course, Mother Gothel won’t let her out of the tower. But she’s hoping that this year, on her eighteenth birthday, she’ll get her chance.
 
As she sings her opening song, “When Will My Life Begin?”, we see that Rapunzel has grown into a reasonably resourceful young woman, all things considered. She can bake and paint and do all sorts of other domestic things, and she’s developed mad Indiana Jones skills with her uber-long hair. Mother Gothel, of course, visits her each day with the whole “Rapunzel, let down your hair” bit, and we get a nice little glimpse into her character through the song “Mother Knows Best.” And it’s pretty clear that Gothel is pretty much evil. I mean, she acts like the concerned and overly condescending mother, but she pretty much only wants Rapunzel for the healing power her hair offers. This becomes increasingly clearer as the movie progresses, but I thought it was pretty obvious at the beginning.
 
So, Gothel says no, and Rapunzel backs down, accustomed to her ways. Meanwhile, we get a proper introduction to Flynn Rider, a thief who is currently working on a heist with the Stabbington brothers. (Sigh . . . really, Disney?) What are they stealing? The princess’s royal tiara, which is kept under heavy guard in a large room . . . with a circle of guards, who are all facing out from it . . . directly under a skylight. Um . . . who thought this was a good idea? Flynn steals it easily, though he does manage to alert the guards. But this proves not to be a problem, because this kingdom has the worst guards ever.
 
Flynn gives the Stabbington brothers the slip and takes the tiara away to . . . I don’t know, sell and buy himself a completely inconspicuous island, I’m sure. He does not, however, escape the keen nose of Maximus, the bloodhound horse who could probably just act as the entirety of the kingdom’s security, as he’s the only creature who actually knows what the flying flip he’s doing. (Also, he kicks ass. Like, a lot. Seriously.) After an amusing enough chase scene, Flynn manages to escape the horse through a curtain of vines, which coincidentally is also the hiding place for Rapunzel’s tower. He decides it’ll make a decent enough hiding place, climbs the tower wall through the power of sheer awesomeness, I guess, and arrives inside . . . only to be knocked unconscious by Rapunzel’s weapon of choice: a frying pan.
 
So Flynn, then, is a vastly different character from his book counterpart, and also from the typical love interests in Disney movies. He’s not a prince, he's a thief, and he doesn’t have a whole lot of good qualities in the beginning. He’s a liar and, as mentioned, a thief. Sure, he’s handsome and charming, but he mostly uses these assets to lie and steal. He finds Rapunzel, not because he’s intrigued by her beautiful voice and odd living situation, but because he needed to hide from the cops. And, therefore, he’s already considerably more interesting.
 
Rapunzel, painstakingly hiding both the tiara and the unconscious Flynn, decides that she can use the situation to convince her mother that she should be allowed to leave the tower and go see the floating lanterns. But before she even has a chance to broach this, Gothel loses her cool and proclaims that she’ll never let Rapunzel leave the tower, thus showing her true colors. Rapunzel, then, does some pretty quick thinking and convinces her mother to go away on a three day trip to get her a certain special kind of paint. Once she’s left, Rapunzel ties Flynn up, and uses the tiara as leverage against him, so that he’ll take her to the castle to see the floating lanterns, and maybe solve the mystery of her birthday. Flynn, rather begrudgingly, agrees to this arrangement, and Rapunzel leaves the tower.
 
It’s worth noting that this is something she could have done at any time. She has, as I said earlier, mad Indiana Jones skills with her hair, and here uses them to leave, not having to mess with this business of gathering silk for a rope and whatnot. Why she chose not to is anyone’s guess, but I have my own theories. Life was not entirely unpleasant with Mother Gothel, though thoroughly stifling. Gothel has had to cater to Rapunzel’s whims--aside from the whim of leaving the tower--because she needs Rapunzel’s happy and relatively content cooperation for the magic to work. And Rapunzel sees Gothel as a mother, though an overprotective one, and has found that in general, being nice and keeping her mother happy gets her what she wants. She could have escaped, but why do so if she had faith that enough sweetness would eventually have her mother capitulate to her request? It’s only when she realizes that Gothel is, truly, never going to let her out of the tower, that she escapes on her own. Her decision to do so is almost immediate, indicating that she always had this weapon in her arsenal, but chose only to use it as a last resort. In all likelihood, she would have escaped even without Flynn there, but decided that the wiser course of action would be to have a guide in a world with which she was entirely unfamiliar. And she’s very shrewd in her “negotiation” with Flynn. Like I said, for someone who’s been locked in a tower all her life, she’s very resourceful and very capable.
 
So, Rapunzel leaves the tower, setting bare, pigeon-toed feet on the ground for the very first time. The next sequence of scenes shows Rapunzel oscillating between the sheer ecstasy and joy of being outside her tower for the first time and the guilt she feels at having betrayed Gothel, who she still views as a mother figure, remember. After straightening up, she and Flynn sally forth. Meanwhile, Maximus is still sniffing around for Flynn, and eventually, he comes across Gothel who, somehow, draws the conclusion in seeing the horse without his rider that Rapunzel might be in trouble. How she comes to this conclusion, I’m not sure. I guess she’s concerned that the kingdom might find the tower, but that seems like a pretty big leap. Still, Gothel is paranoid about losing her magical hair healing factory, and isn’t about to take chances, so she starts heading back, discovering as she does that Rapunzel has, indeed, escaped. But she finds the tiara, puts two and two together, and decides to team up with the Stabbingtons and use the tiara to get Rapunzel back.
 
So, Flynn takes Rapunzel to the Snuggly Duckling, which is full of thugs, and what follows is probably the silliest and most entertaining scene in the whole movie. Rapunzel charms the thugs with her talk of dreams, and gets the thugs all singing about their own dreams. This, I think, is Disney making fun of itself, going to extreme lengths in showing off the sensitive human side of the thugs, and it’s SO much fun. But the guards come and break things up, and Flynn and Rapunzel are able to escape through a secret trap door. Another chase scene follows, with the two of them being chased by the palace guards, Maximus, and the Stabbingtons. They manage to escape them by basically destroying the world’s most unstable and dangerous dam, but they themselves get trapped in a flooding cave, where it takes Rapunzel an alarmingly long time to remember that her hair glows when she sings, and thus they can have light to find their way out. (Also, Flynn admits his name is Eugene Fitzherbert. Now, granted, the name Eugene does mean “prince,” which is a nice touch, but the Fitzherbert? Ouch.)
 
So they escape, Rapunzel shows Flynn her healing hair, and we see them start to connect, Stockholm Syndrome style. But Gothel finds them and gets Rapunzel alone with her. In her passive-aggressive way, she tries to convince Rapunzel that Flynn won’t stay true to her, and tells her to give him the tiara and see what happens when he no longer needs her.
 
The next day, Rapunzel manages to forge a reluctant alliance between Maximus and Flynn through sheer force of will and likability . . . and it works. You may have noticed that this seems to be Rapunzel’s major non-hair-related power. She can charm anyone, and I mean anyone. Thugs, thieves, bloodthirsty horses . . . anyone. I think this is Disney making fun of itself again. The other Disney princesses, especially the older ones, were absolutely charming. Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora all managed to befriend animals through sheer charm, Ariel manages to convince most everyone that she’s not completely self-absorbed, and the others are charming in their own ways. Again, Disney takes it to the practically ridiculous extreme with Rapunzel. And, not only is it amusing, but we can’t help but like Rapunzel that much more for it.
 
They enter the kingdom, and Rapunzel takes it all in and does the whole charm thing on a number of other people before she and Flynn take a boat out to the middle of the lake to watch the lanterns. Why the guards don’t notice ostensibly the most notorious criminal walking through the village can be explained in three simple words. Worst. Guards. Ever.
 
Now, what follows is one of the most beautiful sequences in Disney history. The king and queen--who, by the way, never speak during the whole movie, which I think is really cool--release their annual lantern, which is followed by the whole kingdom releasing their lanterns, while Rapunzel looks on in awe. And it’s little wonder why. The scene is absolutely breathtaking. The rest of the animation is just so-so. It’s computer animated, but not terribly detailed, and generally geared more for comedy than detailed accuracy. They’re drawing more inspiration from the Pixar or Dreamworks style of animation rather than any of their past work. This sequence, though, is gorgeous.
 
During all this, Rapunzel returns the tiara to Flynn, and Flynn, as expected, has had a change of heart. So, seeing the Stabbingtons, he decides to simply give them the tiara and beat a hasty retreat back to his lady love. But it doesn’t quite work out that way, as the Stabbingtons appear and show Rapunzel a very still and shadowy Flynn Rider sailing away from her, before attempting to kidnap her for her hair. But Gothel “rescues” her, and Rapunzel, traumatized, goes back to the tower with her. Flynn, meanwhile, is revealed to be unconscious and bound. (No, really?) He sails right into the hands of the palace guards, who arrest him and have him sentenced to death.
 
Rapunzel, back in her tower, is understandably distraught, but upon reflection of her experiences and her apparently sub-consciously inspired paintings--and by “reflection” I mean “bludgeoning over the head with the point, yes, thank you, we’ve got it, Disney”--realizes that she is the lost princess for whom the lanterns are being released. She finally stands up to Gothel and attempts to escape . . . which results in her being tied up, but we’ll be back here in a moment.
 
First, we have to see Flynn’s rescue by Flynn and the Snuggly Duckling thugs, who manage to outwit the palace guards . . . not hard, seeing as how they’re the WORST. GUARDS. EVER. . . . and get Flynn to Rapunzel’s tower . . . where he is promptly stabbed by Gothel. Rapunzel offers up her own freedom so that she can save Flynn’s life. (Ariel, are you paying attention? THIS is sacrifice.) Gothel agrees, and Rapunzel prepares to save Flynn . . . only Flynn won’t allow it. He won’t have Rapunzel be captive, so he cuts off all her hair, knowing it’s the only thing keeping Gothel alive. (Also a major sacrifice, as he will die without it. Seriously, Ariel, I hope you’re taking notes.) Gothel rapidly ages, falls out of the tower, and turns to dust.
 
(Oh, and Pascal, Rapunzel’s chameleon, makes his only contribution to the plot by tripping Gothel and causing her to fall out the window. Which, even then, is an ultimately futile gesture, given that A) the way she was flailing around, she probably would have fallen out all on her own, and B) she’s about to turn to dust, and the fall is basically just for dramatics. So his contribution is really no contribution at all. You may have even noticed that I hadn’t mentioned the chameleon up to this point, and that’s because he is an utterly useless character and a complete waste of animation. They included him, I think, because every Disney princess is contractually obligated to have an animal friend, regardless of whether or not they need one.)
 
Anyway, Gothel’s dead, but Flynn is dying from his stab wound, and Rapunzel no longer has her healing hair to save him. Now, anyone who has read the original story might be able to piece together what happens next. (Cassie was, much to the irritation of her friends.) Rapunzel begins to cry, and sings to him as he dies. Then, her tears begin to glow, and Flynn awakens, his wound completely healed. The power, which originally transferred from the flower to her hair, has now transferred to her tears, thus explaining why, in the original story, Rapunzel’s tears were able to restore the prince’s blindness.
 
And Rapunzel, now a pixie-haired brunette, is reunited with her parents, married to Flynn, and everyone lives happily ever after.
 
This is by no means a perfect adaptation of the story, but it is a strong one. It’s pretty clear that Disney wasn’t taking this one nearly as seriously, instead just trying to make a light-hearted, fun movie, and in that, they succeeded. Rapunzel is charming and likable, but also quite competent for a Disney princess. Flynn has the major character growth, having to become the prince that we like to see our Disney princesses end up with. And I like that, in the end, it’s not a matter of one rescuing the other . . . they rescue each other. Flynn saves Rapunzel from a lifetime of captivity under Gothel, and Rapunzel saves Flynn from . . . well, death. The backstory is exceptionally intriguing, the characters are fun, and it’s a nice, feel-good story.
 
But on to the checklist.
 
Explanation for the parents’ behavior? Check. The mother didn’t henpeck her husband into getting what she wanted, and the husband didn’t trade away his daughter for his life. Rapunzel was kidnapped, thus eliminating the problem.
 
Exploration of Rapunzel’s childhood with Mother Gothel? Erm, no. Not really. It pretty much skips straight to her eighteenth birthday, and we don’t get a lot of depth in the little bit that we do see. Gothel is probably my major disappointment with the Disney film. I was really hoping that this time, they might have antagonist with some depth who WASN’T just pure evil. Now, granted, Gothel is a considerably more subtle evil than a lot of her predecessors, playing the part of the concerned mother and generally using passive-aggressive guilt trips to get what she wants. But I like to think that the mother in the Rapunzel story did actually care for Rapunzel a bit, and was just really overprotective and probably a little selfish and wanted to keep Rapunzel for herself, not for any reasons of needing healing, but because she honestly loved her. But Disney went the “she’s just evil” route with this character, as I unfortunately predicted they would. So, no check.
 
Explain the unexplained elements? Yes, indeed-y! This is what I really like about this movie. Why did Gothel want Rapunzel? Magical healing hair. Why was her hair special? See previous answer with added explanation of magical healing flower. Why was she locked in a tower? To hide her from the kingdom, who was searching for the lost princess. Why did her tears heal the prince? They were magical healing tears, using the power of the magical healing hair, which in turn took it from the magical healing flower. Simple, yes? (Also, the question of Rapunzel’s pregnancy is a non-issue, as Rapunzel doesn’t get pregnant.)
 
Wrap up the loose ends? Yeah, if there’s one thing Disney knows how to do, it’s wrap up loose ends. Gothel dies, we see a reunion with the parents, and in general, the characters who drop off the face of the earth in the original story find some sort of closure in the movie.
 
All in all, not one of Disney’s finest by a long way, but still a good movie and a good adaptation of the Rapunzel story. And honestly, I really do think that this is how Disney should have handled the Sleeping Beauty story, and on some level, I think they knew that. (I really don’t think it’s an accident that the king and queen look an awful lot like the king and queen from Sleeping Beauty, or that Rapunzel is the first blonde Disney princess since Aurora.) It’s what they tried to do--dig into the background and try to tell a new story--but they didn’t take it far enough and it didn’t succeed nearly as well. (Also, Aurora and Philip were about as boring as Disney characters get, while Rapunzel and Flynn? Decidedly not.)
 
 At any rate, don’t expect it to take itself too seriously, but the movie is definitely worth checking out.

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