Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Mangled: Stay at Home Daughters on the Silver Screen

Disney princesses, who doesn't love them? Since Snow White's debut in 1937, the 'Disney Princess' line has become a $4 billion franchise, who's merchandise includes everything from miniature ballgowns to designer handbags...for a mere $2.49 one can even purchase their child a personalized phone call from the princess of their choice.1 They've become an icon worldwide, representing the dreams of every little girl, the love of which is passed from generation to generation.2 The latest figure in this royal lineup is Rapunzel, Disney's first CG princess and the heroine of their 50th animated classic, Tangled.

Most of us are probably familiar with the old fairy tale by the brothers Grimm. While the original tale was a pretty poorly written story, Disney has rearranged it a bit, applied their expert craftsmanship and added a dose of modernity for good measure. The plot line is still similar- a beautiful girl is kidnapped by an old hag, locked away in a hidden tower, the hero finds and rescues her, and they all live happily ever after. This time, though, Rapunzel is a princess who's hair possesses magical healing powers- an impetus for our old hag, Mother Gothel, to keep her locked away. And, instead of wandering around in misery and despair, Rapunzel and our hero, Flynn Rider, go on a grand adventure. Sounds pretty innocuous, right? Well, not exactly. The film is filled with beautiful imagery, delightful characters, great humor, and a story that never drags, but as I walked out of the theater last week, my thoughts were on a different vein. It was, in fact, the film's perceived harmlessness that made it so disturbing. To be sure, there are a number of things to pick on- from thugs delivering sermons on the basic goodness of man, to magic droplets from the sun god, valley girl vernacular, and much more, but the most troubling parts of the film were the overarching themes.

As this new-fashioned fairy tale unfolds, we're treated to an interesting commentary on homemakers and why these captives to domesticity are setting themselves up for eventual disenchantment. In spite of the fact that Rapunzel has been locked away from the world and dominated by a sugary sweet despot, we find her a delightful, adorable girl, with a zest for learning and a creative flair. Eventually, though, she wearies of the monotony. Though it's a mockery and misrepresentation of homemaking, it holds an interesting element of truth. When life is divorced from a larger dominion purpose, the eventual result will be frustration and misery.3 Rapunzel was disheartened because even her more useful skills had no point beyond filling her time and whiling away the hours.4 The real problem here is that, within the world of the film, we're only given two options, two choices in life- both of which are unsuitable, but one of which is deemed acceptable by it's creators. The first, obviously, is for Rapunzel to stay in the tower trapped forever in a life of childish meaninglessness. The second is presented shortly as Rapunzel, in turmoil over her choice to run away, is advised by Flynn,

"Does your mother deserve it? No. Would this break her heart and crush her soul? Of course, but you just got to do it.....This is part of growing up—a little rebellion and a little adventure. This is healthy."

This is the first major sermon statement of the story, and from here things spring into action as we're shown, for the remainder of the film, that chronic rebellion is innocent, healthy fun, and disobedience in pursuit of our heart's wildest desires actually leads to enlightenment and maturity.5 Biblically speaking, maturity isn't defined by the childish assertion of our autonomous wills, but rather by a life lived in terms of God's Word.6 What Tangled doesn't tell little boys and girls, is that there is a third option of dealing with the situation in Biblical maturity and wisdom, or that the Bible paints an entirely different picture of the home and it's purposes. Instead, Tangled only teaches that behind door number two lies all the adventure we've been waiting for. Of course, we could overlook this because, after all, Mother Gothel is really just a wicked captor bent on using Rapunzel for her own ends. But, the fact is that Rapunzel's actions are carried out in the understanding that this is her mother and it's really not until the last few minutes of the film that she finds out otherwise. Theirs is the relationship which is modeled throughout the film as mother/daughter. Parents are sinners, just like their children, but one person's sin doesn't excuse the sin of another.7If we're prepared to say that Mother Gothel's sins are inexcusable, we must be prepared to say the same of Rapunzel's.

But the story marches on, and we find that rebellion has it's rewards as romance fills the air. We also find out that children's movies are a great way to ensure a break down of morality in the future. We see this in a number of ways- running away from home with a complete scoundrel, camping out in the woods with said scoundrel, an unbiblical view of love, emotional enticements (e.g. smolder), and also, within the dialogue.8 In the beginning, Flynn steals the tiara of the missing princess(Rapunzel) in order to fulfill a utopian, childhood dream. The tiara bounces around until it comes into Mother Gothel's possession and as she confronts Rapunzel, the lines read like a teenage romance about losing one's purity. Mother Gothel tells Rapunzel that the only thing Flynn is after is the tiara and as soon as he gets it, he'll leave her. Then later, after they've 'fallen in love', Rapunzel tells Flynn that she has something to give him(the tiara)- she was scared to give it to him before, but she's not scared anymore. Though we're talking about a tiara now, we won't be in a few years as similar lines are heard in teenybopper films. To a great extent, the things that we watch and listen to as children are the most influential in forming our character and worldview, in defining who we'll become as adults. It's those who control the education of children that will control the future of nations.9 But, education isn't merely academics, all of culture is educating and it, in turn, flows from underlying religious beliefs. Tangled is schooling it's viewers in the acceptance of immorality.

It's no surprise then, when we find that our hero is really nothing of the sort. Even among his fellow thieves, he commands no respect. Then again, Rapunzel doesn't appear to be in much need of rescuing anyway. Their relationship is one of mutual, self-serving interest. He's a helpless, sensitive, emotional male- an accessory to the capable, brilliant, amazing Rapunzel. And, because she's an emancipated princess who knows how to get her man, in the spirit of Indiana Jones she wields her 70 foot hair, pulling off all kinds of daring feats and rescues. But, as the film climaxes, we're assured that this is all okay. As Rapunzel is offering to rescue Flynn one more time and give her life for his, he pulls a clever move- picking up a shard of broken glass, he cuts off her magical hair, sending the wicked Mother Gothel spiraling into old age and oblivion and assuring us that we modern women can have our feminism AND the heroism of men(of course, Rapunzel's magical tears do have the last word since they're required to bring the now deceased Flynn back to life.)

In the end, Rapunzel is finally reunited with the king and queen and as the film closes, we discover some final lessons- that good governments reward sin and indulgent parents are real parents. Flynn is embraced, his thievery ignored, and welcomed, as Rapunzel's new husband, a prince in their kingdom. His fellow thugs realize their dreams, too, and all of this was achieved, of course, without good character on anyone's part; by the end of the film, we're left without a single good role model in sight. The credits roll and that's The End.10 Or is it? While the intellect may recognize danger, a film that appears as innocent and adorable as this delights the emotions. We exit the theater and, as our bodies go back to the real world, our minds are still in false one. In this make believe world, freedom is equated to license and duty to bondage. But, this so called freedom is nothing more than bondage to sin. The reality is that we live in a world governed by a sovereign Creator and only a life lived on his terms leads to blessing and freedom.11 Tangled is aptly called a fairy tale, because in the real world sins have their rewards and a life of unmitigated bliss is not one of them. Packaging all of this in a humorous, expertly crafted children's film is ingenious, really. As such, it is heedlessly given the stamp of 'wholesome entertainment' and we, leaving our discernment at the door , imbibe the beliefs of a culture that is at war with God. Among children, though, one brilliant exhibition isn't enough. They'll consume it, again and again, until, through sheer repetition, their souls are imbued with depravity.

All photos copyright Disney.

Posted by~Andrea Reins

1 http://www.newsweek.com/2007/11/17/princess-power.html

2 http://family.go.com/video/becoming-cinderella-879200-v/

3 An interesting discussion on dominion can be found here.

4 It is interesting to note that the things Rapunzel does are considered by many as quintessential traits of stay at home daughterhood. (Not recommended for young readers) Here is an excellent article on the wise use of time.

5 This is youtube, click at your own risk.(Tangled soundtrack,'I See The Light')

6 Jer. 1; Ex. 3-4; “Man was created a mature being, not a child. This is a fact of central importance. We thus cannot make child psychology basic to an understanding of man...Humanistic psychology looks backward to a primitive past in order to explain man, whereas Biblical psychology looks neither to the child nor a primitive past to explain man but to a mature creation, Adam, and to God's purpose in man's creation...Man's sins and shortcomings represent not a lingering primitism or a reversion to childhood but rather a deliberate revolt against maturity and the requirements of maturity. By ascribing to man, as humanistic psychologies do, a basic substratum of primitivism and racial childishness, this revolt against maturity is given an ideological justification; the studied and maturely developed immaturity of man is encouraged and justified. If man is reminded rather that he was created in Adam into maturity and responsibility, his self-justification is shattered. It has become commonplace for persons seeking counselling to discuss, not their problem, but their childhood, their parents, and their environment in order to “explain” their present “situation”, that is, their failure. The fact of mature creation is one of the basic and most important facts of a Biblical psychology. It is a fact of incalculable importance.” Revolt Against Maturity-pgs.6-7, R.J. Rushdoony

7 Eze. 18

8 Jn 14:21; “Love is a living active principle of obedience to the whole law.” Matthew Henry, Rom. 13:10; “Love works no ill to the neighbor, and love means the keeping or fulfilling of the law in relationship to other men. Love is thus the law-abiding thought, word, and act. Where there is no law, there is also no love.” Institutes of Biblical Law, vol.1, RJ Rushdoony

9 "He alone, who owns the youth, gains the future”-Adolf Hitler; “Give me just one generation of youth, and I’ll transform the whole world.”-Vladimir Lenin; Deuteronomy 11:18-25

10 This, fittingly, is what plays as the credits roll. Again, this is youtube, click at your own risk.(and watch the volume, it's a little raucous)

Romans 6


Jordan Comeaux said...

Wow, what an amazing break-down of this movie; it could also fit a lot of other Disney movies. I haven't seen this one yet, and after reading your review, I'm certainly reconsidering watching it at all. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and giving the reminder that even seemingly "harmless" films have an agenda of their own.

Gabriel Hudelson said...

Great dissection of the idea behind the curtain.

Kelsey said...

Thank you so much for writing this article! I had decided not to see this one, but still my love of princess movies was nagging at me, trying to reason that I didn't "know" it one was bad. Now I do know, without having to expose myself to the movie. Again, thank you very much!

John Moore said...

Fantastic review, Andrea. You hit the nail on the head.

Sometimes it's easy to feel like we've got a 'commie behind every bush mentality', and when I see a film like this, I wonder if I'm superimposing an agenda over the top of what I'm seeing.

Tangled has to be one of the sweetest, most deliciously delightful films of the year. And yet, that was probably the most disturbing thing about it. It was so conscientiously geared against authority, it was ridiculous. There isn't one case in the entire film of repentance for wrongdoing, there is never any submission to authority (by any one of the 'good guys', at least), and the whole world was so mindbogglingly skewed into utopia, I was stunned. It's opposite of everything most Disney princesses have been in the past.

Badly done, Disney. Badly done.

~ In Christ, John.

DoaHF said...

I don't know what movie you saw, but I saw one of the best showing of the pride and terror of the cloistered life ever.
The first 30 minutes was basically a summary of my life for 20 years.

The rest of the movie was an encouragement to me to LIVE. And not listen to all the nay-sayers with tales of cannibalism, poison ivy, and men-with-pointy-teeth.

leslie said...

Very detailed essay! I rarely watch TV or movies for entertainment purposes, so when I do see a secular film, these things really stand out. I felt so uncomfortable when I saw this movie, for the same reasons you outlined. I bore the awful fruit of rebellious decisions made in my teen years and twenties. One cannot be too conscientious of what they do or don't allow themselves or their children to see.

MamaAnt said...

Wow. Thanks for this piece. I haven't decided if our children will see it or not. We shall see.
I am leaning towards no.

Miss Shiloh said...

I saw a short clip of “Tangle” on a blog and immediately thought that the clip seemed to portray quite a feministic princess. After discussing it with my mother she told me about your review. I’ve been working on an article about Parental Authority so I found your review very interesting. Thank you very much!


Cassidy said...

I think you are reading too much into this.
Especially that bit about the tiara. Its a tiara for heavens sake, not virginity! I highly doubt that any little boy or girl is going to remember this movie later on down the line and put the same thought into it that you did.

I grew up watching things like this. And yet, here I sit at 23... and it was only last year that I left home. I was not a rebellious child. My virginity is still in tact. I know how to cook and clean, but I also know how to hold my own in a crowd of strangers. I was a very naive child, teenager... and to this day I am still very naive in many ways.

You are reading too much into this. Not very many people are going to see this movie in the same light as you have. And I guarentee you there will be plenty of little boys and girls that watched this movie that will grow up and be just as naive as I was and am today.

Livvy said...

Finally!! You said exactly what I've been meaning to write down and put on my blog! (Didn't that song at the beginning make your blood boil??!)
Thank you for taking the time to point these things out, I was rather disappointed when so many of my friends gave it '5 star reviews' and didn't really look beyond and analyze what Disney was saying.

Anonymous said...

Okay, seriously? You honestly think that this movie is attacking your way of life?

Heres the deal girls. Everyone is different. Everyone gets to choose what they do with their life. You wanna stay at home, leach off of Daddy Dearest, and never get married because all men must meet your EXACT expectations? Thats fine. But I think its pathetic that you actually feel that a movie is attacking you and your lifestyle.

Why did you even go? I thought you werent allowed to see secular movies?

If you dont like whats being shown at the movie theatres, then dont go. Its just a waste of your time and money. Good day.

Vida said...

Great article! I wish I had written it myself. ;) Thanks for your very insightful analysis.
I'm happy to discover the blog of fellow stay at home daughters.

Susanna said...

Wow, excellent job Andrea. I have not seen the movie, but this review could apply to so many others like it. We shouldn't turn our brains off when we see a movie, but remember to analyze it along with watching it. Thank you for writing about such a controversial topic!

Megan said...


You made so MANY good points! So insightful! I really enjoyed your article. It would apply to many other films and i pray that God would use your thoughtful well written analysis to open many minds to the themes they are seeing in the movies.

Bravo! Holly

Anne said...

I appreciate your strong ideals for our girls and the amazing work you did to uncover what would probably be missed by most parents watching a movie with a child... we may all see the fantasy and the joy but miss the obvious aspects of it's lacking in positive direction. I'm going to say a couple things though that are contradictory to what you are pointing out though. I don't believe that our children learn primarily from movies or even from writing. Their foundation comes from our homes and schools (well from any place where our children "live") Secondly there are some moral lessons to learn from this. First off this mother leaves her child alone quite often... she's left to her own devices (as you pointed out she doesn't know her "mother" is evil) So there it goes that she will end up finding her heart in the thug because he's the one who shows up. She somehow in her pureness though is able to stay in line with the ideals of God. She has it in her heart to heal and in this way she doesn't misuse this power (that I know of... granted I didn't dissect this movie quite to the level of biblical analysis that you did and I can't quote paragraph and verse here off the top of my head) She walks the land w/o much of a foundation of "home life". She heals the thief and those she touches (without using her powers she is able to lead them back to their own hearts so to speak)... Many in our time will be lead astray by their own parents and marooned by our society but there is a way back... the prodigal son... Mary Magdalene... et.al. God made a good representation of those in the bible who did wander and lose their way. It's not that we want this for our children but this story has it's lessons of redemption. Why not go there as well and teach our children to find good in the people around them that may not have that "foundation of love" (amongst other theme). It's never a waste of time to look beyond the moral high ground for the moral message of growing up and finding your way or seeing the good in everyone.

Anonymous said...

Good grief, y'all, it's a MOVIE. Stop overanalyzing things. It's a fun, innocent movie.

Anonymous said...

Not many around are able to watch and pinpoint what exactly they have problems with, so I appreciate your willingness to be a tool used by the Lord to share the truth about the movie.
While I haven't seen this one, I have seen some others and they have many similarities it seems.. Many people I know of today blow off cautions about movies like this one, saying they're innocent. I don't think so. One little girl I babysit quite often adores Disney's Princess and the Pauper video, and I can testify to the fact that these movies DO in fact influence little children. She is addicted to the movie, watching it over and over. She unconsciously has stored Disney's messages, how could she not? They learn from the movie without ever knowing it.
Christians will tell me, It's just a cute, innocent, wholesome entertainment video for families. Really? Because I have yet to see a movie come out of Disney which doesn't have a worldly subliminal message or hidden agenda they want to teach these little children.

Amanda Kaylon said...

I am a "stay-at-home" daughter who also happens to be a Christian film critic. My own review of Tangled, written back in November, covered many of the same issues — particularly the caricature the movie presented of life as an unmarried young woman living with her parent[s]. I ended up emphasizing the false religion in the film, and the obvious similarities between the villain of the story and the stereotypical sarcastic, overprotective parent, rather than the feminism; and I didn't go into the sensual overtones of the tiara conversation; but otherwise our reviews were very, very similar.

It was extremely encouraging to me to read your review, and to find that I'm not the only one who, first, noticed the problems in Tangled and, second, thought them important enough to write about. The controversy and stifled relationships that follow reviews like this are never fun, especially when you're constantly reminded that the debate is just over a movie — two hours of cute pictures and a soundtrack — not some essential Christian doctrine. It seems so insignificant and so fruitless sometimes, but, as my father often reminds me, at least now your readers can't say that no one ever showed them these things.

From one reviewer to another, thank you for the encouragement.


Anonymous said...

You said "Governments reward sin...Flyn is embraced, his thievery ignored, and welcomed as Rapunzel's new husband and prince."

Question: If your daughter who was kidnapped as baby is returned to you 17 years later by a man who used to be a thief would you not forgive him? Embrace him? Accept him? I'm pretty sure that what Jesus Christ has done for us. Here was this man (Flynn) who was a selfish thief. But along the journey Flynn gave up thievery, was willing to give up his life for her, (Greater love has no man than this, than a man lay down his life for his friend), and was bold enough to stand before the queen and king.

Janine said...

Excellent Article! Thank you so much for being willing to brave the derision of folks who are still justifying their immaturity and rebellion. There is no 'neutral', and making defiance 'delightful', or breaking the 10 Commandments seem 'cute' really is just wickedness. To my shame it took me decades to decide that Disney wasn't really innocent fun. And another generation of children exposed to my folly. We are learning to take everything captive to biblical thought.... even 'cute, fluffy entertainment'. ;) Well Done indeed.

The Warrior said...

Fantastic review, thanks for standing up. I'm always told, when discussing this kind of thing, that I'm going overboard, or am too serious, or what have you. I appreciate seeing someone else take it all just that seriously, too.


Liz said...

There is so much wrong with this review that the mind boggles. Boggles! Rapunzel goes on a journey of self discovery. A journey that would have been guided and aided by a good parent, but that is forbidden and stifled by Mother Goethel for her own, selfish, sinful reasons. If anything, Rapunzel is, by disobeying Mother Goethel's orders, following God's will by coming into herself fully, and finding a purpose for herself. And lets not kid ourselves that Rapunzel is a homemaker. Homemakers have purpose and dignity. Rapunzel is a prisoner in her own home, forbidden from even feeling the grass beneath her toes. Sometimes, in order to do what is right, we must disobey the earthly authorities in order to obey a higher authority. Rapunzel is an incredible, inspring, beautiful hero who has the courage to follow her heart, and God's call, even when those who are blinded by sin and selfishness try to stop her.