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Cinema in Focus: ‘Tangled’

Latest telling of the ancient fairytale Rapunzel is unexpectedly insightful

3 Stars — Wholesome

Tangled, the cinematic adaptation of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale Rapunzel, is creatively pleasing in several ways.

The story has been changed such that Rapunzel is now the princess who is rescued by an orphan turned thief, rather than a commoner rescued by a prince. The woman who stole her from her royal home is no longer an enchantress but an obsessed old woman who desires eternal youth that is provided by the magic of Rapunzel’s hair.

The story is further changed by writer Dan Fogelman such that it is no longer the Prince’s tears that restore his own sight when the enchantress caused his blindness; it is Rapunzel’s tears that now have healing power.

But what’s most interesting from our perspective as commentators on the spiritual messages of film is the insertion into the story of a cult of the sun, in which the kingdom views the sun as a source of light and life. Further, this life and healing power become incarnated in Rapunzel. This addition changes the entire complexity of the story and gives it a depth that transcends the usual moral messages of a fairytale.

In addition to these changes in the story, the film is made of qualitatively superior computer-assisted animation. Directors Nathan Greno and Byron Howard, who directed Bolt, paint a beautiful and creative world in which the characters portray a nuanced presence with exaggerated features and endearing body language.

Using her magical hair as a tool and a weapon, Rapunzel (voice by Mandy Moore) is the living repository of the sun’s power. Kidnapped by Mother Gothel (voice by Donna Murphy) and raised as her own daughter in a tower within a hidden valley, Rapunzel is captive by the fear Gothel had instilled within her.

But the day before her 18th birthday, her protective prison is invaded by Flynn Ryder (voice by Zachary Levi) as he flees the king’s soldiers. Unwittingly he has brought the stolen crown of the princess to its rightful owner and only child of the aging king and queen.

The themes that are played out within Ryder and Rapunzel’s relationship are vintage romance, coming of age rebellion and the struggle to find confidence and trust as emerging adults. The comic relief comes from a chameleon and a horse, something that sounds unlikely but is done very well.

The reality that we all weave tangled webs of deceit and desire is a compelling message, that is well told in Tangled. That light and life are available, but even this power requires a love that is willing to lay down one’s life for the beloved, is a truth that Christian faith has long realized. As this film explains, it is not in a magic flower or magic hair that we live happily ever after, but in committed love and self sacrifice.

Magical power can become obsessive, and cultic worship without love can become depressing, but love that never ends and will do whatever is needed for the beloved speaks deeply to us all.


» 1. The implication that dreams can turn people around is wonderfully unexpected in the bar full of violent men. Do you believe dreams have this transformative power in real life, or just in fairy tales?

» 2. The desire for unending life became a precious possession and obsession of Gothel, such that she secretly hid the power of the flower and of Rapunzel’s hair. Do you believe this is true of most people, and if so, how do we overcome such selfish indifference toward others? Did you find her fate at the end satisfying?

» 3. The turning of the tale around such that Rapunzel is a princess who in effect rescues herself implies a change in the position of women within our mythology. She is not a helpless maiden rescued by a prince on a white stallion. Her power lifts Ryder and the stallion to new levels. Do you believe such a strengthening of women weakens the position of men, or do you think this is a necessary adjustment to our cultural myths? Do you think making Ryder an orphan and a thief will help or harm the audience’s view of men?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.

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