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The Totalitarianism of Tangled

October 18, 2021

I got a pristine copy of Tangled (Nathan Greno, Byron Howard, 2010) from the library, but it still hiccupped through the opening, but this time I could use my Oppo DVD player and TV (although I must admit, the sound is better form the TV, which is an an Advent flat-fronted cathode ray tube TV purchased in 2003). I’ve been continuing to watch DVDs on my laptop most of the time because of the greater screen resolution, but many Disney DVDs seem to be incompatible with an LG external DVD ROM drive.

Apart from the directors’ apparent foot fetish that was even worse with the male characters than with Rapunzel, it was a really good film, but Mother Gothel was probably too sympathetic a villain, and Rapunzel’s love for her turning on a dime seemed a bit much, and her fate too harsh.

I think it would have been absolutely unacceptable had the original opening been retained:

They really had to tone it down to make it not be so bootlicking as it is in that first version of the opening, where it is clearly established that the healing flower is Mother Gothel’s property that the king eventually steals to save his wife and daughter, whereas in the finished film, it’s no one’s personal property; however, it’s still a part of the commons that the king appropriates and prevents anyone else from using by killing it, whereas Mother Gothel hiding the flower didn’t theoretically prevent anyone else from using its healing properties so much as protect it from those who might kill it as the king does. It’s still the richest people in the community acting like they’re more entitled to something than someone of lesser means. Any American should reject the concept of the divine right of kings. It doesn’t really matter that the king is portrayed as a nice guy and described as generous. He’s still attempting to put to death a man who stole the princess’s crown. I’m not saying it gives Mother Gothel the right to steal their child (let alone stab someone in a lethal place), but royals effectively left her to die, and the relationship seems far too complicated for Rapunzel’s turning on Gothel to be completely believable. Based on how they get along throughout the first half of the film, Gothel must have done something right, even if it was for a selfish purpose. Had she not stabbed someone in a vital place, it would be difficult to see her death as a just punishment for her crimes. The appropriate punishment for keeping someone prisoner is for them to experience imprisonment, not death. The film gives no indication that Gothel runs around hurting people when she is away from the tower, and to its credit, Rapunzel does look horrified when Gothel is sent to her death, but is soon over it. Until the stabbing, Mother Gothel had me thinking of Queen Zixi of Ix, only more selfish. Zixi does some bad things to trick Fluff into giving her the Magic Cloak of her own free will, but is only violent in scenes of actual warfare. She is redeemed at the end of the novel, but she never kidnapped anyone or

The Grimm Brothers’ story isn’t even remotely like this. In their version, Frau Hothel is the wealthiest person in the community, and Rapunzel’s parents are paupers who long for a child. The wife’s craving for rapunzel leaves in Frau Gothel’s garden causes the husband to attempt to steal them, but when caught , he is told that his wife can have all the rapunzel she wants in exchange for her first born child. The magical properties of Rapunzel’s hair are unique to the Disney version, but it would not have been in keeping with Disney’s house style for Rapunzel to be impregnated out of wedlock by a prince, as she is in the story. Gothel cuts off Rapunzel’s hair to keep her away from her love and abandons her to the w wilderness where she gives birth to twins. By leaving the hair hooked to the tower, Gothel tricks the prince into coming for her, has her cat scratch out his eyes, and sends him flying out the window, where he survives, albeit badly uninjured, by falling into a briar. After several years of wandering abut blindly, he recognizes the sound of Rapunzel’s voice. She recognizes him in spite of his condition, her tears restore his health (the only moment in the story indicating magical powers, which is greatly expanded upon in the film), and the whole family returns to the prince’s kingdom. Once Upon a Time is at least more realistic about stuff like this, e.g. Prince James’s dalliance with Jack (short for Jacqueline) the Giant Killer, whom King George calls a strumpet when he catches them in bed together. Of course, James is a villain who ultimately loses his soul, and this unnamed prince is not, even though German stories are often unforgiving for unchastity. As with Frozen three years later, the changes are extreme even by Disney’s loose standards of adaptation, justifying the title change that should also have been accorded Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland the same year–an underrated film that many people told me that they would have liked better had it been marketed as the extension it was rather than as the adaptation of the novel that is implied by the title. Given the discussion at hand, that Tangled and Frozen had already been previously used as titles by small, independent productions–Tangled (Toni Sherwood, 1997), Tangled (Jay Lowi, 2001), Tangled (Bronwen Hughes, 2010 (July–Greno and Howard’s film opened in November), Frozen (Wang Xiaoshuai, 1996), Frozen (Juliet McKoen, 2005), Frozen (Shivajee Chandrabhushan, 2007), Frozen (Adam Green, 2010 (March)), Frozen (Derek Kwok Chi-Kin, 2010 (September))–seems important to this discussion. 2010 was not the 1990s in terms of the internet, and the existence of these films could have been easily determined before Disney decided to make a trademark filing (titles are not protected under U.S. copyright law). Wang’s film is particularly notable because it got him in serious trouble in China at the time and was a significant art house release in the U.S., and I was aware of both it and Green’s film at the time of Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee’s film in 2013, and McKoen’s film has a poster plastered with film festival acclaim. Lowi’s film was distributed by Buena Vista, Disney’s distribution arm. It seems highly unlikely that the marketing department was unaware of these (one of my school friends is credited in the marketing department of Frozen, and although I verified it’s the same person, she hasn’t replied to me). I’ve had Sherwood’s film in my collection for years because I had seen one of the actors in a play, but it was released on DVD by a company called Miracle Pictures that doesn’t know how to handle sound–it’s like they cranked the master up so loud that there is extreme distortion that’s permanently part of the copy regardless of volume, so I’ve been hesitant to watch it.

I thought the film was well done, and I liked it quite a lot, but I did get a sense of bootlicking from it (and I don’t mean the literal of Flynn’s boot in the mouth of Max, the horse) even before I saw the alternate opening in which the king outright steals from a private citizen, and that just really made me think about how calvinistic the initial approach was, essentially saying that certain people can steal and be considered good while condemning someone else for taking back what was stolen from them because the circumstances of doing so make it impossible to not do something worse. As a high-profile family film, the moral issues at play in a film so widely seen, especially by young people, can’t be scrutinized too much.

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