In the Spiegel household, the highest honor a film can receive is being deemed “Theater Visit Worthy.” Over Christmas break, we actually found two such worthy films, each appealing to different age groups within our clan. Jim took the older kids to see Voyage of the Dawn Treader while I, fearing I had drawn the short straw, took the younger ones to see Tangled. Our daughter especially wanted to see the latest Disney feature and since she doesn’t often express interest in movies, I looked forward to taking her and her younger brother with a mixture of excitement and fear. I was excited to experience one of my favorite art forms with her and yet fearful that it would be a disappointment. I have a long-standing prejudice against Disney, which too often skimps on creativity in favor of politically correct drivel. In this case, however, my fear was entirely unfounded.
A few weeks later, a friend and I were discussing Tangled when she expressed her disappointment at having discovered a highly critical online review of the film. Curious regarding the reviewer’s criticisms, I went home to Google her cleverly titled review, “Mangled.” As I read, it was strange to see s someone who espouses many of the same basic principles I hold applying them in ways I couldn’t disagree with more. (Here is Andrea Reins’ review.) Were we to sit down over a cuppa, I am quite certain I would find I have more common ground with her than I do with the creators of Tangled. I desire to follow, and pray that my daughter follows as well, a biblical model of womanhood. I believe that maintaining a home for your family is one of the most important and rewarding vocations a woman can undertake. And so on. However, when it comes to Tangled and, I would suspect how the principles of biblical womanhood are played out in our lives as wives and mothers, Ms. Reins and I part company. Here are three basic points of disagreement I have with her analysis:
1) Ms. Reins proposes that the film encourages the false idea that rebellion brings happiness and that just as her kidnapper sins in stealing her from her family, Rapunzel sins by disobeying the woman she believes to be her mother. Rapunzel is a prisoner, trapped by the lies and vanity of one of the movie’s villains, Mother Gothel. Gothel steals Rapunzel away from her real family in order to maintain a youthful appearance. Rapunzel’s real parents are portrayed as loving and steadfast. Rather than remaining a slave to vanity and selfish manipulation, Rapunzel is given the chance of experiencing a healthy family life. What’s not to love about that? Ms. Reins asserts that the film communicates that duty equals bondage. I say the film communicates that duty to the wrong people (or ideas) equals bondage. Perhaps the filmmakers and I would disagree as to what the wrong people and ideas are, but they show restraint in that regard and I appreciate it.
2) Ms. Reins hates that the thief, Flynn, gets the girl in the end. I say “What about redemption?” Flynn proves himself trustworthy and selfless. The movie even implies that their marriage isn’t immediate which is one of my fairy tale pet peeves. “How can they live happily ever after when they have seen each other like three times and maybe sung a song or two?”
3) Finally, Ms. Reins criticizes the film’s portrayal of Rapunzel as an emancipated woman who can take care of herself. I would be curious to know Ms. Reins’ views on other Disney princesses who are more passive than most coma victims. Sleeping Beauty and Snow White are, in fact, comatose. Rapunzel has been raised by Gothel to fear the world outside of her tower, however once she leaves she discovers the world has many joys and wonders to experience, along with sorrows and disappointments. Jim and I have no intention of throwing our children to the wolves of the world but neither do we wish to see them fearful of engaging it. I love the fact that Rapunzel kicks some serious b-u-t-t with a frying pan. I pray that my daughter will one day be as fearless, confident in the truth we have instilled in her heart.
My approach has always been to evaluate movies first as art and then as moral statements. It saves time in that often movies are so bad aesthetically (Titanic, Shakespeare in Love, The Notebook) that we need not bother with their theology. In my opinion, Tangled is a great film, creative and well written. Morally and theologically, do I agree with everything it puts forth? No, but that’s what critical thinking skills and time around the dinner table are for. It is through discussing these ideas with our children that we arm our children with the shield of faith, perhaps in the shape of a frying pan.