Honoring the Heroine: Rapunzel

Like I said in my last post, Disney movies and Christmas are two things which belong together in my mind. Do you know what also belongs together? Fairy tales and Christmas. I guess partly because in my country, the Christmas programming is full of Fairy Tale movies. But also because Christmas is supposed to be a magical time, and fairy tales are magical, too. So I decided that Christmas time is fairy tale time. Each Christmas (yeah, I really intend to do this for a couple of years) I will pick one fairy tale with a female heroine and talk about the best adaptions I know.

One of the reasons I decided to go for Rapunzel first is convenience. This year, there only are three Saturdays before Christmas in the first place, one of which I already used to talk about Disney Princesses in general. But there aren’t really that many Rapunzel adaptions to begin with, and even fewer which are worth talking about. In fact, there are exactly two, one being Tangled, the other one an episode of a TV-Show.

The other reason I gladly picked Rapunzel is simply that she is currently my favourite Disney Princess. And with “currently” I don’t mean that I might change my mind anytime soon, I mean that she will have the top spot until Disney presents one I like even better the same way, Belle and Cinderella held this spot beforehand.  But don’t worry, I will try not to break out in mindless gushing during this article.

As I mentioned in my last posts, what a Disney Princess is changed over time. The Classic Princesses were mostly written to be virtuous. From the get go they were in trapped in a difficult situation due to the actions of a villain, and the movie was basically about how the villain is removed and how they started a new life at a different place. The “I want” Princesses from the Renaissance era were more proactive. They were unhappy with the life they lead, and therefore set out to change the circumstances they had to live in. The modern princesses though are complex characters, who develop and gain a new perspective during their movies.

Rapunzel is basically the best of all Princesses which came before her. She has the virtues of the Classic Princesses, but at the same time she is proactive like the ones from the Renaissance. She is friendly to everyone, but if necessary, she will use her frying pan. She is girly, but not silly or stupid. Due to the actions of Mother Gothel, she is insecure, but nevertheless has enough inner strength to overcome years of conditioning.

This is the main reason why Rapunzel is a wonderful role model: inner strength. Like Snow White and Cinderella she is a victim of abuse. Unlike them she isn’t aware of the fact for most of the movie. Think about it, her whole life she was trapped with one person, who constantly told her how dangerous the world outside is, and that she is not prepared to face it. But despite all the discouragement, she breaks down all the barriers as soon as she sees her opportunity.

I also like why she does it. Not because she is particularly rebellious, but because Mother Gothel for once looses her control and lets it slip that she will never allow Rapunzel to leave. Up to this point, Rapunzel first goal was to convince her, to get permission. It is only when she realizes that this will never happen that she decides that it is time to make her own decisions.
Rapunzel is also smart. Her reading material is limited, but she nevertheless managed to figure out how to chart stars and that the flying lights are something else. She does manage to figure out how to deal with the outside world. Sometimes perhaps a little bit too easy for it still being realistic, but there are a lot of aspects I like about her approach. For one, she is methodical. She knows that she won’t find the way on her own, so she secures the help of Flynn by using what he wants as leverage against him. And two, I like how insecure she is about it. It is certainly terrible that Mother Gothel undermined her self-esteem. But in a way, this makes Rapunzel’s decision more impressive. It is similar to Mrs Brisby whose bravery is more impressive because her fear is so obvious. With Rapunzel, the doubts she has concerning her actions, that she is not just storming ahead but does consider the possible dangers, make her decisions more relatable and brave.

The movie in general is very feminist, mostly because the genders are treated equally, and not in a forced “we have to draw attention to the fact” manner. There is a king and a queen but at no point it is specified which one is the actual ruler of Corona. It is mentioned though that Rapunzel, being of royal blood, ruled the country later on, with Eugene at her side.
Speaking of Eugene, the romance is exceptionally well written. It is not the usual fairy tale like romance, it is the meeting of two people, who are attracted to each other, but do not fall in love immediately. They have different goals, and only when they get to know each other better, a romance develops. They do open up to each other pretty fast, but I think a near-death experience is a convincing reason for revealing secrets. The campfire scene is just beautifully done, especially in the details. After Rapunzel tells Flynn that she likes Eugene better, she keeps using his real name for the rest of the movie. And Eugene, who until this point was mostly set on tricking Rapunzel into going back into the tower is now ready not only to fulfil her wish, but to ensure that it will be the experience she dreamt of.

This is another important aspect: Rapunzel does not give up her dream for Eugene. In fact, they both fulfil their dreams because they work together. Their relationship is based on an mutual desire to do the best for the other. Rapunzel is ready to give up her freedom for his life, and he is ready to give up his life for her freedom. Not just risking his life, but giving it up for sure. Is there a bigger sacrifice than willingly laying your life down for someone else?

Often romance is considered as something which somehow weakens the female character. I disagree. While there are countless examples of female characters in a romantic relationship which are badly written, this is usually because they are written as romantic interest and not as characters on their own. Rapunzel (like all the Disney Heroines) is a character who happens to experience a romance. And is there a better way to approach the theme “romance” than showing how it should be by creating an entirely equal relationship, in which both partners respect the individuality of the other? The very last scene of the movie shows it the best, when Rapunzel first smiles about Eugene “stealing” her crown and then grabs him for a kiss in the position which is usually reserved for the male partner, with her head above Eugene’s. What might have looked odd for an audience in the 1920, most people don’t even notice nowadays. Which shows how far we have come since then.  I think we will eventually manage to make the last steps, too.

Quote: “Did I mumble, mother? Or should I even call you that?”

12 thoughts on “Honoring the Heroine: Rapunzel

  1. Ok, I actually know this one, lol!

    I never “loved” this movie as much as everyone seems to, but I do like it. And I did enjoy Rapunzel as a character. I think I had actually added her as a fictional crush when I had first seen the movie (she’s off that list now, lol). Mandy Moore does a good job voicing her too.

    • Well, the post is about the character and not the movie, though I quite like it, too. I agree, Mandy Moore does a good job, even though people keep complaining about her having a “celebrity voice” (which is nonsense, btw, Disney always used voice actors with some credits under their belt, but they were always cast for their voice and ability to use it, not for their celebrity status).

  2. I tried commenting here a day ago, but it did not work. Anyways, you should know what I am going to say, since we have argued over this MANY times this year (still cannot believe I knew you fro almost a year).

    While she does go through character development and is a strong character, I still think she is too perfect and pretty close to being a Mary-Sue. She barely has any flaws and the things she does do is excused and written in a positive light. Just cannot get into her. Great article as usual.

  3. I have to agree. I like Tangled a lot, but I think that Rapunzel is slightly too perfect as a character. I mean, she’s pretty conflicted, but I would like it more is she had any actual flaws that people can relate to.

    • I think she has her own flaws…her insecurity, for example. Which, I admit, she looses mostly during the movie, along with a lot of her naiveté, but she is certainly not the perfect little princess who never makes a mistake. She is prone to panicking, to sudden mood swings, to be overly enthusiastic about things. I really don’t think that she needs worse flaws to be relatable…in fact, if there is anything I hate, then the new trend to give heroines token flaws to make them “believable”…there are plenty of more or less flawless heroes, but a heroine naturally isn’t “perfect” enough if she isn’t perfect…if you get my drift.

  4. Love this movie!! I love the music. The villain being a mother is so twisted (at least Rapunzel thinks she’s her mother and not a step mother which is usually the villain). I love the romance and the music.

    But for Rapunzel’s character I also agree with she is terrifically dynamic and interesting. I love how indecisive she is. (Speaking of being too perfect, that’s an imperfection). I love the scene outside the tower when she goes back and forth. My sister is like that. She will make a decision and then second guess it over and over again. Just great (and funny).

    I love that she see’s beyond the Finn Ryder and wants to know a real person. How refreshing. I remember one time I had a picture of a date I was going on and I jokingly showed my Mom a picture of Michael Buble (my fav) and then showed her my date and she said she liked my date better 😉 . The real people are sometimes the best even in a princess movie.

    I agree the romance is very well written and I like that she is a dreamer. I love characters like that (hence my love for Ariel and Belle).

  5. I know this is an old article, and I have read it before, so I probably shouldn’t be commenting out of nowhere just now, but what can I say? I love rereading your articles and I want to voice my agreement. I love Rapunzel to bits, she has been my favorite princess for a while now, and to be fair enough, I think it’s partly because your arguments are so convincing and thoughtful. Thank you.

    • I am always happy about comments, no matter when they come.
      It’s to bad that so many people keep wanting to proof that either TPaF or now Frozen is better than Tangled, and therefore keep nit-picking at the movie. I believe that it will withstand time way better.

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