Every woman who has ever known me well enough to talk about such things has told me that Disney movies made her wish that she had blond hair, as so many Disney heroines did. I never really understood it at the time, especially since there are non-blond Disney heroines. Not only that, but I’d always thought jet-black hair was far more attractive than blond. The Fates smiled on me, and one day I met the beautiful, black-haired Asian woman who is now my wife. However, she is always talking about wanting to dye her hair other colors, especially (of all things) blond. Yuck. But I digress. More recently, I’ve begun to see why so many women feel the way they do about Disney and hair. Disney’s latest animated fairy tale makes the picture pretty clear, as it comes right out and declares the two points Disney has always been making.
First point: brown-haired girls are useless. Disney has always hinted at this. While the hair colors of their leading ladies are more diverse than some people acknowledge, there has only ever been one brown-haired Disney heroine (unless you count Megara, who is a pretty small part of the Hercules plot, not to mention terribly drawn). However, in Tangled they just come right out and say it. The villainess, Mother Gothel (Donna Murphey), discovers a magic flower that has the power to keep her young forever. Centuries later, the flower is uprooted and made into medicine to save an ailing, pregnant, brown-haired queen. The queen then gives birth to Rapunzel (Mandy Moore), who has long, flowing blond hair, that contains the flower’s power. Gothel kidnaps her and spirits her away to a secluded tower to keep herself young. We later learn that Rapunzel’s hair can never be cut, or it will turn *gasp!* brown and lose its power. Isn’t that a slap to the face of every brunette in the audience.
On the upside, Disney may have found their most likable heroine ever in Rapunzel. The princesses of Disney’s golden age (e.g. Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty) were justifiably criticized for being overly passive, depending on a man for their happiness, and waiting to be rescued. On the other hand, Disney’s silver age reeks of overcompensation for this. In the early ‘90s Disney subjected us to a whole generation of Kimpossible-esque princesses spouting musical rhetoric about making their own choices and marrying only for love. It wasn’t terrible, but it was an obvious attempt to be politically correct in an age of commercials full of girls playing soccer and shouting about how girls kick butt. Then, as Disney descended back into mediocrity, they had their heroines attempting near-suicidal stunts and fighting more than Lara Croft. Esmerelda slapped and kicked her way through innumerable guards in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. It was all pretty forced.
Rapunzel transcends all of this. On the spectrum between pining prince-craver and emasculating bitch she really doesn’t show up anywhere. She’s a pretty simple character; all she wants is to get out of her tower for a day. She’s humble, yet full of life. Adventurous, yet real and relatable. She’s warm, human and caring. Far less sexualized than Esmerelda, Jasmine, or even Ariel, she’s still thoroughly female. She’s spontaneous, pretty and, yes, blond.
Not only that, but Rapunzel actually has a legitimate grievance in her life. Just when I thought I’d go insane if I had to listen to one more spoiled brat sing about her desire for “adventure in the great wide somewhere,” it was easy to sympathize with the plight of a girl who just wanted to see what was outside her bedroom.
Our male lead (Zachary Levi) is a bit more of a stock character; not too different from Aladdin or Phoebes, but he’s still a lot of fun to watch.
Of course, you can’t have a good story without a villainess to antagonize the primal couple. Disney has been through a real dry spell of villainesses in the last couple decades; the last one I can name was Ursula in The Little Mermaid. I am happy to report that sinister femininity is back with a vengeance in Tangled. Which brings up the second point Disney is trying to make: Black-haired women are evil. The queen in Snow White, Malificent in Sleeping Beauty, The Queen of Hearts, Cruella Devil – they all had black hair (or black horns). Even Ursula had black hair once she transformed into a young woman for the last act. It’s also worth noting that, while Disney does have black-haired heroines, none of them are Caucasian, except Snow White.
True to form, our antagonist in Tangled has black hair. Not only that, but director Nathan Greno uses this hair extensively to emphasize her evilness. Time after time it frames her face for a menacing close-up, or flows into a black cloak that she’s wearing. In all fairness, though, Gothel is a pretty three-dimensional character, especially for a villain. It actually took me almost half the movie to be sure that she was the villain, and that’s rare. Early on, she’s mainly a doting, if over-protective, mother for Rapunzel. It just makes it that much more fun to watch her true colors come out later.
All in all, this is a genuinely terrific movie, and you owe it to yourself to check it out. Disney succeeds here where they’ve often failed – in making a movie just as enjoyable for adults as for children – and they did it with almost no violence or sensuality. Tangled deliciously skewers every Disney cliché, from emotive animals to ridiculously spontaneous musical numbers. The story is loaded with hilarity from start to finish, and it’s also a story full of true love, overcoming one’s fears, and often heart-wrenching self-sacrifice. It reminded me of why I once loved Disney. And while I no longer do, and never will again, it was really good to go back for an evening.
Last 5 posts by Seth H.
- Hansel & Gretal: Witch Hunters - June 22nd, 2013
- Warm Bodies - June 15th, 2013
- Runaway Slave - May 12th, 2013
- Rise of the Guardians - April 9th, 2013
- Wreck-it Ralph - February 2nd, 2013