Saturday, April 23, 2011
Tangled. The word so acurately describes my feelings toward this movie.
On the one hand I really enjoyed it. It was cute and playful, full of swashbuckling, whimsey and charming characters. I supose that should be enough but . . .
I've loved the story of Repunzel for too long and I know that the Disney version will slowly milk the dark symbolism out of common tellings. No one tells the version of Cinderella where she speaks to her mother's ghost anymore or the version where her stepsisters cut of their heels and toes to fit into the slipper. No one remembers the other objects Snow White's stepmother tried to kill her with before the apple or that the prince, rather than kissing a dead girl, wanted to keep her on display in his castle. No one tells the part where the queen is forced to dance in hot iron shoes at Snow White's wedding.
Fairy Tales have been largely "Disneyified" in common thought. So much that a "Fairy Tale" often refers to a perfect world. Have you ever actually imagined being in a fairy tale? Sure they usually have a happy ending (If you are the hero or heroine. Otherwise you will be eaten or rolled down a hill in a barrel full of nails to pay for your sins) but first the poor princess or youngest son is beset upone by ogres, asked riddles they must answer on peril of their life, tormented by step relatives, nearly toasted by dragons, made to work in the scullery, lost for years at a time in the woods, turned into swans or pots of flowers, kidknapped by fairies, or tricked into making a bargain with the devil. I doubt any of the characters would describe their lives as perfect.
I don't for a moment beleive that adaptors of fairy tales must remain one hundred percent true to the original version. How would we ever know which one was first in a genre that originated in oral storytelling? Still, I do beleive that there is a reason why versions of the same stories appear almost everywhere cross culturally. It could, of course, be that there was an original version that was spread across the world and changed by each culture. Or it could be that rooting for the third and youngest son, discovering that the myserious stranger in the woods is really royalty, and being banished from home by relatives who aren't true relatives, are all part of our collective consciousness, integral to our experience as human beings. These motifs symbolize our love for the underdog, our ability to find beauty in the strange, and the feelings of alienation we sometimes experience at home. These ideas can be shifted and morfed to match the idealogy of the story teller but not ignored. Not if the power of a story that has been told over and over for hundreds of years is going to remain intact.
So what were the changes in the Repunzel story that I fear will be lost?
First, the character of the witch. I have always been facinated with the idea of an old woman, shunned and feared by society, wanting to raise and love a child but not knowing how. She gets the child by blackmail (because repunzel's parents tried to steal from her)and then locks her in a tower to keep her safe. The protection soon becomes a curse and doesn't even keep out the danger. In Tangled, however the witch is purely selfish, wanting to use Repunzel's magic hair to stay young forever. Becuase if we are to keep our own children in their ivory towers we can not allow them to entertain the idea that a single person could contain both admirable and despicable qualities.
Second, the whole metaphor or the girl in the ivory tower. I understand that this is a difficult issue because so many people --with good reason --are trying to change the ideaology of women being "won" or "obtained". I have no objection whatsoever of a more modern, gender equal twist being added to the prince's treacherous trek through the woods, poetical acrobatics to get the girl's attention, and scaling of a tower with no doors to reach her, but the element is so obviously there that it should at least be addressed. There is certainly potential for a strong love story there as well. Repunzel does help him by letting her hair down (figuratively as well as literally?) and he is blinded by trying to reach her (love is blind or so they say)and then healed by her tears after she is exiled by her family. Tangled encorperates a love story of course, but it doesn't use any of the symbolism.
Disney fairy tales remind me of the "Fair Re-Tells" my sister wrote when she was twelve. All the characters did the nicest and most logical thing from the very beginning, resluting in paragraph long stories that read something along the lines of "Once upon a time there were some people" without all the stunning conflict and tangle of magic and ideas that a story should be. They told us the right thing to do but didn't teach us anything about life.
So, do I recomend that you see this movie? Yes. It is charmingly entertaining and makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. Still, I regret the loss of the deeper, darker parts of the Repunzel story.