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Reflecting on a movie can sometimes be good therapy. In Disney's Tangled, we get a variant of the Rapunzel story that reveals our deepest yearnings. The film explores big personal issues, like finding meaning and connection. Much of the wisdom comes from the source material. Timeless fairytales survive precisely because they explore universal issues. Leaving home is a giant event in every life. Finding a true identity may require heroic stamina.
At an advance screening, I asked why they dropped certain original details. In the fairytale, the father betrays his daughter to save himself, and Rapunzel's suitor is blinded later in the story. Co-director Nathan Greno thought such dark elements would be too intense for a general audience. The final script emphasizes the resourceful independence of the heroine.
Some of the changes actually added depth to the story. Fully half the script is now about Flynn Rider, a dashing rogue of a thief who grew up in an orphanage. Anyone would want to identify with him. Surely, we all have orphan feelings down inside somewhere. Also, we're all thieves, in the sense of stealing attention away from expected activities. If we are to serve our destinies, we must claim the inner bandit. Without a bit of rebellion, we won't come into our full potential.
As the title Tangled suggests, our own stories can get twisted and knotted. The princess has long golden hair with healing powers. A crone kidnaps her as an infant to exploit the youth-restoring magic that radiates from the hair when Rapunzel sings. The complicated mother-daughter scenes mirror familiar difficult relationships between generations. They also could represent the struggle within between old attitudes and daring new ideas.
The tower is a nice home in a hidden glade. The girl has a comfortable life there, with time for art and reading. The woman she calls mother is rather passive-aggressive but does dote on her. Still, our heroine yearns to go beyond the safety of home. Her wanderlust is stirred by the spectacle of distant airborne lanterns that appear each year on her birthday. Rapunzel wants to see the lights up close and learn what they are. She could represent a seeker on the journey to illumination. Many people are content to stay close to the familiar, but explorer types need to investigate the mysteries.
Rapunzel's moments of difficult transition are familiar to anyone who has survived adolescence. She has mixed feelings about leaving the familiar limits of mother and tower. Her insecurities reflect our own ambivalence about claiming larger possibilities. The subsequent adventure represents a process of discovery. The film even has an underwater scene that suggests a night-sea journey through our deepest fears.
It turns out those lanterns are sent aloft by her parents as an annual ceremony of remembering her. The whole country launches the floating lights in the hope she is alive and will see them. This suggests home is longing for us as much as we yearn to find it. The place of belonging may be a faint memory, but it calls. The imagery suggests a transcendent sense of purpose. The symbolism could imply a destiny that is reaching toward us, hoping to be noticed. I know this is grand language for a family movie, but the wisdom of folklore does carry such large notions. Deep messages lurk in old stories whether filmmakers intend them or not.
Each member of the audience will likely see their own movie. Some will identify with a person needing to discover the world. Others may focus on the healing potentials of the magical hair. Some will feel a rising sense of rebellion yet to find a voice. My guess is that everyone will feel elation about the sky full of glowing lights. Tangled is example of a popular movie that manages to be astute about our journeys. We will be more than entertained if we pay attention to the mythic images, and what they show us about the inner life.