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Tangled and its Hidden Critique of Rapunzel


Peeking at the mere surface of the film Tangled (2010) directed by Nathan Greno and Brian Howard, most would presume that it is merely another film created
to blend in as a paradigm case[1] amongst female empowerment film, as it clearly displays independent and strong women. In all actuality, its abrogation of misogyny is Disney’s way of transgressing the lesser known fairytale "Rapunzel" (1812) written by the Brothers Grimm. In this paper I will argue that the Disney adaptation transgresses its original hypotext by purposefully proving how females can be capable without a stronger male figure. This can be proven through the characters of Rapunzel and the Mother of Rapunzel.
Overview: A Definition of Transgression
Within his article "Of Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse," author Homi Bhabha provides a definition of mimicry that, although correct, fails to display the definition in its entirety. He defines the purpose of mimicry as being "for a reformed, recognizable Other." Thus, mimicry itself becomes "the sign of a double articulation...of reform, regulation... which 'appropriates' the Other" and, in simplest terms, produces what is "almost the same, but not quite." Therefore, this mimicry is synonymous with the term transgression, as it is also a critique of what is original. In this way, Bhabha correctly presents mimicry, or its synonymous counterpart transgression, as the creation of a reformed copy in order to revise the original construct. This copy, then, infuses into the original its unique set of values and beliefs.


Notwithstanding, Bhabha overlooks an essential component in transgression's definition, or its intentional meaning. Transgression is the sustaining of a hypotext's original elements but reforming them in order to purposefully instill one's own ideas into the hypertext. In this way, one must have conscious intent to instill a deeper meaning into his edits, as this reform cannot occur by accident in order to qualify as transgressive. This idea of intent is crucial, as it is what creates a white lie as innocent or malicious, a questionable joke as excusable or rude, and a hypertext as transgressive or an accidental copy void of meaning. In this way, the Disney film Tangled (2010) truly transgresses the original fairytale "Rapunzel" (1812) by intentionally reforming its characters in order to critique the Grimm Brothers' misogynist ideology and instill the deeper meaning of how females can be capable beings without the aid of a male figure.
I: A Protagonist of Focus: Rapunzel


The character of Rapunzel and her independent motivation to advance herself prove how Tangled (2010) transgresses "Rapunzel"(1812) by purposefully presenting how females can be capable without a male. Within the original fairytale, the Grimm Brothers introduce Rapunzel as being locked in a twenty level tower by an evil sorceress thereby implementing her into a life of isolated loneliness. They purposefully neglect to describe her daily activities, thoughts, or ambitions in their introduction of her, as this leads to the deeper insinuation that she does not even possess any, since this uselessness is how the Brothers Grimm expect women to behave without the aid of a man. Instead, she compromises these activities, thoughts, and ambitions, as well as any motivation to acquire them, for "[passing] her solitude [by] letting her sweet voice resound." This statement, as well as a mere description of Rapunzel as "beautiful," are the sole descriptions of her worth and independent actions. Further still, the Brothers Grimm clearly express their misogynist ideology by barely grazing this poor "introduction" of Rapunzel by describing her existence prior to the prince as only a few sentences, thereby accentuating the inferiority and uselessness of her independent life through a lack of length.

In contrast, the Disney film Tangled (2010) presents the protagonist as embodying tremendous motivations of self-advancement even before the male figure, Flynn Ryder, is introduced. The first glimpse we catch of Rapunzel in her tower, even though she is alone, is one of impressive drive, as is proven through her song, "When Will my Life Begin?" Even as early as "7:00 am in the morning," she immediately delves into her "usual morning lineup of polishing, waxing, moping, shining, and cleaning laundry," all of which she determinedly finishes at precisely 7:15 am. We then watch Rapunzel excitedly struggle to balance a stack of textbooks of botany, geology, and cooking, of which she gleefully vows to finish and re-read by the conclusion of the day. Clearly, although she is not given an opportunity to receive an education, she determinedly self-learns these subjects through her own accord. Although she does not have a Prince Charming figure to save her, she still creates a busy and productive existence through her own will. In fact, her singing of "When Will my Life Begin," as opposed to the more conventional "When Will my Prince Come?" furtherly proves her independent strength. Likewise, her use of song represents a thirst to independently improve herself, unlike the original damsel, whose use of song was a direct consequence of her lethargy and lack of motivation consequential of her waiting for a Prince to come.

She also excitedly attacks a mountainous degree of other activities such as playing guitar, knitting, paper macheing, performing ballet, sewing dresses, chess playing, and even painting a large scale mural of pigs, owls, dogs, and herself happily dancing in the trees. Although she is not able to receive an art class, she independently motivates herself to create extravagant works of creative art that therefore reflect her motivation to advance herself regardless of the notion that she has not yet met her Prince Charming. This mural, in particular, metaphorically represents her deeper drive, as the only way she could learn of the animals' existence would be through her several academic books that she determinedly teaches herself, and the only way that she could dance in the trees would be if she escaped and experienced the outside world. In this way, she metaphorically opens a window to her deeper cognitive aspirations, as she exhibits self-motivation to advance herself and also a desire to venture outside the tower through her mural, respectively. Therefore, Disney exemplifies through its purposeful transgression of the character Rapunzel and her independent motivation to advance herself how females can be capable without a male.


The character of Rapunzel and her abilities to independently take action to advance herself prove how the Disney adaptation transgresses Rapunzel (1812) by purposefully presenting how females can be capable without the aid of a male. Within the original tale, all of Rapunzel's actions, aside from her singing, are due to the commands of someone else. For instance, when the evil sorceress wants to enter the tower, she demands for her to "let down her hair," and so Rapunzel submissively obeys. In a like manner, when a strange prince who she has never met before asks her to let down her hair for him, she neglects to question the dangerousness or oddness of this, as well as the fact that he is a male, of which she had never seen before. Instead, she also quietly obeys him, and upon seeing that he is "young and beautiful," immediately agrees to marry and run away with him once they exchange a few words. After years of isolation and lethargy, she is "miraculously" able to leave her tower, since she plays her gender role and believes that this can only happen with the superior abilities of the prince. In this way, Rapunzel serves as a mindless puppet whose marionette strings are forcefully pulled by others, but never herself.


Clearly, Tangled (2010) transgresses "Rapunzel" (1812) by sustaining the basic elements of a damsel in captivity and a Prince who invades her tower. However, Disney injects the deeper message that females can be capable of independent action without the aid of a male through Rapunzel's own capabilities and brave choices. Within the original tale, the Grimm Brothers express their limited expectation of females through their portrayal of Rapunzel as being incapable of action through her own accord apart from her solitary singing. In contrast, the film Tangled presents Rapunzel as actively engaging herself in independent actions without the aid of the male protagonist, Flynn Ryder. For instance, when he forcefully enters her tower after being chased for stealing the royal crown, she independently thinks for herself, successfully attacks him into unconsciousness with a frying pan, and ties him up with her hair. Following this, he attempts to coerce her into freeing him through his "smolder," or what he feels is a charming hair flip and smile. Unlike in the hypotext, Rapunzel thinks for and chooses to advance herself by neglecting to submissively fall at the male figure's knees and marry him after his "smolder," or because of what the hypotext would dub as him being "young and beautiful." In fact, she even goes on to bravely hide his crown and satchel, threatening to not reveal their hiding places until he shows her the outside world, since she believes there is more value to her life than merely sacrificing it to a male. Although Flynn is the one who physically shows her the world outside her tower (as there would not be a plot had Rapunzel been able to escape herself), it is she who advocates this, and so her own saving or act to advance herself is truly through her own accord.


Further still, she abrogates her gender role portrayed in Rapunzel (1812) by saving Flynn several times from danger, as opposed to the other way around. She battles a crowd of royal guards by hitting them with her frying pan, which perhaps represents Disney's idea that a woman's only role is not in the kitchen serving a man, as she can take charge of herself. In this way, Disney creatively reforms a conventional symbol of a female's gender role into one of feminist strength and self-induced power. Likewise, Rapunzel also saves Flynn when she produces light with her magical hair in a pitch black sewer after seeking refuge from more guards, sings to distract a group of violent thugs from abusing Flynn, and uses her healing tears to save him from death after he is stabbed by Mother Gothel, or the evil sorceress. These instances exemplify her abilities to take independent action for herself, as she does not need the aid of Flynn Ryder. In fact, Disney expresses its feminist ideology through her saving him, as this is clearly Howard and Greno arguing that the Grimm Brothers were quite wrong in displaying women as incapable of independent actions without the aid of a male.


II: A Latent Character of Feminism: The Mother of Rapunzel


The minor character the Mother of Rapunzel and her abilities to have independent strength prove how Tangled (2010) transgresses "Rapunzel"(1812) by purposefully presenting how females can be capable without a male. Within the original fairy tale, the Brothers Grimm describe her as catching sight of a rampion plant outside of her window while pregnant with Rapunzel, although it lies in the forbidden garden of an evil sorceress. Believing that she cannot attain this plant through her own will, she physically turns “pale,” collapses into a “miserable” state, and states that “if [she] can't eat some of the rampion, which is in the garden behind [her] house, [she] shall die.” Her husband, fearing for her life, then intrudes into the garden and steals the rampion, thereby curing his wife’s peculiar illness of despair, who is then able to conceive Rapunzel. In this way, the Brothers Grimm clearly instill a misogynist ideology through their portrayal of an absurdly weak Mother of Rapunzel. In this original tale, her only usefulness is bearing a child, as she is incapable of much else. This can be proven through her incompetence to even walk outside and retrieve the rampion plant, as well as her weak will that leads her to fall into a state of near death when she believes that she cannot do so herself. Instead, it is only through her husband, who easily walks into the proximately close garden and simply retrieves the plant, that she is able to bring Rapunzel into the world and survive, thereby insinuating that the Brothers Grimm believe females are only useful for reproducing, as they are unable to do much else without the aid of a stronger male figure.


To contrast, in the film Tangled (2010) the mother of Rapunzel, who is exhibited as a Queen, also falls ill, although it is due to legitimate medical ailments, as opposed to a sense of helplessness. She is then limited to a bedridden state while pregnant with Rapunzel, and so numerous guards and royal subjects hunt for the magical flower, Rapunzel, that heals her weakening state. Here, Disney purposefully expresses its feminist ideology by presenting the mother of Rapunzel as a character of more strength and respectability, as she is a Queen of importance and only succumbs to a state of weakness due to an uncontrollable physical ailment, as opposed to a weak state of being that leaves her feeling hopeless to the point of sickness. Once she gives birth to Rapunzel, her child is promptly stolen by the Sorceress and she is therefore unable to see her again until the concluding scene. Here, she, alongside the king, swiftly run towards the long lost princess when they hear of her arrival. As they first catch sight of her, the mother of Rapunzel becomes the focus of the scene, as we view a close up of her staring at the damsel in shock. The Queen then walks past her husband and immediately grasps her daughter in a tight embrace. Here, Disney furtherly expresses its anti-misogynist critique of the original tale Rapunzel (1812) by transforming the sickly Mother of Rapunzel into a noble character of royalty and importance who is carefully shown in most scenes as standing beside her husband, thereby metaphorically expressing that they are equals, regardless of the Queen's gender. In the scene when her and the King do part, however, she is purposefully established as the focus of the camera, both literally and theoretically, as she is not exhibited to be the useless and insignificant character the Brothers Grimm believe her to be. In fact, she even runs in front of her husband, as Disney attempts to stress that she is not inferior to her male counterpart. Although the Queen is a minor character within the film, Nathan Greno and Brian Howard still incorporate a feminist ideology through latent ways that necessitate a detailed eye and deep thinking. Tangled (2010) purposefully transgresses "Rapunzel" (1812) through the minor character of the Mother of Rapunzel and her abilities to have independent strength without a male.


In conclusion, it is of logical inference to presume that the Disney film Tangled (2010) is merely another film of typical female empowerment, perhaps much like Frozen (2013) or Brave (2012). In all actuality, Nathan Greno and Brian Howard's expression of feminism serves as a paradigm shift[2] of a hypotext, as their mimicry is derived from their transgression of the Brothers Grimm's misogynist "Rapunzel" (1812). Through the analyzation of this film, I have come to conclude that by sustaining basic elements of an original hypotext, of which is Rapunzel (1812), and purposefully instilling the deeper message, of which is feminism, into the film, Disney truly transgresses the Brothers Grimm’s tale. This idea of transgression, then, is what leads to a constant recycling and recreating of ideas and beliefs, and therefore development of new ways to view hypotexts.

  • essay edit -

    You have been working on wordiness? You have done a great job making it wordy, complex sentences, and very difficult to read.

    Starting with the first paragraph...and then the last paragraph...It is probably more wordy than any I produced when in freshman English composition at the University of Texas. I didn't learn to how to write until discovered Rudolf Fesch and how to write effectively, a great book, and I urge you to find a used or library copy.

    We often tend to write the way we think we’re expected to write, instead of pondering the best way to meet our reader’s needs, or to get the point across. Flesch fought the common belief that writing must be boring or stuffy, or else nobody will respect it. We should write to communicate. Short sentences are effective. Avoiding comma set asides...they destroy the flow of thought..
    example> Look at your last paragraph: Every sentence has a comma set aside to start it...In conclusion,..In all sctuality, ...Through the analayzation...This idea of transgression, then, ...
    Again, this reflects what Flesch was stating: the art of writing is to make your point flow directly to your audience.

    You also asked about sentence structure. Same issue, your sentences hang together with commas. Stop that. Stop it now. Short sentences are close to Godliness, if you want your reader to hang on and look for the next. If you want your reader to stumble do this: reread your last sentence, and count the commas. Actually it might be helpful for you to count the sentences you wrote, then count the commas, and observe the ratios.
    Now it might be useful to analize the last sentence I wrote in the use of commas and structure of the sentence. One can use commas, if you have a structured thought pattern.

    Ok, go back and make the sentences simpler. I believe it will do wonders for not only readility, but greatly help you to convey your idea and argument.

    By the way, I think you are too hard on the brothers Grimm, they lived in a different time and culture.

    Good luck. If you can, get Flesch's book, it is readily available on the used market.http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/BookDetailsPL?bi=13932557502&searchurl=an%3Dflesch%26amp%3Bsts%3Dt
    It can change your life and communication effectiveness.


    Now your choice of words...
    hypertext as transgressive
    to view hypotexts
    paradigm shift[2] of a hypotext,

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