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A Princess Story I Can Get Behind

2010 December 7
by Julie Clawson

as posted at The Christian Century blog

I am not a fan of Disney princesses. I can deal with the tiaras and the pink, but I’m disturbed by the sexualized visions of thinness, the suggestion that to be ugly is to be evil and the promotion of extreme body modification in order to get the guy.

But my five-year-old daughter lives in the real world. Escaping the princess culture isn’t even an option. So when I heard that Disney’s latest princess flick, Tangled, has a female lead who is strong, adventurous and in possession of a personality, I allowed myself to hope for a non-cringe-worthy princess.

I took my daughter to see Tangled on opening day, and I wasn’t disappointed. The story focuses on Rapunzel’s journey to break free from the woman (Gothel) who kidnapped her as a baby and has held her captive in a tower. But it isn’t just a simple tale of rescue and escape; it is the story of Rapunzel discovering her passions. Her captivity convinced her that she was weak, good for nothing but domestic chores, and in need of protection from the evil world. Yet as she enters that world she discovers that it is a beautiful place where dreams can be fulfilled. The true evil was captivity, which kept her from being whole.

The characters are all living others’ dreams instead of their own. Gothel believes she must remain forever young and beautiful. Flynn Rider is convinced that if he had enough money he could find happiness. The brigands live a life of crime while their true dreams–one wants to be a concert pianist, another a mime–are left unfulfilled. Even Rapunzel’s sidekick is a chameleon, changing to fit into its surroundings. Those who find redemption in the film turn away from the pressure to be what others tell them they should be and embrace who they were born to be.

Disney is finally telling a story that delivers a life-affirming message. As a Christian who constantly prays that my children will be able to live into who God created them to be and not be swayed by the siren calls of our culture, I found the message faith-affirming as well.

Other Christians don’t agree. Todd Hertz’s review misses the point of the redemption story, reducing the film to a story of a girl finding her parents. He suggests that the manipulative words Gothel uses to keep Rapunzel captive (the world is evil, so good must be kept protected) have biblical roots and would be a good discussion starter for family reflection. Armond White condemns the film, asserting that it is “strained through a sieve of political correctness that includes condescending to fashionable notions about girlhood, patriarchy, romance, and what is now the most suspicious of cultural tenets, faith.” He derides the Rapunzel character as “a girl of contemporary spunk, daring, and godlessness,” all apparently evil traits.

It’s hard to raise a daughter. While the culture feeds her lies about how being a pretty princess is all that matters, the church too holds her back from living life fully. Its message is that she cannot be who she was created to be if that involves questioning authority, exposing herself to danger or showing a little spunk from time to time. Women have been held captive by these messages for too long, and I’m grateful that Tangled offers something more affirming–even if it’s in the guise of a princess.

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7 Responses leave one →
  1. December 7, 2010

    I had no interest in seeing Tangled (not a big fan of animated movies in general), but it is refreshing to think there is finally a Disney princess with some spunk. I’m hoping by the time I have daughters, the fascination with princesses will have died down (I can hope, right?)

    I read Todd Hertz’s review in CT, and I think you may have misunderstood his point about Gothel’s quote, “The world is dark and cruel. If it finds even the smallest ray of light, it destroys it.” He does suggest this would be good for discussion, and in his discussion questions at the end of the article he asks: is Gothel right?” and, “How does this compare to a Christian worldview?” But the bible verse he links to to inform the discussion is John 1:5, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” I don’t think he’s saying Gothel’s words have biblical roots, he’s saying the opposite–darkness cannot destroy even the smallest ray of light.

    In much of Christian culture today there is the sense that the good in our children needs to be protected from the evil influences of the world because the world is out to get us. This kind of thinking drives me crazy (of course, my son is still very young, so I haven’t had deal with this for real yet). I agree with you that the Church can hold our children (and us) back from living life fully by being so afraid of the world that they disengage, or fight against those in the world rather than seeking to love and serve. Hertz may have missed the point of redemption in the story, but I do think he would affirm the idea that the light we have in us is stronger than the darkness we see in the world.

  2. December 7, 2010

    It’s nice to finally see a positive review of Tangled! Everything I’ve read so far has painted it in much less liberating tones.

    Has Emma seen The Princess Bridge? She might really like it if she likes princess movies.

  3. December 9, 2010

    While raising two daughters to adulthood, I struggled with how to fight (and protect them from) the brutal female body image messages of our culture. I also struggled with the Disney princess personae. Whatever I did, they turned out phenomenally independent and not of-this-world yet in it. They are citizens of our Babylon, but are definitely not Babylonian. As I look back on what I did and said, I think the strongest message was this: I NEVER asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up. My message was more that the already have been created by God to be someone special. I am only their earthly father. They need to connect with their Creator father to discover who they were created to be. And whatever they grow to become, I will see His beauty within them.

  4. December 10, 2010

    Tangled is my favorite Disney movie ever. During the scene when she first leaves the tower and she is vacillating between ecstatic joy and freedom and guilt and shame … I was in complete tears. That is my journey. I have been leaving the tower of domestic burden, placed on me by the church and sometimes it is The. BEST. Day EVER. and other times I am in tears wondering what in the world have I done.

    I found Tangled to be a beautifully affirming movie. Going to see it a second time next week.

  5. Monica permalink
    January 14, 2011

    I too am a Christian. But I get frustrated when
    other Christians work hard to find evil or negativity in
    In Children’s movies. I saw this movie and l

    • Monica permalink
      January 14, 2011

      Loved it! The sad human part was everyone’s not
      living their authentic lives, the way God wants us too!
      Look for the l

      • Monica permalink
        January 14, 2011

        Love and goodness in things and people and you won’t
        be disappointed.

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