I recently watched both Tangled* and Maleficent* for the first time, and I was absolutely enchanted by both! Tangled is a feat of pure Disney magic, easily one of the best “Disney Princess” movies I’ve ever seen, and hilarious to boot. As for Maleficent… talk about a powerful film that turned an old and, quite frankly, two-dimensional story on its head!
The odd thing about these movies, however, is that our family was always warned away from them. Maleficent* was, according to our sources, a movie that glorified the villain and made the good guys “bad.” As for Tangled*, it apparently encouraged young girls to rebel against their protective parents.
I’d like to set the record straight for both of these movies, since I have a feeling I’m not the only one who was told these things once upon a time.
Tangled* is the story of Rapunzel, a beautiful princess with magical golden hair, and Gothel, the witch who stole Rapunzel from her devoted parents. Knowing that this magnificent hair will prolong her own fading youth, Gothel is obsessed with keeping the oblivious Rapunzel in her possession–even to the point of locking her in a tower and crushing Rapunzel’s budding dreams at every opportunity.
Mother knows best
Take it from your mumsy
On your own, you won’t survive!
Please, they’ll eat you up alive!
Ditzy and a bit, well, hmm vague
Plus, I believe
Gettin’ kinda chubby
I’m just saying, ’cause I wuv you
Mother’s here to help you
All I have is one request…
Don’t ever ask to leave this tower again.
As Gothel’s narcissism and cruelty become more apparent, Rapunzel realizes that not only is she controlling and abusive, but she’s not even her real mother. Her true mother is grieving her loss and keeping her memory alive in the nearby castle. Tangled, I would argue, is as much about Rapunzel trying to reunite with her parents as it is about her adorable relationship with the lovable scoundrel, Flynn Rider.
Herein lies another point, though: Rapunzel never shows disrespect or contempt towards her presumed mother. Yes, she flees the tower against Gothel’s orders–but Rapunzel is not a child. She is an intelligent adult who suspects things are not as they seem. Having never been allowed the dignity of a logical conversation with Gothel, she seeks out the truth herself. Yet even then, she tries her best to be a dutiful daughter…until she finally realizes she’s in the clutches of an evil witch who has no real love for her at all.
Are there movies that portray parents (real parents, not kidnapping, murderous sorcerers) as buffoons and control freaks? Yes. Are there movies that encourage devil-may-care rebellion from children? Of course. But is Tangled* one of these movies? I offer an emphatic “NO.”
Tangled does, however, eloquently show the realities of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Parents should definitely discuss this with their children as they watch Gothel manipulate and abuse Rapunzel, and implore them to watch out for these damaging character traits in themselves and in others.
But how does Gothel’s story connect with Maleficent’s? It connects as a contrast–and a stark one.
Maleficent* is NOT a live-action revisionist version of the Sleeping Beauty cartoon. It is, instead, a retelling of a fairytale that’s far older than Disney Studios. Maleficent is not a witch, but the fierce and beautiful Fairy-Queen of an enchanted world. The cruel betrayal and ambition of her childhood sweetheart, however, fills her with bitterness. Determined to make him pay, she curses his baby daughter Aurora: on her sixteenth birthday the child will prick her finger on a spindle and fall into a sleep like death. Only true love’s kiss will break the spell–and no power on earth can undo the curse.
In her agonizing pain, Maleficent has convinced herself that true love can’t possibly exist, which would make Aurora’s doom even more certain. But not even the powerful, embittered Fairy can resist the innocence, goodness, and beauty of the little princess. Before long she finds herself taking care of Aurora from afar; when they finally meet face-to-face, Aurora even assumes, joyfully, that Maleficent must be her Fairy Godmother. As their relationship grows, Aurora awakens a fierce, tender, protective love in Maleficent that can only be described as motherly.
Maleficent* does a great job in turning many tired old clichés and tropes on their head–but it utterly demolishes the notion that a handsome prince can bestow true love’s kiss after knowing a girl for, like, ten minutes. Let’s face it: the idea is a bit rubbish. But a mother’s kiss?
Ah. That is something else entirely.
Gothel did not love Rapunzel for Rapunzel’s sake. She loved Rapunzel’s hair. In order to keep the hair, Gothel isolated, used, guilt-tripped, threatened, and lied to Rapunzel. And in the end, her own greed, self-obsession, and cruelty became her undoing.
But Maleficent loved Aurora. In spite of her anger towards the girl’s father, Maleficent gave herself, heart and soul, to Aurora’s well-being and happiness. She experienced deep remorse and repentance over the curse she laid on Aurora, and did everything in her power to undo it. She offered Aurora everything she had, and her true, self-sacrificial love eventually broke the spell.
Gothel and Maleficent may be the most formidable mother figures in recent Disney history–but as polar opposites, they teach extremely valuable lessons for today’s audiences. One is a textbook example of the insidious narcissism that permeates our society…while the other is a startling picture of the triumph of love over heartache.