I haven’t written a post in a month and a half, and that is bad and I feel bad. In my defense, I spent the first week of April on a boat, and the rest of April unable to believe that I spent the first week of April on a boat, and the last two weeks catching up on all the work I should have done in April when I was boat-shocked.
That isn’t entirely true, but it’s close enough for government work.
At any rate, two weeks ago, I invited some friends over, cracked out the nice booze and re-watched some more Disney films, bringing The Little Mermaid and Tangled up to the good ol’ analysis block.
Both of these films are remarkably similar (and both performed well at the box office). So similar, in fact, that they might as well have been the same film, done slightly differently for different generations of viewers. I’m not insane in this idea– The Little Mermaid came out in 1989, and Tangled came out in 2010. That’s a 21 year difference, and generations usually span about 24 years (looking at a wikipedia article, anyway).
I know that this doesn’t hold serious water– people are starting to have kids older and older (in the US, at any rate)– but just run with me for a post. Mostly because I think we can start to see a vague outline of a Disney archetype, and the flaws and strengths of that archetype.
Tangled and The Little Mermaid both have female leads. I’d tentatively classify both leads as strong. Ariel is on a quest for a man, but she does almost all the heavy lifting on her quest for her true love. Eric just looks pretty, misses the point, gets enchanted, but then stabs Ursula with a ship. So, he spends most of the film as pretty incompetent, but manages to get a crowning moment of awesome.
Rapunzel beats people with frying pans and has an eidetic memory. It’s clear she’s a strong lead, however, her love interest also isn’t astonishingly competent.
“But, he steals the crown from under the king’s nose!” you decry. Well, yeah, but he had help from the Stabbington brothers. In fact, if it wasn’t for Flynn’s little quip about allergies, they might have gotten away totally clean. Flynn stumbles into Rapunzel completely by accident, and spends the rest of the movie getting helped by Rapunzel’s singing ability, Rapunzel’s hair and a den of thieves with aspirations. When he tries to save Rapunzel, he gets stabbed.
It’s actually an important part of the movie– Flynn, as Flynn, is playing an act. It’s all bluster, and that mask isn’t the person Rapunzel falls in love with. Rapunzel, who can read people surprisingly well for having no social contact her entire life, aptly notes, “I like Eugene better.” A great way to get us, as an audience, to like Eugene better is to make Flynn a bit of an idiot.
Alright, but it’s not like Rapunzel and Ariel are the same character or anything… right?
Well… they both have the same initial motivations. Both want to escape an environment that they feel is trapping them. In Rapunzel’s case, it’s an actual imprisonment. For Ariel, it’s just wanderlust. Both of them are naive about the worlds they will go explore– Ariel tries to comb her hair with a fork, Rapunzel recoils from a rabbit. Both of them find love in the middle of the movie (to contrast against, say, Sleeping Beauty or Snow White where the protagonist finds love early on).
The plots even follow the same basic order– In our introduction to Ariel and Rapunzel, we are shown about their fascination with the world they wish to explore. This fascination brings them into conflict with a parental figure, and they are both ordered to never go near that world. Both will sneak away and go explore that world anyway, and in doing so, find love. The parental figure in question will disapprove of said love, and attempt to forcibly separate the female lead from their love. The female lead will find a way around this separation. However, just at the moment when the pair is about to profess their undying adoration for each other, disaster strikes and drives the pair apart. Both female leads have a revelation, and decide to fight for their love. The films end in a climatic battle, where the leads defeat the villain that drove them apart, and live happily ever after.
Bam. Two Disney movies in a paragraph. That sucker reads like something out of TVTropes. I could go into how Mother Gothel is an Ursula/King Triton mash up, but you get the idea. These films are remarkably similar– however, they aren’t the same. I’m not arguing that Disney’s just rehashing old classics for money (although, they could and we wouldn’t even notice because I saw a trailer for Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day two days ago on YouTube). I think that Tangled is a modern retelling of The Little Mermaid, and it’s the differences in the films can tell us a lot about the audiences that went to go see them.
Rapunzel is much more of a go-getter. She doesn’t mess around with plucking flowers, or whining about how her mother is a horrible controlling monster. She gets work done with a frying pan, tames a palace horse, and sings a band of murderers and thieves into working with each other. She’s direct with her complaints, choosing to directly argue with Mother Gothel several times rather than bitching in her cave. In the underground princess cocaine fighting ring, I put money on Rapunzel over Ariel.
Don’t google that.
Actually, both our leads in Tangled just feel older than the leads in The Little Mermaid. Rapunzel doesn’t have the ‘school girl in love’ reaction to Flynn that Ariel has about Eric. It’s not until the end of the film, when she’s sobbing over Eugene’s corpse that she says, “I love you.*” Ariel is all over Eric within approximately three seconds of seeing him for the first time.
There is no pressure on Flynn to find love, unlike Eric, who has that old guy nagging him pretty constantly to find a wife. Rapunzel is returning to the world she was born into, rather than leaving the one she was born into like Ariel. Tangled still has that wonking great plot hole that is covered by shoddy writing (oh, you can remember an event from when you were a single year old. I don’t believe you.) whereas, in The Little Mermaid seems to do a pretty spot on job with events following each other in a believable manner.
But, I’m just rambling right now. I prefer Tangled because I think it treats love more maturely than The Little Mermaid, and as stated before, I’m not a fan of typical Disney love stories– and I think that’s the big difference. Tangled is more focused on personal discovery, and love comes out of that discovery. In The Little Mermaid, love is front and center, right from the get go.
I want to say that this parallels feminism things, but I’m probably wrong, so I won’t go there. It does parallel the fact that people are getting married later and later though. Funny how this came full circle.
Tune in next week as I talk about why I can’t figure out why I hate Atlantis! (I lied: it’s plot is awful.) But, more importantly, this text message exchange!
I have no idea what I’m doing.
*Actually, I might need to get a clarification on that. I know she admits that Eugene was “her new dream”, and I’m pretty sure she chokes out an “I love you” over his corpse, but the caffeine does not seem to be with me today**.
**Goddamn, Disney is dark when you just talk about plot elements with no context.