Golden Girls and Lost Boys

by Shim

Shimmin considers a Disney film much too seriously for anyone's good.
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Spoiler warning for Tangled.

Recently, I went to watch Tangled (in 3D! not that it matters, and because there wasn't an alternative, but there you are), the new Disney Rapunzel film. I'm not planning to do yer'actual review of it, and I'm not that interested in getting into heavy analysis of the plot or logic or of a Disney film based on a fairy tale, because that would be silly. It was fun, it was more-or-less for children, it was funny, it was sweet if a bit saccharine, it had an awesome horse. Their version also seemed quite original, which is something I tend to forget about Disney films. Anyway, this article is not about that. It brought up some vaguely interesting issues that I thought might be worth waffling about in case anyone else also found them interesting.

Synopsis

The Disney plot is rather different, and people might not be over-familiar with the details of Rapunzel anyway, so here's the gist. A drop of sunlight falls to earth and grows into a magical flower (just go with it, okay?). An old woman finds the flower, and discovers that if she sings a particular magical song to it, it glows with healing light that temporarily restores her youth (ditto). She hides it and uses it to stay young and beautiful for an unspecified but long time. The Queen becomes ill while pregnant, so they send the army to find the fabled flower. They make a healing potion from it, which works, and the child is born as a beautiful golden-haired daughter (it wasn't entirely clear when the mop of hair appeared, but stick with me here). One night, the old woman sneaks into the palace to steal a lock of hair, believing it'll have the same healing properties. But when she cuts it, the hair loses its power. In desperation, she steals the baby. Nobody knows what happened to the princess, and they never find her. Every year on her birthday, they release Chinese lanterns to remember her.

Eighteen years later, thieves break in and steal the princess' crown (presumably a traditional item from the treasury) which is handily kept on a cushion beneath a skylight with all the guards facing away. They're pursued, and one (Flynn) splits off from the others with the crown, escaping the guards but still followed by an angry horse. He finds a tower in a hidden valley, which seems like an ideal hiding place. Sadly, he's beaten unconscious by an 18-year-old Rapunzel with a pan, and stuffed in a cupboard. Rapunzel wants to go and see the floating lights she's spotted every year on her birthday, but her mother won't let her. After yet another argument, which dissuades her from revealing her prisoner to her mother, she decides to make the man take her instead while her mother's away. Wacky adventures and angst and excitement ensue. The two fall in love, and are followed by the old woman, who uses Flynn's betrayed partners to set an ambush, and sets it up to look like he's abandoned Rapunzel so she'll accept her mother's advice and won't try to leave the tower again. He escapes, comes to see her, is mortally wounded, and has a pointless heroic moment of sacrifice that is negated by Lurve. Old woman crumbles to dust, Rapunzel is reunited with her family, and all live happily ever after. Except the old woman, and presumably the now-imprisoned Stabbington Brothers.

Family Matters

One of the things that was vaguely interesting about the film was the family issues it brought up. The thing that really got my attention was right at the end, during the reuinion, when the narrator (i.e. Flynn) says something like: "...Rapunzel finally had a real family..."

Let's leave aside the likely problems for a girl brought up by a single parent in humble surroundings in a small tower, who's barely met a handful of people in her life, joining two unknown biological parents of immense wealth and power who live in a massive castle and incidentally becoming the biggest celebrity of all time. I'm sure there will be no issues whatsoever getting accustomed to that. Or long-term trauma associated with the violent death of the woman who brought her up and whom she sincerely loved. This is a fairy tale. However, it does get me thinking about families.

The old woman is never named in the story. I do wonder why; perhaps to stop us having any sympathy with her, though villains in other stories are named, or perhaps they simply couldn't be bothered inventing a name. It does dehumanize her a bit. Anyway, I'm going to call her Agnes. So Agnes has, indeed, kidnapped Rapunzel to use her supernatural power so she can live forever. This is Not Okay. And she keeps her trapped in the tower so she won't either leave her, or be found by anyone. The thing is, apart from that, she treats her as a daughter.

Now, I am not going to claim she's a great mother. She's controlling and emotionally manipulative, which I suppose isn't that surprising when she's keeping Rapunzel there basically by force of will. She's only tepidly affectionate. On the other hand, Rapunzel's very comfortable and, apart from a desire to see the outside world, she's pretty happy. She has nice furniture and playthings, nice clothes, and an apparently endless supply of hobby materials. They don't seem to have a luxurious diet, but neither do most peasants; and Agnes makes a point of cooking Rapunzel's favourite food when she visits. She's also educated her brilliantly: although a tad naive, she knows everything an ordinary, non-imprisoned girl would know. She recognises Flynn as a man, knows what birthdays mean, how drowning works, and when she's in danger. The outside world doesn't really phase her, so she must know about nature and geography, and she seems to have a decent grasp of society and normal behaviour too. She's articulate, intelligent and very pleasant. In fact, given the difficulties of the situation, Agnes is one of the most successful child-raisers I've ever heard of. It's very clear that, right until the end, Rapunzel is very fond of her mother. Regardless of Agnes' ultimate feelings towards the girl, she treats her extremely well so far as the situation allows. Compare, say, Cinderella or Snow White. Agnes may not be a great mother, but she's actually not a terrible one.

I was talking about this to Dan, and he summed up my argument here as basically: "Apart from kidnapping a baby, pretending to be her mother, bringing her up alone in a tower for eighteen years and deceiving her for her own selfish ends, she's not a particularly bad mother". The thing is, ridiculous as it sounds, I think that's about right. The things she's done wrong aren't really about how she raised Rapunzel, but more general wrongs that intertwine with that. The problem is that Agnes' dual status as adoptive mother and kidnapper rather complicates the issue.

As far as Rapunzel is concerned, at least, Agnes is her family. The thing that changes that is not really a shift in their relationship, or anything Agnes does; it's seeing a picture of the baby princess and then seeing herself in the mirror wearing the crown. It's a revelation of Objective Truth ('you are Really the Princess, the Queen and King are your Real Family'), rather than anything about the family itself - right until that moment, Rapunzel thinks of Agnes as her mother and loves her.

There's a decent argument that it's not a good family, because it's built on a tissue of lies. It's also possible that Agnes has no real affection for Rapunzel - she doesn't show any active affection in the film. On the other hand, she's brought the girl up for 18 years, and in that time, I'd have expected things to crystallise one way or the other. The first option is to view and treat her as a useful tool or a pet, in which case I wouldn't expect Rapunzel to be so well educated or comfortable; that's extra effort and liable to encourage further trouble, when you could bring her up cowed and ignorant so she won't get ideas. If, on the other hand, Agnes brings her up as though she was her daughter and treats her kindly, you'd expect some affection to arise on both sides.

Now, I don't think Disney thought much about this one throwaway line and I'm not that interested in decrying them. A fairly normative and slightly old-fashioned way of thinking is par for the course. I suppose the "real family" reference means one with honesty and love, rather than manipulation, deceit and using your daughter selfishly. It means the parents who wanted you and loved you unconditionally, rather than someone who stole you for selfish reasons, whether or not they've got fond of you. In context, though, it had a faint whiff of narrow-mindedness: that what really matters isn't who brought you up or how you felt about them, but your genes (and incidentally having two parents, not just one). The fact is though, Rapunzel actually had a pretty happy family life before all this kicked off.

From My Point of View, the Jedi are Arguably Morally Ambiguous

Although the story glosses over her, I was also quite interested in Agnes and her actions. We don't ever find out anything about her, other than her use of the flower and her relationship with Rapunzel. We don't know her background, her history, or what she does when she's not visiting Rapunzel. Why should we? Rapunzel doesn't either. She's presented pretty much exclusively as a manipulative, selfish woman, whose use of the flower is immoral, and who commits a string of selfish acts to keep herself young and live forever. I'm not sure how convinced I am by that portrayal, or the way morality is defined in this story as a whole.

Agnes is lucky enough to find the flower and discover its powers. She keeps it hidden and uses it to stay young (and therefore alive) for, well, a long time. She chooses to keep it to herself, which is selfish, but I wonder how long she'd get to keep it if people found out about it? She could legitimately have all kinds of worries about that, so keeping it hidden isn't that unreasonable. As it turns out, the first thing that happens when the flower's discovered is it gets taken - so her hypothetical suspicions are vindicated.

Now for a look at the Castle. When the Queen is ill, the Castle mount a frantic last-chance search for the rumoured magical flower, and due to carelessness on Agnes' part, find it. Under her very eyes, they carefully dig it up and take it away to the castle. Someone makes it into a magic potion, which heals the Queen and (probably) saves her daughter's life too.

The issue here is the magic flower. Who has the right to use it, and what uses are acceptable?

The flower just appears. There's no reason it belongs to anyone, but Agnes has as much claim to it as anyone. Agnes uses it to save her own life; the Castle use it to save the Queen's life (and her unborn daughter). While Agnes keeps the flower to herself, nobody else benefits; once the Castle destroy the flower, nobody else can ever benefit. There's a touch of criticism in the film's portrayal of Agnes' actions, as though it were a crime to seek immortality. I don't know much about ethics, but I suspect issues like immortality are much more complicated than "it's bad to try and live forever". The Castle's actions are presented straightforwardly as a good thing. To be honest, I can't really see much difference. From a purely practical perspective, the first is a much more efficient use of the flower. The only real difference I can see between them is that Agnes chooses to save herself, whereas someone else (the King?) chooses to save the Queen. The first is more obviously selfish; but the second involves destroying an item of fantastic potential benefit to the world, which doesn't actually belong to the King any more than it does to anyone else, to extend the life of his wife. Not entirely unselfish.

Once the flower is destroyed, Agnes is doomed. Having and then losing immortality is more of a blow than never having it. She works out that Rapunzel's hair could do the same job, and plans to steal a lock. It's a bit skeevy, and involves burglary; on the other hand, the Castle are responsible for her plight, and taking a lock of hair shouldn't actually harm anyone. I can't really see the Castle giving her one, so theft or death is pretty much the choice. It all goes downhill from there.

In a sense, the story is a series of choices that Agnes has to make, each one more morally questionable. Initially, she chooses to keep the flower's benefits for herself, rather than risk sharing it. Then she chooses to try and steal a lock of hair to regain her lost immortality, rather than dying to avoid a relatively minor crime that harms nobody. She's cheated of that option by the way the magic works. The real problem starts when, panicking, she chooses to steal the baby rather than die. Then she chooses to deceive and manipulate her stolen daughter rather than risk her running away. Then she chooses to genuinely betray her (by acting against Rapunzel's interests) to get Rapunzel and her own immortality back. Finally, when the truth comes out, she chooses to resort to force rather than lose Rapunzel and die. Agnes is stuck on a slippery slope, where each decision makes it harder to give up the immortality for which she's done so much, and makes it easier to take the next and wronger step. What she ends up doing, and her treatment of Rapunzel, is clearly wrong, but it's not nearly as simple as her being a wicked old woman.

One of my friends suggested that one reason why Agnes and the Queen are portrayed differently is that people find it creepy for old people to want to be young and live forever; but saving and extending the lives of young, beautiful people is fine. There might be something in that.

A Bit of a Lad

The other thing I found a bit off about Tangled was its hero. Aladdin had a thief hero, but it was a little different. He was clearly a destitute beggar who stole food to live. Flynn Rider, the hero of Tangled, is also from a humble background, but he's more of a professional thief - all we know is that he's conspiring to steal a crown from the palace.

Now, thieves as heroes are a well-established trope in literature. However, Flynn is clearly not only a thief, but an untrustworthy thief. In the film, he's sort of contrasted against the Stabbington Brothers, his partners, in a way that is clearly supposed to show him in a good light. However, if you look at the details, it's rather murkier. He is willingly engaged in the robbery at the palace, and makes it very clear that it's a chance to live in luxury rather than a matter of need. All three are chased by the soldiers and trapped in a dead-end gully. Flynn offers to climb up and help them after him; they don't trust him and insist he leaves the bag with the crown with them. However, once he gets to the top they clearly believe he'll help them escape too. Instead, he reveals the bag he's somehow managed to steal back, mocks them, and runs off to save his own hide. In other words, he betrays his partners and leaves them trapped in a gully to die at the hands of the soldiers. That is not the act of a hero, not even a thief. That is not being a rough diamond, or a rogue. That is being a treacherous backstabbing git. As it happens, the soldiers spot him and chase after him instead, but that's clearly not the intention.

Rather surprisingly, he does behave mostly honourably towards Rapunzel. He does try to deter her from going through with the plan, but since he's a wanted outlaw liable to be killed if he gets spotted in the kingdom, it's not that unreasonable. He's not doing it just to get the crown back. When she does offer him the crown later, he's in love with her and tries to give it to the Stabbington Brothers. To be honest, though, that came across more as a way to weasel out of any comeuppance for his betrayal and get them off his back, rather than a genuine attempt to face up to his actions or any real remorse. Unsurprisingly, they prefer to exact some revenge.

There's also a scene in the middle where they visit a dive. As part of his attempt to persuade Rapunzel to give up the excursion, he takes her to a wretched hive of etc. This being Disney, a bit of eyelid fluttering and a song show up all the murderous thugs as sweethearts deep down. The fact is, though, if it's even remotely as bad at it appears, he has no business taking her there. All the men there are clearly villainous and criminal, and there are no women there at all. Taking a naive 18-year old girl there, while (as we soon find out) not having the ability to protect either of you if there's trouble, is not only utterly stupid but an unforgivable failure of responsibility.

Despite all this, it's the Stabbingtons who are treated as the real criminals, who deserve only to be locked up. They're also the only characters, other than Agnes, who don't get a happy ending: the last we see of them, they're locked in the castle dungeon. Given that Flynn was about to be hanged for stealing the crown, I don't fancy their chances much.

In a way, neither the Stabbingtons or Agnes are villains, any more than Flynn is really a hero. They're all people who are faced with decisions, and sometimes choose the wrong ones. Agnes does wrong to avoid dying, the Stabbingtons and Flynn do wrong for profit, and the Queen does no obvious wrong. The reason they come across differently is that everyone has different choices to make. Agnes has to choose between crime and death; the Queen doesn't have to make that choice. The Stabbingtons and Flynn all choose to steal the crown, but Flynn's the one who chooses to betray them to death. The Stabbingtons choose to seek revenge when it's offered, but Flynn doesn't have any revenge to seek. Flynn is kind to Rapunzel and falls in love with her, but the Stabbingtons don't get the opportunity. The Stabbingtons plan to capture Rapunzel and profit from her powers; Flynn doesn't find out about them until he's already her friend, she's saved his life and they're well on their way to falling in love. It's not that surprising that, treacherous git as he is, he doesn't take that option. Whether he would have or not, we don't know. But while falling in love might redeem people to one another, simply falling in love with Rapunzel doesn't turn Flynn from a thieving, untrustworthy scoundrel into a noble hero.

Fundamentally, though, I'm thinking far too much about a very fun and nicely-executed children's film that I really enjoyed watching. Let's not take it too seriously.

Themes: TV & Movies
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Comments (go to latest)
Arthur B at 15:00 on 2011-03-08
On the family stuff, could there be a certain amount of pandering going on to the sort of "They're not my real parents!" fantasies children often get when they're mad at their parents?

I mean, lots of kids are enormous ingrates. I was one myself. When I was 8 and angry at my parents (pretty much always for completely stupid and, well, childish reasons) I wouldn't think about all the affection they'd shown me or how lucky I was that they were there providing me with a roof to sleep under and a warm comfy bed and some pretty swank toys. I'd be too pissed off about the totally mean thing they did half an hour ago! And I think it's very common for kids to entertain, even if not especially seriously, the notion that the fact that their parents totally don't understand them is down to their parents not being their real parents, but Agnes-style impostors.
http://ruderetum.blogspot.com/ at 15:33 on 2011-03-08
Being a children's movie is all fine and swell, but your analysis is one of the main ways an adult enjoys such films. I especially like your description of her situation home:

She has nice furniture and playthings, nice clothes, and an apparently endless
supply of hobby materials.


What more could one want? :)
Sister Magpie at 16:24 on 2011-03-08
I haven't seen this version, but one of the interesting things about the Grimm's version of the story is always that the witch is *not* a villain in it. She's one of the only witches who doesn't get punished.

But the difference is that in that story, the witch doesn't kidnap Rapunzel. Her mother agrees to give up her baby because her mother is the one that wants something. She's got a craving for the Rampion in the garden, and when her husband tries to steal it for her she agrees to trade the baby for it. So the witch is only guilty of wanting Rapunzel more than the natural mother did, which no kid really sees as a crime because your parents should always want you around. It's a neat little twist on the way it usually works.

But in this case, leaving aside all the real life issues of the fact that your parent is the person who raised you, it seems like the idea is that this woman was never really a mother if she only really cared about her as an object that helped her and so raised her not to be happy herself but so that she'd act in a way that's most convenient to her adoptive mother. In fairy tales it seems to me that the code of "real" mothers being biological (as opposed to the wicked stepmothers) is that, to get Freudian, they refer to that distantly remembered mother who did nothing but care for the baby. The stepmother represents the mother as the kid grows up, the mother who says no etc. So the ideal mother is always the one that isn't actually raising the kid.

In this case it seems like it definitely plugs into that idea that Rapunzel's "real" parents are the ones who love her for herself etc., with the flaws of her adoptive mother explained by the fact that she's not really her mother. Her biological mother loved her all along. Also from what I've heard, isn't the adoptive mother emotionally abusive to an extent? I seem to remember people saying she was almost too realistic in the way she would control Rapunzel by insulting her. That Rapunzel turned out to be a wonderful girl regardless in fairy tales doesn't always imply that the parenting was good. That's why people explain how Harry Potter is a normal kid by saying his upbringing in constant abuse was "fairy tale."

Flynn definitely seems like a bad guy whose good qualities eventually take over. Intersting that he and Agnes seem to go in different directions. He starts out being selfish and eventually becomes less so (since he's sacrificing himself). She starts off being a little selfish, but understandably so, and only goes bad when she keeps being more selfish. Which is where the selfishness of old people living forever probably comes in as well. A lot of people probably instinctively see saving the life of a child or young person as "natural" because everyone should get the chance to grow up/grow old, while they judge it differently if you've lived a full life and are refusing to leave the stage.
http://indefatigable.dreamwidth.org/ at 18:59 on 2011-03-08
I was actually surprised by the ending; I was expecting something far more morally ambiguous from the setup (some kind of repentance/reconciliation maybe?). But I suppose that was my own fault for forgetting I was watching a Disney film.

"Agnes" does have a name, though: Gothel.
Shim at 13:26 on 2011-03-10
Really? Where did that come up? I don't remember hearing it mentioned at all, but I might just have missed it.
Shim at 14:56 on 2011-03-10
@Sister
...one of the interesting things about the Grimm's version of the story is always that the witch is *not* a villain in it... Her mother agrees to give up her baby because her mother is the one that wants something... So the witch is only guilty of wanting Rapunzel more than the natural mother did, which no kid really sees as a crime because your parents should always want you around. It's a neat little twist on the way it usually works.

Definitely. While I thought the Disney setup (with Agnes finding the magic flower and having it taken away) was quite good, the original is actually probably more interesting and unusual. From what I remember it's more of a "trials and tribulations" thing than a story with heroes and villains.

Also from what I've heard, isn't the adoptive mother emotionally abusive to an extent? I seem to remember people saying she was almost too realistic in the way she would control Rapunzel by insulting her.

There's something in that; as I mentioned, Agnes was clearly emotionally manipulative, though I don't remember insulting being as prominent as you might think; it was much more carrot than stick.

Flynn definitely seems like a bad guy whose good qualities eventually take over. Intersting that he and Agnes seem to go in different directions. He starts out being selfish and eventually becomes less so (since he's sacrificing himself). She starts off being a little selfish, but understandably so, and only goes bad when she keeps being more selfish.

That's a very interesting point. I suppose you could see them as foils for each other; Flynn has the chance to take advantage of Agnes but doesn't really. He doesn't know about her powers until they're pretty close, but still, you don't get the impression he's the type to do that.

To be quite honest though, there is very little evidence of Flynn becoming unselfish. He apparently decides to give up the crown to get rid of the Stabbingtons. He helps Rapunzel initially for selfish reasons, then also because he's clearly intrigued by her, and finally because he falls for her. He doesn't seem to ever decide he's done anything wrong, and arguably his actions throughout the story are self-interested, just switching priorities: he wants the crown, then he wants Rapunzel. At his own admission he wants to be a hero but is actually a thief, and he comes across as someone who thinks of himself as heroic, as doing daring deeds and becoming a legend. So it makes sense to go and rescue Rapunzel from Agnes; he loves her, and he thinks he's heroic. The only thing that's genuinely self-sacrificing is trying to save Rapunzel when he's dying (and that's a bit daft anyway).

(heroism summary:
Agnes stabs Flynn when he turns up to save Rapunzel. Rapunzel promises to go with her, and never try to escape or disobey again, if she'll let her heal Flynn. Agnes chains Flynn up and agrees. When Rapunzel starts healing him, the dying Flynn uses a broken mirror shard to cut her hair, making her worthless to Agnes, and as it turns out, killing her. He could actually have done that after she'd healed him... which would also mean Rapunzel wasn't deprived of her lover, but it doesn't sound as good in the legends.
)

His actions towards Rapunzel actually have quite a few bonuses for him and his ego. Apart from falling in love with her, he's also getting to play the dashing hero, show off quite a bit, and eventually bring her together with the royal family for a joyous reunion. I'm not saying those are selfish, but they're certainly not sacrifices. He never has to face up to anything he's done wrong at all, or beg anyone's pardon, or really rethink his way of life; he just gets to become a new person whom everyone thinks of as a hero. So he does some good things and ends up on the side of the angels, so to speak. It's like if, rather than Rapunzel guessing the truth, Agnes eventually decided to bring her to the palace, and was showered with gratitude for raising their daughter so well and reuiniting them, and got to keep using her magic hair, and everyone just assumed she'd found Rapunzel abandoned in the forest and never raised the matter at all.

He's quite a lot of fun as a character, mind you, but he's sort of like your stereotypical D&D rogue, or Slippery Jim DiGriz for that matter: not actually malicious and not hard-hearted, but probably going to get away with whatever he can and inclined to follow his whims rather than actually consider ethical questions.
http://indefatigable.dreamwidth.org/ at 21:17 on 2011-03-10
In Flynn's voiceover at the intro he calls her "Mother Gothel" and then just "Gothel". I'm not sure if it's repeated after that. I think it's the witch from the original fairy story's name? It means "godmother", so it's interesting they kept it.
Leia at 07:34 on 2011-03-11
Maybe this hits too close to home but it's hard for me to rationalize a kidnapper who steals a child and keeps her locked up all her life so that the person can have sole access to that child ... as any kind of sympathetic character. There are just too many scary real-life metaphors in there.
Shim at 08:53 on 2011-03-11
@Indefatigable: ah, I've apparently completely forgotten that. I think you may be right about the origin, too. As you say, interesting.

@Leia: that's honestly getting into much heavier territory than I have anything to say about. I've left the whole topic of the kidnapping alone because frankly I've nothing interesting to contribute and the article is already too long. This being the Internet, I should of course emphasise that kidnapping and imprisoning children is bad. I think it's partly in the way you phrase it, though; obviously that draws a closer comparison with your scary real-life metaphors, but I would have described it as being desperate not to lose access to Rapunzel because she would die, rather than to ensure sole access to her. On similar lines, I could describe Flynn as a treacherous hardened criminal whose threats to Rapunzel are indirect only because he wants to maintain a deluded self-image of heroism. Let's not kid ourselves here, if it wasn't a Disney film I've have been sitting there in the pub scene with my Fantasy Rape Watch checklist.
Leia at 14:24 on 2011-03-13
I didn't get the impression from the article that the topic of the kidnapping was off the table. To state the obvious, how can anyone deconstruct Glodel without bringing up the topic of the kidnapping?

On similar lines, I could describe Flynn as a treacherous hardened criminal whose threats to Rapunzel are indirect only because he wants to maintain a deluded self-image of heroism.

Firstly, this is a derailment of the point I was trying to make because: a, I did not in any part of my comment (or elsewhere as a matter of fact) state that I felt any kind of sympathy towards Flynn's character; and b, your article is not trying to rationalize Flynn as a sympathetic character, if anything the opposite.

Secondly, bringing up Flynn is rather derailing my point. I was referring to Glodel, not Flynn. I was referring to Glodel's kidnapping of Rapunzel and why it's hard for me to rationalize a kidnapper as a sympathetic character. If I had any comment to make about your analysis of Flynn, I would have done so.


I'm raising my eyes at the comment 'the way you phrased it' because there is nothing metaphorical about Glodel stealing Rapunzel or keeping her locked up in order to have sole access to Rapunzel. That she would die if she didn't do this is a pretty weak excuse for her actions.
Shim at 16:26 on 2011-03-13
Okay, I'll take those one at a time.
I never said the topic of the kidnapping was "off the table". I repeat, I didn't really discuss it because I had nothing interesting or novel to say about whether it's okay to kidnap people. I assumed we'd all be pretty much agreed that it isn't (which we apparently are), and that's the angle the text takes so really there wasn't much to discuss. I think we have different ideas about what this article is about; I wouldn't really say I was deconstructing Agnes/Gothel/Glodel - apart from anything else I'm not entirely sure what that means, I never studied literature. It was more a bit of rambling about the three things which struck me as food for thought, which were: what exactly 'real family' is in the context of this story; the moral issues surrounding the magic flower; and why Flynn is considered a hero.

Sorry if you felt I was derailing your point about kidnappers not being sympathetic characters. That's a fair enough comment and I didn't intend to derail it. However, I maintain that the exact phrasing of your comment emphasises the parallels with your real-life examples; I'm not suggesting that was deliberate, it's just how language works. "An old woman, terrified of dying, kidnaps the princess and raises her in seclusion as her daughter, so her magic will keep the old woman alive" sounds an awful lot less like child abuse. It doesn't make it any more okay but in terms specifically of parallels, it's further from the way it's described in real life, which was my attempted point. You showed how a particular description of Agnes' behaviour parallels real-life child abuse, and I used an example from a different character who is presented as a hero to show that you can describe things in different ways. I'm not suggesting anywhere that you found Flynn sympathetic, but the text does. It was the best example I could come up with off the top of my head; there's a better one floating around on the Internet which describes Doctor Who in a very sinister way.

Secondly, bringing up Flynn is rather derailing my point. I was referring to Glodel, not Flynn. I was referring to Glodel's kidnapping of Rapunzel and why it's hard for me to rationalize a kidnapper as a sympathetic character.

I think again this is a case of looking at the article in different ways. If you see it as being primarily about Agnes, talking about her in isolation maybe makes sense to you, but that's not how I've been thinking about it. Her actions are so unambiguously wrong that I haven't really thought much about that; I've been looking at the differences between characters and the respective ways they are portrayed. So for me it made perfect sense to reply by talking about another character, who is considered generally sympathetic despite his actions.

Incidentally:
If I had any comment to make about your analysis of Flynn, I would have done so.

It's probably a phrasing thing, but this does come across to me as really sharp. I'm hoping that's not deliberate.

I'm raising my eyes at the comment 'the way you phrased it' because there is nothing metaphorical about Glodel stealing Rapunzel or keeping her locked up in order to have sole access to Rapunzel. That she would die if she didn't do this is a pretty weak excuse for her actions.
Although she doesn't, in fact, lock Rapunzel up; she brings her up not to go outside without permission because she trusts her mother, which is somewhat different. Arguably worse, but any imprisonment is psychological rather than physical. I suppose it's not metaphorical as such but it's not quite the same thing. I wasn't suggesting that you deliberately created a sentence loaded with metaphors for child abuse, in fact I'm not sure it contains any; but as in my example above, there are different ways of describing things and some make things sound more alike than others.

While we're at it, I don't believe I said that Agnes has any excuse whatever for her actions, merely discussed the reasons for them and related them to other characters in the story.

It sounds like I found her more sympathetic than you did, but that's probably because kidnapping and suchlike is such a stock element of fairy tales that I didn't really look at it in the real-world sense. I suppose in a similar way I didn't really think about the hereditary monarchy or (except in sarcastic passing) the probable effects of the whole business on Rapunzel. If you've got some strong ideas about the film, you could write your own review? That'd be interesting.
Wardog at 23:10 on 2011-03-13
I haven't seen this so I should probably be wary of weighing in here, and I'm certainly not trying to derail anyone or demean the reality of kidnapping as a horrific, scary, real life topic or anything like that.

It's just I think ... and apologies if I phrase this badly ... I think the heart of the Agnes metaphor is the fact she keeps Rapunzel locked up because her magic helps her (Agnes) up maintain her (Agnes's) youth. That was an appallingly expressed sentence. But I think this is unambiguously a metaphor for parenting, in that no matter how well meaning or self-aware parents are there is an always an extent to which they will try to live "through" their children. Equally although I know Agnes has *literally* kidnapped Rapunzel from her biological parents, I think the most interesting way to interpret this on a metaphorical level is to engage with the idea that children often feel as though their parent's *are* keeping them locked up, away from the world, and the things they would like to do.

I just don't think the child/parent metaphor interacts very helpfully with the reality of kidnapping - although I totally understand why a kidnapping theme would squick you out.

I don't know if you've ever seen Into the Woods, but that also manages to capture some of the ambiguity of the Agnes character. Perhaps it's just because she gets all the good songs but I did find myself sympathising with her, even though she does *terrible* things. But one of the themes of Into the Woods is the overlap between parental love and protectiveness and a form of stifling cruelty. (illustrative song here)
http://orionsnebula.blogspot.com/ at 17:10 on 2011-03-14
Shimmin, is this what you had in mind? http://www.overthinkingit.com/2010/05/03/is-doctor-who-bad-for-women/

The article's answer is basically "no," but she makes a sustained argument that The Doctor is basically the same type as Edward Cullen.
http://alula-auburn.livejournal.com/ at 18:32 on 2011-03-14

I used an example from a different character who is presented as a hero to show
that you can describe things in different ways. I'm not suggesting anywhere that
you found Flynn sympathetic, but the text does. It was the best example I could
come up with off the top of my head; there's a better one floating around on the
Internet which describes Doctor Who in a very sinister way.


I don't think I've seen the Doctor Who version, but this made me think of the "Scary Mary" and other Disney trailers reconfigured as horror from here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2T5_0AGdFic

I haven't seen Tangled yet, and I didn't know about how the beginning of the story was set up. Just in reading the summary, I suppose it feels a bit hectic--that there's a lot elided over and rushed through. There's something about the whole set-up that doesn't quite sit right with me as a response to the traditional scenario--I think missing the bargain (coerced as it might be in the original, the parents do take an action--most likely for non life or death reasons, although folklore about pregnancy cravings complicates that a bit--to which the witch responds, and specifically tells them she will take the child. There's no mystery here.) There's just a lot going on in that set-up. Hmmm.

There is a very good article by Terri Windling running through some other Rapunzel variants, fwiw, many of which depict the witch in a more sympathetic light.
http://www.endicott-studio.com/rdrm/rrRapunzel.html
Dan H at 20:35 on 2011-03-14

The article's answer is basically "no," but she makes a sustained argument that The Doctor is basically the same type as Edward Cullen.


Hmm ... I'm not sure, but I couldn't help seeing that article as boiling down to "if you look closely there are superficial similarities between Doctor Who and Edward Cullen but if you look even closer those similarities turn out to be superficial."
Robinson L at 00:00 on 2011-03-22
Probably if you put too much thought into any Disney movie it comes off looking pretty damn skeevy. If you can accept it for what it is, fine. If not, I can't really blame you.

I didn't really notice that about Flynn, accept for the obvious part with him abandoning the Stabbington Brothers at the beginning. As they say on TV Tropes, “What the Hell Hero?”

Ditto the morality of the flower. If you think about it, it's a lot more complex than Disney make it out. It's one of those places where you either have to give up and just go with it or the entire movie breaks down for you.

And there was definitely something weird going on with Mother Gothel—in a way, it seems she was portrayed as both more and less evil than her actions warranted. I did think for a while that we could engage with her more complexly than as Designated Villain. Silly me for forgetting this is Disney.

Sister Magpie: Also from what I've heard, isn't the adoptive mother emotionally abusive to an extent? I seem to remember people saying she was almost too realistic in the way she would control Rapunzel by insulting her.

Yes, that's what Ptolemaeus said after we left the theater. We were fortunate enough to have great parents, but she figured for a number of watchers, Mother Gothel's treatment of Rapunzel probably hit a little too close to home.

(We saw it quite late in the US run, but managed to find a theater which wasn't playing it in 3D. Note to anyone who hasn't seen 3D yet and is still on the fence: Don't bother, it's not worth it.)

I found it a charming little movie though if you can ignore the creepy subtext (and I think I just summarized all the better Disney movies in a single sentence). Whatever else his faults, I think we can forgive Flynn's daftness in cutting Rapunzel's hair before she could heal him. Sure, maybe he had a bit of martyr complex going there, but the guy's been mortally wounded and his worried about the wellbeing of his love interest—I wouldn't be thinking too clearly either.

Dan: I couldn't help seeing that article as boiling down to "if you look closely there are superficial similarities between Doctor Who and Edward Cullen but if you look even closer those similarities turn out to be superficial."

Really? I thought it was more like: “there are some similarities in behavior; the difference is that Twilight doesn't properly engage with its male protagonists' flaws, whereas Doctor Who does.”
Jamie Johnston at 22:34 on 2011-03-22
Hi all - hope no one minds me joining in a bit late.

Shim, I agree that there are some serious moral problems in the film (which, in the interests of full disclosure, I should say that I have in fact seen) but I don't really go along with your thoughts about them. It feels to me, for example, like you've taken Rapunzel's sunny and apparently neurological, untraumatized character as evidence that Agnes (who I too thought was called Gothel) must have loved her and / or done a fairly good job of parenting her. I'd say, on the contrary, it's evidence that the film has a disastrous faulty model of human psychology.

In particular I don't think you can really elevate the inference of good parenting based on Rapunzel's personality above the actual evidence of Agnes' behaviour on screen during the film. She deliberately and self-consciously manipulates Rapunzel, instils fear in her, systematically destroys her self-confidence so that she won't believe anyone but Agnes will ever love her, lies to her about approximately everything, constantly compares her unfavourable with herself and makes jokes at her expense, conspires with criminals to put her in danger and to have her boyfriend killed, and probably other things I've forgotten. There is absolutely no evidence on screen that Agnes loves her or that her comfortable upbringing is anything but a calculated way of most efficiently keeping her from trying to leave.

I agree that that makes it a much less interesting story than the original, and I agree that Rapunzel's emotional state is inconsistent with eighteen years of the behaviour, and I agree that if you consider Agnes' circumstances and motives it would have been possible to give her a much more sympathetic character, but I just don't see how you can read the character as presented in the film through her words and actions, as anything but reprehensible and a bad parent.

To me it's the fact that she is so bad that gives cause the criticize the morality of the film, because it effectively encourages children to believe that if their parents are over-protective and controlling then it may well be not because their parents are complex human beings making difficult judgments and getting things wrong because they really care but simply because their parents are flat-out evil and don't love them.

Also it will probably be obvious from what I've said that I agree with Leia about the need to face the kidnapping as a massive issue. Of course it is possible for someone to kidnap a child and also love the child. The love doesn't make the kidnap okay and the kidnap doesn't invalidate the love. I think we probably all agree about that. But whatever happens afterwards, the kidnapping has to remain a pretty big deal. And when, for example (and, I accept, in a slightly different context) you say that '"An old woman, terrified of dying, kidnaps the princess and raises her in seclusion as her daughter, so her magic will keep the old woman alive" sounds an awful lot less like child abuse' - well, I've got to say, that sounds exactly like child-abuse to me. It is, quite literally (and I use that word in its literal sense, haha!), using a child for a wrongful purpose and in a wrongful way.

What you're getting at, of course, is that she does it for an understandable reason, and that's true. But of course the motive of an abuser has nothing to do with whether their actions are abusive, and the idea that abuse for an understandable motive (such as 'he loves me') is something we should try to avoid because it's one that survivors of abuse often internalize and that prevents them from recognizing what's happening to them as abuse. But that's perhaps an aside to the more interesting point about Agnes' motivation and whether it's really all that bad.

I agree that it's hard to justify the film's implicit assumption that an old woman who finds a magic flower and keeps it to herself to stop herself dying is being Bad whereas a monarch who finds a magic flower and destroys it in order to stop someone else dying is Good. On the other hand I think one can take the parallel too far. The trouble is that in a society in which immortality is not generally available, there is a real - socially constructed and possibly illogical but real - difference between dying of old age and dying young from injury or illness. It's tricky because there are certainly elements of ageism - people think of young lives as worth more - but also there's the fact that everyone kind of implicitly signs up to a general understood agreement that no one will live forever and that dying of old age, however upsetting in indiviual cases, is as a general proposition fair enough. Once immortality is an option, that whole social consensus is put in crisis and one does have to ask whether it should be changed, so I'm not saying that it's wrong for Agnes to want to not die; my point is that you can't treat her desire to not die as straightforward equivalent to the queen's because the queen's desire to stay alive is in accordance with the rules of society (she wants to not die on this specific occasion, prematurely, of illness) whereas Agnes' desire defies the rules (she wants to not die ever, even in circumstances where it's generally considered acceptable, necessary, and inevitable to do so). So the debate moves to the level of what should be the social rules about acceptable death, not the level of individual decisions. If you see what I mean.

Your points about Flynn are ones I'd go along with. They're basically evidence of the fact that Disney, which was pronouncing this philosophy long before JK Bowling, believes that if you are a villain anything you do is evil and I'd you are a hero anything you do is hunky-dory. Flynn is a good example because he does things that are objectively pretty bad. Agnes isn't, I'd suggest, because actually most of what she does is genuinely bad or, at best, challenging to a deep-seated social consensus of arguable legitimacy.

The 'real family' stuff is indeed very uncomfortable. The king and queen (who are Good and Kind and Love Their People, like all Disney monarchs) do genuinely miss their baby - I found the king's sorrowful eyebrows particularly moving - but they didn't bring her up and have a tenuous claim to her affection and loyalty. The way she discovers her 'true' identity, by means of what appears to be a flash-back to a vivid and coherent memory from her first few weeks of life, does seem to assume a very high priority for genetic heredity and very very early childhood. All quite skeevy. And one can make a case for Agnes being Rapunzel's 'real mother'. But I don't think it helps that argument to down-play the very great extent to which Agnes is a really really bad mother and a rotten human being.

Wow, sorry, epic comment. I just have a lot of thoughts! No but seriously though, it was really interesting to read this article and discussion because I was uncomfortable about the portrayal of families and seeing your views has helped me clarify what I was uncomfortable about and what I wasn't.
Shim at 11:20 on 2011-03-23
Hi all - hope no one minds me joining in a bit late.

Feel free. The only problem is having to reread the article to remember what I said... Apparently I'm the only one to have missed out the crucial Gothel moment in the film, probably just not paying attention, but I blame Disney for not mentioning it often enough!

I absolutely agree that the film's model of human psychology is deeply simplistic. On the other hand, I think it needs to be: it's fundamentally a fun children's film, rather than a gritty examination of human emotions. There are various points where this is obvious; for example as I mentioned earlier, it ignores any trauma or adjustment issues for Rapunzel post-reveal, but I'm not convinced that focusing on them would make it a better film, and certainly not a better light-hearted children's film.

At this point I'm happy to accept that a) Agnes is a bad mother; and b) it's artificial and not especially pointful to ignore the context of Rapunzel's upbringing i.e. kidnapping and Agnes' motives. I suppose to some extent she treats her as a daughter, but that's more in the sense of the structure of the upbringing rather than the upbringing itself. As in, daughter-model rather than obvious-slave-model. Hmm. Yeah, it's consistent with the "entirely selfish parent brings up child in exploitative way" model, I think, which goes back to your points.

I still feel like there's something more to it than that (but I'm not sure what yet), just because it doesn't quite feel consistent with Rapunzel's worldview to just stick Agnes down as a terrible mother. Maybe it's just subjectivity? Because in Rapunzel's mind, Agnes isn't a terrible mother until right up at the end when the truth comes out. Not that she has much to compare her with. And to some extent, had the truth never come out, for Rapunzel Agnes might conceivably have remained a not-bad mother, even though to us she clearly is bad. But I Am Not A Philosopher and am already boring myself.

To me it's the fact that she is so bad that gives cause the criticize the morality of the film, because it effectively encourages children to believe that if their parents are over-protective and controlling then it may well be not because their parents are complex human beings making difficult judgments and getting things wrong because they really care but simply because their parents are flat-out evil and don't love them.

Good point, well made, never thought of that at all.

And when, for example (and, I accept, in a slightly different context) you say that '"An old woman, terrified of dying, kidnaps the princess and raises her in seclusion as her daughter, so her magic will keep the old woman alive" sounds an awful lot less like child abuse' - well, I've got to say, that sounds exactly like child-abuse to me. It is, quite literally (and I use that word in its literal sense, haha!), using a child for a wrongful purpose and in a wrongful way.

Not quite sure how serious you are there... Okay, that's technically one possible interpretation of "child abuse", fair enough. On the other hand, that phrase has some fairly specific standard meanings, which are not "using a child for a wrongful purpose", any more than "substance abuse" means shouting rude things at physical matter, even though modern English can use "abuse" to mean that.

What you're getting at, of course, is that she does it for an understandable reason, and that's true.

Sorry, but that's actually not what I was getting at. I was specifically highlighting how descriptions of things change how you feel about or interpret or visualise them, in response to Leia's child abuse parallel. This is a thing I'm a bit interested in because I ran across it as a student - mostly in terms of styles of anthropological writing and tendencies to alienise other cultures. Agnes' motives only came into it because they're an element Leia didn't include and I did (while leaving out others); and clearly they don't excuse her actions.

I think the thing with the immortality is, Disney haven't really thought it out either. So I'm not saying the two cases are exactly equivalent, but I don't think the difference is that straightforward. Parts of the complication is, we don't know what Agnes does with her youth and immortality, apart from raising Rapunzel. Another thing is, there's a big difference in the cases because one means destroying the flower. Also, the Palace don't apparently know that they're taking the flower away from Agnes.

I end up wondering how much benefit comes from the flower in each case, which I think is getting Utiliarian but I'm not really sure. There's also what I'm now thinking of as a vaguely Republican take on things; it seems to me there's a difference wanting something (youth, life, money) and not wanting to lose what you already have. So there's a difference in asking whether it's okay for Agnes to get more life, versus whether it's okay to have the source of her life (the flower) which she already has taken away. It's a bit like asking whether it's okay for someone to get more money, versus whether it's okay to take away the money they already have; even if people agree about what people should have, I think we broadly see depriving someone of something they've obtained legally (in this case by pure luck) as a different matter from not giving them something. We might still think it's fair, but we don't generally treat them as identical cases. But as you say, a source of immortality (or limitless anything) completely changes the debate.

While we're talking about it, this is another place where Agnes' mysteriousness is a pain, because I think we'd feel somewhat differently about someone who'd had a comfortable, fairly happy life wanting magical extension, versus someone who'd had a deprived and miserable life wanting another shot and feeling like they were entitled; the second would feel sort of fairer, though I don't know how reasonable that actually is.

Flynn is a good example because he does things that are objectively pretty bad. Agnes isn't, I'd suggest, because actually most of what she does is genuinely bad or, at best, challenging to a deep-seated social consensus of arguable legitimacy.

True, and also I'm not sure Agnes does anything objectively good or benevolent, whereas it's at least arguable that Flynn acts unselfishly at times, even if you're being deliberately cynical as I was in the article.

As you say, the treatment of the parents' grief was actually quite well done, as I remember, and I find the film pretty effective overall. The grief part was better than the reunion bits, which were Disney-heartwarming but would probably involve more awkwardness in reality. But yeah, it's a Disney fairy tale.
Dan H at 18:53 on 2011-03-23

Really? I thought it was more like: “there are some similarities in behavior; the difference is that Twilight doesn't properly engage with its male protagonists' flaws, whereas Doctor Who does.”


No no, I got that too, it's just that this is kind of a silly conclusion because, well, Twilight doesn't *have* a male protagonist - it's got a female protagonist with a male love interest. Dr Who, on the other hand, has a male protagonist who usually has a female sidekick.

You have to squint really quite hard to make Dr Who look anything like Twilight at all. If there is a point of comparison, I suspect that it's simply that Bella Swan winds up looking depressingly like a sidekick in a book which is told from her own damned viewpoint.
Sister Magpie at 21:41 on 2011-03-23
So I just took a 10 hour plane ride (which may explain any incoherence) and I watched this movie during the flight and kept thinking about this article. Having actually seen it now, I have to disagree with some things.

First, it seemed to me that Gothel's insulting of Rapunzel was incredibly pronounced. It was the only way she talked to her, The only time she wasn't insulting her or impressing her inadequacy on her, she's scaring her about the world and the hostility it has towards her. The only time she's anything like affectionate it's clearly manipulative, like when she sets herself up to save Rapunzel from villains when she's actually breaking her heart and destroying her trust in anyone else. Even when she's physically affectionate it's to Rapunzel's *hair*--unlike the affection shown by Finn or her real parents at the end. Gothel isn't as bad a mother as someone who winds up in jailfor murder, but I'd say she was truly toxic. That Rapunzel is so sweet regardless seems to have nothing at all to do with Gothel anymore than Harry Potter's normal nature has to do with the Dursleys. Even cooking her favorite meal is just a way for Gothel to portray herself as a self-sacrificing woman when she's really hurting her.

Since she didn't really seem to love Rapunzel herself (as opposed to loving "her flower") it seemed like the story was making her less disturbing by not wrapping it up with actual love as it so happens in the real world. That's why Rapunzel can just realize that all this time Gothel has been using her and go off to find her "real mother" rather than be crushed that even her mother doesn't love her.

And in Finn's case I thought his arc very clearly did show him becoming less selfish. Because Finn's never actually trying to play the part of the dashing hero. He wants money, period, at the start. That's what he doesn't understand about the real Finnigan Rider's story. When Rapunzel hears the story she asks him if Finnigan was a thief too and Finn, almost as if he's never thought about it, says no, because he just didn't what he wanted to do. Finn never thinks of anyone but himself and money.

So I think it is very important when tries to give the crown to the Stabbington Brothers. The old Finn would have wanted them away from his crown. Now the crown means nothing to him. The change is in his changing what he values--the opposite of Gothel. (And Finn starts to like Rapunzel for her resourcefulness as well.)

Sure the Stabbingtons don't get the opportunity, but that doesn't change the fact that Finn does and that he takes it, even to the point of preferring to die himself than see Rapunzel enslaved. Gothel, of course, has plenty of opportunity to be redeemed the same way Finn is but she never bonds with Rapunzel as anything other than a way to get to her flower.
Leia at 07:15 on 2011-03-24
Agnes' motives only came into it because they're an element Leia didn't include
and I did (while leaving out others); and clearly they don't excuse her actions.

Actually, I did that when I stated that "she stole a child and kept her locked up in order to have sole access to that child" because that's essentially Agnes' motivation. Her claim to the flower (tenuos at best) isn't justification for her to steal the child.
Dan H at 09:03 on 2011-03-24
Actually, I did that when I stated that "she stole a child and kept her locked up in order to have sole access to that child" because that's essentially Agnes' motivation


Not seen the film, but can't you make the case that her motivation is something closer to "she stole a child and kept her locked up, because the alternative was to die". Which is a slightly different issue.
Shim at 10:31 on 2011-03-24
Agnes' motives only came into it because they're an element Leia didn't include
and I did (while leaving out others); and clearly they don't excuse her actions.

Actually, I did that when I stated that "she stole a child and kept her locked up in order to have sole access to that child" because that's essentially Agnes' motivation. Her claim to the flower (tenuos at best) isn't justification for her to steal the child.

Okay, slight rewording for clarification: Agnes' motives for kidnapping Rapunzel are an element Leia didn't include, and a fairly vital one from my POV, because as you said, your phrase has clear child abuse parallels and Agnes' motivation is not in fact to molest Rapunzel or harm her in any way (the harm is a side-effect). Dan's basically right: access to Rapunzel, sole or otherwise, is a means rather than an end; it's clear in the film that kidnapping was a last resort to meet her actual goal of not dying. And I repeat once again that I have not said she is justified in kidnapping, so please stop throwing that one at me.

I suppose Agnes' claim to the flower is fairly tenuous, as it's a natural resource that she's exploiting (and keeping to herself). On the other hand I think any claim to it is intrinsically tenuous for the same reason, so as I mentioned, I suspect we're down to relative need or relative benefit or something to work out who's most entitled to use it.

@Sister Magpie:
At this point, it's long enough since I saw the film (and I wasn't exactly taking notes) that I'm afraid I honestly don't have a clear enough memory to re-analyse the relationship. You might well be right, and I do remember her clearly coming across as manipulative and making all these claims about the scary world, but the rest is a bit of a blur. I didn't intend to suggest that Rapunzel's personality was down to her upbringing, but that a) she seemed quite happy and comfortable in her life; and b) (rather less seriously) Agnes had done a stellar job of home-schooling. But obviously this comes down to Jamie's point about Disney psychology not being exactly scientific.

re: Flynn, he may not have tried to be an actual dashing hero, but I felt he came across as having a deluded heroic picture of himself, and how dashing and daring he is, rather than accepting that he's just a criminal; as you say, the bit with Rapunzel and Finnigan seemed like the first time he really noticed that he's veered way off from emulating his idol. You're right that he moves to caring more about Rapunzel than money, but he never does face up to what he's done already. And of course there's a minor detail that the crown he gives the Stabbingtons to make them go away isn't actually his to give. I mean, yeah, he does have some heroic qualities, like falling in love with the heroine and risking his life to save her, Disney know what they're doing. But I'm still dubious about accepting him as redeemed when he doesn't seem to have dealt with what he's actually done wrong in the past, just given himself a fresh start.

Incidentally, I'm not sure simply changing what they value is the difference between Flynn and Agnes; it's more that he goes from valuing something because he wants it, to caring about someone else and their wellbeing. If he'd just shifted to wanting Rapunzel in a selfish way (like, well, Agnes, or like he does money) it wouldn't have been an improvement. I did suggest there was self-interest in there in an earlier post; I can't remember if I actually thought it specifically about Flynn or was just making a general (cynical) point about fancying someone involving some element of self-interest. Again, too long since I saw the film, sorry.

As a heads-up, we're getting to the point where I can't remember the film well enough to make relevant comments about the text, only general points. Sorry, but it's been a while.
Leia at 14:00 on 2011-03-24
@SisterMagpie: It also occurred to me that the psychology behind Rapunzel's story was not very far from that in Potter i.e. child suffering emotional (and in Potter's case, physical) abuse with no ill effects due to the child's intrinsic sunny nature. Kidnapping aside, Glodel is not portrayed as a good mother but rather a very clever prison warden who practices the mantra that it's far easier to catch flies with honey than with vinegar.


@Shimmin: I still insist that I stated Glodel motives for kidnapping Rapunzel quite succinctly. Yes, my phrase has clear child abuse parallels because at the point when Glodel makes the decision to have sole access to Rapunzel, then she makes the decision to abuse her.

To respond to Daniel's comment: yes, Glodel has a right to preserve her own life. However that right stops at the boundary of her infringing on another person's right: which in Rapunzel's case, is the right not to be kidnapped from her home and kept a happy prisoner (by systematic emotional blackmail and psychological manipulation).


I suppose Agnes' claim to the flower is fairly tenuous, as it's a natural resource that she's exploiting (and keeping to herself). On the other hand I think any claim to it is intrinsically tenuous for the same reason, so as I mentioned, I suspect we're down to relative need or relative benefit or something to work out who's most entitled to use it.



I agree with this completely. However, are you saying that if it could be proven that the flower belonged to Glodel (she cultivated it, she invented it, etc.), she is then justified in kidnapping Rapunzel and keeping her in isolation for 18 years because Rapunzel can be classified as an extension of the flower that was originally Glodel's property and she is using to preserve her life indefinitely? That is the problem I have with the ... discussion of who has more right to the flower. It seems to imply - and maybe this is just me but I'm putting it out here for you to dispute - that her original claim to the flower has somehow been extended to a claim on Rapunzel.
Arthur B at 14:54 on 2011-03-24
Also, it does kind of set up a binary choice between "give up and die" or "kidnap Rapunzel", which doesn't really work.

I mean, Glodel could have thrown herself on the mercy of the King and Queen and said "look, I'm going to die if I am kept apart from Rapunzel, take me on as her nurse or tutor and I will make damn sure that she's kept safe." If the King and Queen are as benign as Disney ones usually are they might have gone for it, especially since pragmatically speaking Glodel could be the most loyal servant they could possibly get for Rapunzel, seeing how Rapunzel's life is her life.

To jump straight from Glodel needing Rapunzel's hair to continue living to Glodel needing to kidnap Rapunzel to keep living jumps an awful lot of intermediary steps.
Shim at 21:15 on 2011-03-24
@Leia:
Yes, my phrase has clear child abuse parallels because at the point when Glodel makes the decision to have sole access to Rapunzel, then she makes the decision to abuse her.

Okay, at this point we are clearly using different definitions of child abuse. I've been referring to the stereotypical domestic/sexual abuse as in all the tabloids, as this was the parallel that seemed clear from your original post. You and Jamie now seem to be using a more general sense of "abuse", which obviously does include the way she treats Rapunzel, but isn't the same as the meaning of "abuse" which your initial phrase calls to my mind as an obvious parallel. The primary implication to me of "a kidnapper who steals a child and keeps her locked up all her life so that the person can have sole access to that child" is "...and (sexually) abuse her". At the very least it implies a very physical confinement, physical abuse and a thoroughly miserable existence. Agnes' treatment of Rapunzel is wrong in all kinds of other ways, but not those. So you don't really seem to be talking about the same thing now as you were when you wrote that.

I still insist that I stated Glodel motives for kidnapping Rapunzel quite succinctly.

Um, fair enough, but as I said above, I disagree that "having sole access to [Rapunzel]" is her motivation, so I don't think we're getting anywhere.

However, are you saying that if it could be proven that the flower belonged to Glodel (she cultivated it, she invented it, etc.), she is then justified in kidnapping Rapunzel and keeping her in isolation for 18 years because Rapunzel can be classified as an extension of the flower that was originally Glodel's property and she is using to preserve her life indefinitely?

The which what where now? No! That's a really weird argument. They're two completely separate issues. You keep coming back to this idea that I'm saying the kidnapping can be justified, and it's starting to bother me.

The flower-rights issue is basically just about using resources. It's a natural resource which Agnes happens to find first and benefits from; the Palace (entirely ignorant that she's using it) put it beyond her use. It's not much different from questions over who has the right to use, oh, land or rainforest or water supplies, when it affects other people. The fact that Rapunzel manifests related powers is a completely separate issue. If she was just a normal kid, Agnes wouldn't be entitled to a share of her wages. If you're a fisherman, and someone else fishes out the lake to keep their child from starving, you're not entitled to enslave the kid to keep you comfortably provided for.

If the Palace had knowingly deprived Agnes of the flower, there'd be an argument (not saying I accept it) that Agnes was entitled to some form of compensation - but they didn't. If she'd bred it, she would be entitled to compensation (which does not mean, to kidnap Rapunzel), though I don't know what would be reasonable compensation for immortality. But that's not how things happened, and I really don't know what's reasonable compensation for a natural resource you were using sustainably that's destroyed by someone else using it differently; it's similar to issues of indigenous land rights and so on, which as far as I know nobody has solved.

So to actually answer your question, I certainly don't think we can generalise from "has rights to benefit from natural resource X" to "has absolute rights over all products of the destruction of resource X". I don't believe ex-residents of Capel Celyn are entitled to enslave me in compensation.

Looking back over the article, I can see where your feeling might be coming from. I notice my section about flower rights leads on to the bit about Agnes' subsequent decisions and their motivations. I certainly didn't intend to imply that her tenuous right to use the flower had any bearing on her non-existent right to Rapunzel. I was trying to suggest that I don't see a clear and unambiguous evil/good or selfish/selfless opposition between the way Agnes and the Palace exploit the flower, even though that seemed to be how Disney presented them. Then from "Once the flower is destroyed..." I was thinking about how, though she started off with non-evil use of the flower, she made a series of increasingly difficult and immoral choices, which trapped her on a slippery slope because she'd already given up so much. As in, not only taken risks, but she's already done bad things to keep her immortality; a sort of "throwing bad immorality after good" or something, if you see what I mean. So it seemed that her earlier behaviour was shown as wrong because of what she would do later, though it wasn't necessarily wrong in itself, and she was not intrinsically or initially a stereotypical "wicked old woman".

@Orionsnebula: the one I was thinking of was actually along the lines of "Your protagonist is an elderly man who serially abducts young women to be attacked by monsters".

@Kyra: sorry, haven't really responded to that, but it's a really good point. And I have seen "Into the Woods". I do think there's something a bit compelling about people who have to make moral choices, which may be why I found Agnes interesting. Most of the characters never do - I think only Agnes and Flynn? And I suppose the Stabbingtons.

I think the most interesting way to interpret this on a metaphorical level is to engage with the idea that children often feel as though their parent's *are* keeping them locked up, away from the world, and the things they would like to do.

Agreed, and Jamie's right that Disney then offer "maybe they're just selfishly exploiting you" as an explanation in a problematic way, and float the idea of "real parents" who love you unconditionally. Interestingly, there's no contrast given with the royal parents, because we never see how they interact with Rapunzel, so we don't know how differently "real parents" would treat her.

@Arthur: I can't actually work out what you're responding to, so I'm a bit hazy on what you're saying and who to. What sets up the binary choice? I mean, yeah, your Third Way is a perfectly reasonable one if we assume the Disney Monarchs are benevolent and have no objections to letting her be immortal (though I wonder what the fallout would be when they found out about Rapunzel's powers? as in, I have no idea).

Afterthought: This might actually render the whole article null and void anyway, but it's occurred to me, isn't the story explicitly told by Flynn anyway? In which case, it makes perfect sense for Agnes to be portrayed consistently as wicked, since he knows what she's going to do and is also not exactly going to be inclined to take an objective view; and similarly, it makes sense for Flynn to be presented as a hero whatever he does. So, um... I may have wasted my time writing it.
Dan H at 21:29 on 2011-03-24
I think we're basically getting into a finnicky situation with the term "motivation" here and I think we're mostly all on the same page. I think we're all basically agreeing that locking up little girls in towers is a bad thing, and that kidnapping babies is distinctly suboptimal, we seem to be disagreeing about whether your "motivation" for something means the thing you want to achieve by your actions, or the reason for which you want to achieve the thing you want to achieve. At this point I'm not entirely convinced the distinction matters that much.
Arthur B at 21:29 on 2011-03-24
What sets up the binary choice?

I was responding to the vague implication that because Godel does what she does in order to not die her actions are for some reason understandable.

I mean, I can understand why she would desperately want access to Rapunzel. But I think the bit where she goes straight from "I need access to Rapunzel" to "I must kidnap Rapunzel" would be the bit where she crosses a line and loses people's sympathy.
Dan H at 21:43 on 2011-03-24
It strikes me that part of the problem here is what I tend to think of as misdirected condemnation.

Not having seen the film, but being vaguely aware of how Disney works, it seems like the text views Gothel's desire to retain her youth and beauty to be a priori wrong, and her kidnapping Rapunzel to be a natural extension of her willingness to defy the natural order.

This seems (from what I've seen thus far) to lead to a text which condemns the wrong part of the character's behaviour - it's not the locking her up that's the problem, it's the reason for wanting her in the first place. This means that the kidnapping seems harmless because we're invited to judge it not for what it is (a kidnapping) but for what lies behind it (a desire for immortality which the movie condemns but which the viewer may not).

This may be a good example of why Disney movies are seldom praised for their moral sophistication or exploration of complex real-world social issues.
Shim at 22:08 on 2011-03-24
Yeah, my previous comment originally included a suggestion that we drop the detailed analysis of exactly what "abuse" or "motivation" mean, but I didn't want to come across as getting my shot in and then cutting off debate. I can't honestly see much interesting coming out of it though, even if we did reach agreement, and we do seem to be getting bogged down.

@Arthur: Okay, I get what you mean, I just can't see what specific line or post you're replying to, if any. It doesn't especially matter though. She does skip right over any possible other options, but in fairness she makes a split-second decision while trespassing in the Palace at night, having just discovered that the hair loses its power when cut and clearly flummoxed by that. I can see her head not being too clear just then.

FWIW I'm not sure "understandable" is the best word to use there, because to me at least it's mixing comprehension and sympathy. Your next line suggests you're using it in the sense of sympathy. I wouldn't say her actions are incomprehensible, I just don't agree with them.
Leia at 08:05 on 2011-03-25
The primary implication to me of "a kidnapper who steals a child and keeps her locked up all her life so that the person can have sole access to that child" is "...and (sexually) abuse her". At the very least it implies a very physical confinement, physical abuse and a thoroughly miserable existence. Agnes' treatment of Rapunzel is wrong in all kinds of other ways, but not those. So you don't really seem to be talking about the same thing now as you were when you wrote that.



Actually, I didn't state sexual abuse specifically. I said it had scary real-life metaphors. There are a whole range of ways that people have abused children and you can't argue that sexual abuse is "worse" without saying that the other forms of abuse are "not so bad". Psychological abuse is actually more damaging than physical abuse and it is harder to police that (a parent can be locked up for hitting a child or raping a child but not for the kind of manipulation and spirit-killing mind games Glodel played on Rapunzel). As for the rest, I am not sure if you're arguing that Glodel did not physically confine Rapunzel or that her existence was a happy one but I'll state upfront that I'm not going into a debate about whether or not Rapunzel's tower or years of isolation constituted a prison or a form of abuse.


@Daniel: I can't speak for the reading anyone else would get from the film, but I thought Glodel's "villainy" became manifest at the point of her theft of Rapunzel. Up until then, I actually found her sympathetic.

@Arthur: I actually did think of mentioning the nanny option - both by Glodel coming clean to the Royal Family or her just worming her way into their favor while keeping her real motivation a secret. I didn't want to derail from my own point that even if there was a binary either - "kidnap Rapunzel" or "die" (which I don't), it still doesn't make Glodel's actions understandable/logical/rational/sympathetic or what have you.


@Shimmin:
but in fairness she makes a split-second decision while trespassing in the Palace at night, having just discovered that the hair loses its power when cut and clearly flummoxed by that. I can see her head not being too clear just then.



Doesn't she have sixteen odd years to get her head cleared up? Because while kidnapping Rapunzel was a spur of the moment decision: keeping her imprisoned every day for sixteen years was not a spontaneous decision.
Shim at 10:39 on 2011-03-25
Actually, I didn't state sexual abuse specifically.

Yes, I know, that's how implications work. I am not interested in indulging you in a faux-debate about abuse or kidnapping, which we have all repeatedly agreed are bad, and I'm fed up of your constant attempts to set me up as a strawman defender of kidnapping, abuse or whatever else you feel like, however wild a misinterpretations of my arguments is necessary. We now seem to have drifted wildly from your original point, about Agnes' behaviour having disturbing real-life metaphors and her therefore being an unsympathetic character, to a nitpicky linguistic discussion which I can't see having any useful outcome at this point. I really don't want this fairly silly analysis of a fun Disney film to turn into an angry argument and it doesn't seem like we fundamentally disagree on much.

Doesn't she have sixteen odd years to get her head cleared up?

True, but Arthur was talking about the initial split-second decision, so I just answered for that. People under immediate pressure tend not to think of all the options they could under calmer circumstance, and make bad decisions. The continued imprisonment is a separate set of decisions with different, um, parameters I suppose - not least of which is that she's now kidnapped a princess (though with a bit of ingenuity she could have pretended to have found her somewhere if she had a change of heart and was too scared to admit the truth).

@Dan: I would say it's a bit different; the kidnapping doesn't seem harmless as such, but she's already been set up as a wicked old woman so it's a sort of natural continuation for her. You're spot on about the a priori though.
Dan H at 11:26 on 2011-03-25
Yes, I know, that's how implications work.


I think when Leia says that she didn't state sexual abuse specifically, she means that she specifically was not talking about sexual abuse (and for what it's worth, I didn't read "and sexually absue them" into her original comment).

I think the problem here is that "abuse" does tend to be read as "sexual abuse" and Leia is making a quite conscious attempt to use the term more broadly in order to highlight quite how unacceptable other forms of abusive behaviour are. I really don't think anybody is attacking anybody else here, I just think that Leia is trying to communicate that it is important to recognise that locking your children up (whatever your reasons, whatever you do to them *while* they are locked up) is still abusive.
Leia at 11:43 on 2011-03-25
Yes, I know, that's how implications work. I am not interested in indulging you in a faux-debate about abuse or kidnapping, which we have all repeatedly agreed are bad, and I'm fed up of your constant attempts to set me up as a strawman defender of kidnapping, abuse or whatever else you feel like, however wild a misinterpretations of my arguments is necessary.



You leave me at a loss because I first responded to the content of the article itself, and later to your own response to that content. I mean, short of going over the contents of the article point by point with you...

The article states (under a heading of that includes the phrase 'morally ambiguous') that the fact that Rapunzel seems to be clothed and fed and well-read means that Glodel has been a good mother, has probably developed some affection for her, and all this started because Glodel's flower (by right of first possession at least) was stolen from her and destroyed which led to her sliding down a slippery slope of choices that included kidnapping and imprisonment. Meanwhile, the article parallels Glodel relationship with Rapunzel with the relationship between an adoptive mother and child (and I don't know how that cannot be offensive) and contrasts the film's treatment as Flynn in a way that seems to say that: since the film makes Flynn a hero despite definite non-heroic actions; then it made the same mistake with Glodel by making her a villain despite definite non-villainous actions (actions which include being a good mother to Rapunzel).


True, but Arthur was talking about the initial split-second decision, so I just answered for that. People under immediate pressure tend not to think of all the options they could under calmer circumstance, and make bad decisions.


I was regarding the comment more from the binary perspective which you had been insisting on (either-or: either steal the Princess or stay alive) and from the point that this is what makes her stop being sympathetic. (I don't really understand how the kidnapping can't 'seem harmless as such'.) She could have regained audience sympathy like any other Heel Face Turn character if she had returned the baby (and it really won't have been too hard to do this; it would certainly have been far easier to do this than keep Rapunzel hostage all her life which apparently was Glodel's intention).
Shim at 12:21 on 2011-03-25
Sudden rethink comment in progress.
Dan H at 13:07 on 2011-03-25
I think what we're dealing with here is two legitimate but widely divergent readings of the same text.

With any text, but *particularly* something like a fairytale you can read the events of that text as things that literally happen, or as metaphors. Both of these ways of looking at the text are legitimate, and both are important.

I *think* Shim's original article is written from the assumption that Tangled is, in essence, a Family Romance and focused on the elements of the text which suggested (falsely) that the problem with Rapunzel and Gothel's relationship was that Gothel wasn't her "real" mother. This *is* a common theme in Disney movies, and a disturbing one.

As I think somebody mentioned above, it feels a lot like the problem with Harry Potter. Taken literally, the way in which the Dursleys treat Harry is *unforgivably abusive*, but you can't really take it literally because if you did you'd have to ask why nobody called Social Services or why Harry doesn't show any kind of emotional reaction beyond normal teenage angst. Defending Gothel in this context is rather like defending the Durselys, you can do it, but you have to be clear that you're putting their actual actions into metaphor-space (essentially the Durselys aren't really condemned for locking Harry in a cupboard, they're condemned for being middle-class and this is kind of not okay). This can lead to some quite difficult disconnects with people who are looking at the literal events of the text.
Shim at 13:42 on 2011-03-25
Okay, in the light of what Dan said I'm wondering if we're just talking at cross-purposes. I've assumed all along that the real-life thing for which a kidnapper who steals a child and keeps her locked up all her life so that the person can have sole access to that child was a scary metaphor, along the lines of Fritzl or at least of wanting a prisoner. To be honest, I still can't see another obvious interpretation, but Dan at least apparently has one. If that wasn't what you intended, Leia, then we're probably just miscommunicating and I'm sorry about that. On the basis of that belief, I felt you were disregarding motivation, because Agnes kept Rapunzel prisoner as a means rather than an end in itself, and harmed her in the process of achieving her goal rather than as her goal. My post last night was me working out we're talking about different things and trying to make that clear to you as well so we could resolve our differences; it wasn't supposed to imply that some kinds of abuse are worse than others, but that your latest and first posts seemed to me to be talking about different things. I thought the first was talking about locking people up in a dungeon to physically abuse them, and the most recent was talking about general mistreatment. If in fact you were talking about mistreatment in general the whole time, then it's just me misunderstanding all along. I personally wouldn't have described the situation as a metaphor for real-life sadistic mind-games because it seems to me more like an actual example of that, but I don't want to haggle over definitions again :)

Having just noticed Dan's latest comment (cheers Dan) I think there's something in that. Basically, I took various elements (like the kidnapping) as just fluff, because that's stuff that happens in fairy tales, and also there didn't seem much to say about it. Quite honestly, what started off the whole article was that I briefly snarled at the end of the film because it seemed to be faintly denigrating single-parent families and non-blood families. That's all. Everything else just came into my head during writing. So I was much more interested in stuff that was suggested by the text than stuff that was actually in it. Also, in fairness, despite my pernicketiness it wasn't meant to be a very serious article (that could probably have been made clearer). So I picked out some very minor aspects of the text to talk about and didn't really think about them very seriously. I'm afraid it didn't occur to me that anyone would take it very seriously as making real ethical arguments until quite a long way into the comments.

You leave me at a loss because I first responded to the content of the article itself, and later to your own response to that content. I mean, short of going over the contents of the article point by point with you...

The reason I've been getting worked up - and I'm sorry about that, everyone - is that lots of your comments seem to interpret me as making excuses for Agnes where I haven't done so, or as implying that abuse is somehow okay, despite my repeatedly denying it. I think part of the problem may have been that I interpret some of my responses as just being about language, whereas possibly you read them as also trying to make ethical points? Alternatively I may just be starting to interpret all your comments as taking that position and will try not to do so.

Following Jamie's comment, I've accepted that she was not a good mother and that isolating the child-raising aspect from the kidnapping was not especially useful. That section was supposed to be about Rapunzel's experience of family, rather than Agnes as a mother, but it seems like I didn't write it very well, and looking back it has perhaps too much focus on Agnes and not enough on Rapunzel.

I'm sorry you find "adoptive mother" offensive, but it seemed like a straightforward way of saying "person who raised this child with the belief that she was the woman's daughter and did so with at least the framework of stereotypical motherhood".

The contrast with Flynn was not supposed to be the one you've seen. It was supposed to be something like: the film presents Flynn as intrinsically heroic despite villainous actions and on the basis of a few heroic ones; the film presents Agnes (and the Stabbingtons) as intrinsically villainous because of villainous actions; all of these characters do wrong but only some are textually condemned for them; I think it's a bit more complicated than that. It wasn't supposed to relate back to the mothering section at all, but that's my fault for putting them in the same article. Now in fact, on reflection, as well as the fact that it's narrated by Flynn, there's a reasonable point that the reason Flynn is heroic is that he does at least some good things and none of the others do, so again, my argument kind of folds.

I was regarding the comment more from the binary perspective which you had been insisting on (either-or: either steal the Princess or stay alive) and from the point that this is what makes her stop being sympathetic. (I don't really understand how the kidnapping can't 'seem harmless as such'.) She could have regained audience sympathy like any other Heel Face Turn character if she had returned the baby (and it really won't have been too hard to do this; it would certainly have been far easier to do this than keep Rapunzel hostage all her life which apparently was Glodel's intention).

Okay, I think this may be another misunderstanding, but I do see how it's arisen. I've expressed things as choosing between stealing the princess and death because those are the choices that were presented in the text; I wasn't intentionally suggesting that those were the only possible choices. I'm sure we could find other options Agnes could have chosen, but it never seemed an especially useful thing to talk about. So what I was trying to say to Arthur was: yes, that skip of logic is where she becomes unsympathetic, but I accepted in the text that the reason she didn't consider other options is she was too stressed to think of them in the time available. I agree that she had plenty of time to think again and could have regained sympathy if she did.

(Incidentally, the reason I've carried on saying "Agnes" is that by the point we established any alternative, it says Agnes all over the place and three of us were using three different names, so it seemed less confusing to carry on; it wasn't supposed to be annoying)
Leia at 14:48 on 2011-03-25
@Daniel: Thanks, Dad Dan. :P

@Shimmin: I think we're definitely on the same page now. I apologize, too. I mean, I did start my first comment with "maybe this hits too close to home" so that should give you a clue that I took a Disney film and your light-hearted analysis of it a bit (ha!) too literally.

Actually I kind of like the way we use different names for her character. There's something almost meta about it.
Shim at 15:18 on 2011-03-25
Yay!
Yeah, I think my initial reply was in theory me saying I wasn't taking it very seriously, but I muddled the issue by following it with a linguistic analysis of your comment which I think set off the whole misunderstanding. Looking at it again it doesn't come across the way I intended. Unfortunately I'm very inclined to get distracted by thinking about language.

Wow, I am so relieved. Didn't realise how much I was stressing about it :)
Dan H at 16:10 on 2011-03-25
@Daniel: Thanks, Dad Dan. :P



Sorry, hope that last couple of comments didn't come across as too patronizing, I just thought it had got to a stage where people were feeling attacked, so I thought it might be helpful to try to get things back to common ground.
Shim at 16:29 on 2011-03-25
I personally am very grateful for that last couple of comments and not remotely patronized.
Leia at 22:32 on 2011-03-25
It didn't in the least, Dan. Your mediation was much needed and came in the nick of time and I was just trying to be funny (which as you can see, I'm not very good at.)
Robinson L at 20:02 on 2011-03-30
*wakes up*

Dan: No no, I got that too, it's just that this is kind of a silly conclusion because, well, Twilight doesn't *have* a male protagonist - it's got a female protagonist with a male love interest. Dr Who, on the other hand, has a male protagonist who usually has a female sidekick.

Ah yes, I should, of course have said “male lead” rather than “protagonist.” That was sloppy of me.

And okay, I think I see what you're saying now, Dan. When you said “I couldn't help seeing that article as boiling down to etc.” I assumed the rest of your comment would just be to clarify the author's point. Whereas now it sounds like you meant to say “the article makes argument X, but I don't think X is entirely valid,” which I can sort of see looking back. Is that a fair summation of your comments?
Sister Magpie at 18:08 on 2011-03-31
This seems (from what I've seen thus far) to lead to a text which condemns the
wrong part of the character's behaviour - it's not the locking her up that's the
problem, it's the reason for wanting her in the first place. This means that the
kidnapping seems harmless because we're invited to judge it not for what it is
(a kidnapping) but for what lies behind it (a desire for immortality which the
movie condemns but which the viewer may not).


I think it's a chicken and egg thing there. I mean, had Gothel stolen Rapunzel to save her from an abusive situation or even because she wanted a child so much herself the film would have viewed her more sympathetically. But that would partly be due to the fact that stealing Rapunzel an the reasons she does it are central to her character and inform all her other choices, so those motivations would make her less selfish. The first would make her primarily motivated by the desire to protect the helpless, the second to love someone. Continuing to act out those choices would probably have led her eventually to an unselfish act with Rapunzel or telling her the truth because wanting to protect Rapunzel and wanting to love Rapunzel will eventually lead her to having to take Rapunzel's feelings into account, even if she can go through a lot of wrong-headed harmful actions before realizing she's doing it wrong.

Gothel's motivation is a desire to be young and beautiful forever. I think that's why the film counts on people instinctively seeing a difference b/w saving Gothel vs. the queen. Gothel is demanding more life than any human gets while the death of a young mother or child is "less natural." Of course one could argue that there's no real reason it should be more tragic for a baby or young mother (or young person) to die than an old one, that nobody should really have to accept that they've gotten their share of years and shouldn't want any more just because they're 100.

But in terms of her character it still comes down to Gothel always being motivated by things she wants for herself and even after she has a child she keeps that motivation. She isn't touched by Rapunzel, doesn't ever come to consider Rapunzel's needs to be important, much less put them ahead of her own needs as mothers usually do, so she never really sees her as a daughter. Rapunzel is like a baby duck who imprints on Gothel because she's all that's there but Gothel's affection for Rapunzel is strictly limited to making things easier for herself. Unlike the witch in most versions of the story who does seem more motivated by a mother's love gone too far so that it becomes destructive.
Cressida at 21:19 on 2011-04-03
I finally saw the movie last night and wanted to chime in on a couple of things.

First, about the flower: they didn't go into detail about it, but it wasn't clear that it could only save one person. As long as the flower was still growing, Gothel (BTW, I saw the movie with the closed caption subtitles turned on, and that is definitely her name) was using it regularly for an unknown but implied to be great number of years without using up its power. If she had made its location known instead of keeping it a secret, she could perhaps have set up some sort of shrine where people who needed its power could access it. In such a case, the queen might have been able to travel to the flower before her illness became so dire, and the flower might never have had to be cut at all. So I don't think it was a clear-cut case of "The queen's life is presented as being worth more than Gothel's."

As for Flynn abandoning the Stabbingtons, I thought that was just meant to be the "before" image of him, as a way of showing how he changed in the course of the movie. I thought it actually was supposed to show that he was on his way to being a not-very-nice person until Rapunzel put him in touch with his inner Eugene again. YMMV as to whether it works, of course, but I think that was the intent.

(Please forgive me if I duplicate something someone has already said. I've got a limited amount of time to be online today, and I've read the original essay but don't have time to catch up on all the comments, and I want to post this while the movie is fresh in my mind.)
Cressida at 16:19 on 2011-04-05
Also--you mention searching for the "rumoured magical flower." I could be misremembering, but I don't recall it being clear that the soldiers knew they were looking for a flower. I just remember the narrator (Flynn) saying they were "searching for a miracle." Anyone have the DVD and can confirm/correct this? It makes more sense to me that there wouldn't be any rumours of a flower, since it was in the middle of nowhere and Gothel had been hiding it so carefully for so long. If the soldiers didn't know what they were looking for, that considerably changes how we look at their decision.
Shim at 15:41 on 2011-04-06
Yeah, I’ve conceded the Gothel issue, but for the sake of consistency I’m sticking with Agnes in my posts, which seems possibly less confusing than changing halfway through, although of course it means we’re all using different names.

They didn't go into detail about it, but it wasn't clear that it could only save one person.

I agree. I thought I’d mentioned this, but I can’t see anything now. Might have lost it in my efforts to cut the article down to a reasonable size. From what I saw, there was no suggestion that the flower’s power was limited at all, so your shrine idea is a great one. Off the top of my head, there are three explanations why it didn’t happen: 1) Agnes simply never thought of it; 2) she actively doesn’t want anyone else to have it; 3) she’s afraid it would be taken away from her.

I, at least, didn’t so much see it as “The queen's life is presented as being worth more than Gothel's” but as “saving the Queen’s life is presented as being more morally acceptable than keeping Gothel alive” (using “Gothel” for internal consistency here!). Jamie has pointed out that they aren’t really direct equivalents, which complicates matters. Your point makes it even more complicated :)

The “rumoured magical flower" is, oh, artistic license or whatever you want to call it. What I remembered was, being told the Queen was deathly ill, and then the soldiers scouring the hillside in a very purposeful way, and immediately realising the flower was important and taking it away. Since Agnes hid the flower, and I think it was fairly mundane when not being sung at(?), I presumably made myself an explanation that made sense: rumours somehow leaked out of such a flower (maybe there had been others before?) so they knew what to look for, but not where it was. The kind of legend you wouldn’t pay much heed to normally, but might follow up if you were desperate.

If the soldiers didn't know what they were looking for, that considerably changes how we look at their decision.

I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you mean here. Can you clarify?

Re: Flynn: you’re probably right, it may be Disney trying to highlight the kind of person he was turning into. Fair enough, he moves away from that gradually (he doesn’t actively betray Rapunzel, though he does selfishly endanger her earlier on), but for me it seemed like his failure to face up to that past meant he didn’t actually redeem himself. It’s quite possible that was just down to time constraints - they might not have felt there was time to properly show him being remorseful and guilt-ridden and dealing with his criminal past, and presumably being forgiven for it, but went straight for a couple of melancholy-looking shots and then New Eugene as a shorthand for that.

If you haven’t read through the comments, I should mention that this is less a hard-hitting, gritty analysis of hidden truths in a Disney film, and more a case of me taking a couple of implications and letting my imagination run wild because it was sort of fun.

Something which has occurred to me during all this: cinema films actually create a weird situation. I watched a film several weeks ago, it prompted a few ideas, and I wrote an article based on what I remembered. Unlike a book or DVD, I couldn’t go back to check any details when I wrote it, and I can’t now that people are raising new ideas and counterarguments. Well, not without going to the cinema again. It’s compounded by another weird thing, which is not itself film-specific: I saw the film fresh, and decided later to write about it; whereas if you’ve read the article and then go to watch it, you’re in a position to compare what I wrote against the film and decide from that whether you agree. So you'll probably remember it better than me. If it was a book, or something else I could keep hold of, that situation wouldn’t really arise. Just something that occurred to me.
Leia at 17:49 on 2011-04-06
Good to see this discussion is picking up again, now that I've watched the DVD and read the novelization.

What I remembered was, being told the Queen was deathly ill, and then the soldiers scouring the hillside in a very purposeful way, and immediately realising the flower was important and taking it away.

According to Flynn's narrative voiceover, 'they were running out of time and that's when people started looking for a miracle' Shot of anxious-looking civillians dismounting boats with lamps. Voiceover continues: 'or in this case, a magical flower.'

Flynn is narrating a story he already knows. Whether the people were actually looking for the flower specifically or a miracle in general and Flynn is retrospectively adding the detail of the flower, is not clear.

Whichever was the case: He then goes on to elaborate how the old woman had hoarded the flower and used it to keep her youth and live for centuries. With respect to the earlier argument about whether it was really a choice between the Queen's life and the old woman's: there are two points to consider: firstly, the Queen (etc.) had no knowledge of Glodel, her claim to the flower or that it was keeping her alive so it was never a decision (the Queen's life or Glodel's) that the Queen had to make because she didn't know that her destroying the flower doomed Glodel. Secondly, and more damning, Glodel was the one person who knew that there needn't have been an either-or. She was the only person who knew that the flower did not have to be destroyed to save the Queen. She kept her silence, refused to stake her claim and save both the Queen and herself.

By the way, according to the novelization, Glodel wasn't coming to visit Rapunzel with a big butcher's knife because she wanted a lock of the girl's hair. It was when she saw Rapunzel's hair and sang to it, that the idea that the princess's hair could be Sun-Flower the sequel occured to her. She was coming to visit the baby princess with a big butcher's knife to avenge the loss of the original flower. And this bit of information is labelled appropriately under 'Fridge Horror' in TV Tropes.
Cressida at 02:30 on 2011-04-09
Re the soldiers and the flower: from the original article, I got the feeling that you thought it was arrogant of the soldiers to assume they had the right to destroy the flower in order to save the Queen. But if the soldiers are just looking for anything which looks like it might be magical and useful, they don't necessarily know that the flower is unique or even that it is going to be destroyed. So that makes them less arrogant and makes their morality less questionable.

Still, Leia has corrected my faulty memory; apparently Flynn does mention the flower, though not in a way that makes it clear whether they knew what it was or not.

Re the either-or decision, Leia summarized the point I was trying to make much better than I did, about how it didn't have to be either-or. Of course, it's debatable whether Gothel could have done much about the Queen's illness, since we don't know whether she even knew the Queen was ill; but the narration does seem to be pointing us toward the idea that the correct way to behave when you've found a sustainable magical flower is to share it with as many people as possible.
http://cammalot.livejournal.com/ at 01:05 on 2011-04-15
Soooo... This finally made it to Pay-Per-View (I've been following this discussion) and I find I have to ask: Is Gothel just the biggest, most disturbing Jewish stereotype ever -- right from the start, curly dark-haired woman going to do ritualistic ill to golden-haired baby -- or am I reading far too much into the fact that Donna Murphy appears to be channelling Barbra Streisand's turn as "Dolly"?

Because I could be reading into it. During "Rapunzel Knows Best," large part of my mind was expecting her to segue directly into "And on those cold winter nights/ You can snuggle up to your cash register.../ I should have said 'so long' so long ago..."
Wardog at 09:53 on 2011-05-25
I was talking about this to Dan, and he summed up my argument here as basically: "Apart from kidnapping a baby, pretending to be her mother, bringing her up alone in a tower for eighteen years and deceiving her for her own selfish ends, she's not a particularly bad mother". The thing is, ridiculous as it sounds, I think that's about right. The things she's done wrong aren't really about how she raised Rapunzel, but more general wrongs that intertwine with that. The problem is that Agnes' dual status as adoptive mother and kidnapper rather complicates the issue.


Dude, she's a TERRIBLE mother. Like actually terrible. Unless you consider the provision of material comforts the yardstick by which parenting is measured. Yes, she educates Rapunzel and gives her shit, and cooks her favourite food when she visits, but the kindness of those acts is entirely mitigated by the fact they are minor kindnesses deployed for the *sole intent* of keeping Rapunzel quiet and content and docile. And the fact of the matter she is "nice" to Rapunzel because it is *easier* not because it is *better* - by the end of the movie she has pretty much demonstrated she's equally willing to keep Rapunzel tied up and gagged in a dank basement. Furthermore, the whole of Agnes's interactions with Rapunzel are profoundly and horrifically manipulative - she wants to keep her weak and uncertain and hesitant. All of her songs and dialogue aimed at Rapunzel are basically "you suck, you need me." She is trying to create a false dependency by constantly undermining Rapunzel's sense of self and self-worth. Now, I know this is a fair bit more subtle than sending your daughter off into the woods with an assassin, or feeding her poisoned fruit, but in some ways it is worse because it's not just physical danger, it's psychological and emotional danger which is only possible because Rapunzel does, at least, love and trust Agnes, believing she is her mother.

Don't get me wrong, I think Agnes is AWESOME but she's clearly an unbelievably evil person and a pretty damn terrible mother.

I suppose the "real family" reference means one with honesty and love, rather than manipulation, deceit and using your daughter selfishly. It means the parents who wanted you and loved you unconditionally, rather than someone who stole you for selfish reasons, whether or not they've got fond of you. In context, though, it had a faint whiff of narrow-mindedness: that what really matters isn't who brought you up or how you felt about them, but your genes (and incidentally having two parents, not just one). The fact is though, Rapunzel actually had a pretty happy family life before all this kicked off.


I genuinely didn't get this - I do see your point, but actually, as you say, I think the notion is that your "real" family is the one who love you unconditionally for who you are, not your magic hair, and that has nothing to do with biology or there being one man + one woman comprising said family. I mean it just so happens that the people who love Rapunzel are her biological parents but the message would work the other way - if her parents kept her locked in a tower and emotionally manipulated her on a daily, if not hourly, basis then they would not be her "real" family either.

For what it's worth, though, I do think the "morality" of the flower is dodgy, in just the ways you articulate.
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