Things I Learned from Disney Princesses: Rapunzel
By Erin M Rogan (@Rogue98)
It has become common to hear complaints about Disney movies in general, Disney princesses in particular. I found dozens of rants about them and they all said the same thing: “I don’t want my daughter learning that marriage should be her highest ideal and that being in love means living in a fairy tale.” This, I think, is a fair stance to take on the goals we want to see for generations of future little girls. But by that same token, you could make the argument that little boys shouldn’t watch superheroes because they prize vigilante justice over relationships of any kind and are willing to wear their underwear on the outside of their clothes.
Just as you might jump to the defense of the superheroes because that’s not all they are, I want to jump to the defense of Disney princesses. The truth is, society as a whole tells our little girls that being pretty, thin and married is the ultimate form of success. I think Disney’s princesses actually show both girls and boys (none of these lessons are gender-exclusive) that they should have pride in themselves and their dreams.
To illustrate my point, I give you Rapunzel from Tangled. She is a pie-in-the-sky dreamer with the courage and strength to take risks. And you know what? She doesn’t succeed based on her looks or marriage.
Dream beyond your window.
Rapunzel couldn’t fathom much beyond her tower, but that didn’t stop her from having a dream that involved leaving it. Consider the location of that tower: it was in a clearing in the woods so remote that for eighteen years her parents’ army couldn’t find it. In spite of this extreme isolation, Rapunzel envisioned herself out in the world and then, amazingly, she left her tower.
Being young and sheltered doesn’t necessarily make you weak.
At eighteen, Rapunzel has never been outside or interacted with anyone besides her mother and a chameleon. But when Flynn climbs in her window, she is hardly easy prey! The man winds up in a closet and tied to a chair through the sheer force of a sheltered, young girl. Rapunzel shows that we are capable of inner strength no matter how old or experienced we are.
Everyone has a dream.
When Rapunzel and Flynn walk into the Snuggly Duckling, they are surrounded by men about whom it would be easy to see as just ruffians and thugs. In fact, we’re encouraged to see them as two-dimensional characters until Rapunzel saves Flynn by saying, “Find your humanity! Haven’t any of you ever had a dream?” and we, like Rapunzel, finally see the ruffians and thugs as people. The bond they form over their commonality as dreamers saves Flynn and Rapunzel’s lives more than once.
Don’t be afraid to achieve your dreams.
One of the most honest moments in Tangled is a conversation Flynn and Rapunzel have while waiting to see the lanterns:
Flynn: Are you okay?
Rapunzel: I’m terrified.
Rapunzel: I’ve been looking out a window for eighteen years, dreaming about what it might feel like when those lights rise in the sky. What if it’s not everything I dreamed it would be?
Flynn: It will be.
Rapunzel: And what if it is?
The only thing scarier than thinking you won’t achieve your dreams is the possibility that you will. So what happens after you get your wish? According to Flynn, that’s when you get to find a new dream, and that’s the best part. Let that new dream lead you to more new dreams until, as Dr. Seuss said of love, “You can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.”
Sometimes the price of safety is your freedom.
In spite of technically being a hostage, Rapunzel was entirely safe in her tower. Mother Gothel would never have let anything happen to her (she couldn’t risk that hair), and she was disinclined to go looking for trouble anyway. Her life may have been boring, but she was clever enough to find joy and excitement in small things, further ensuring her safety.
But on the other hand, Rapunzel wasn’t free. She wasn’t free to leave, and furthermore, she wasn’t free to achieve her dreams. It wasn’t until she shrugged off her safety and let herself get into a little trouble that Rapunzel’s life began. I think that’s true of all of us and it’s not until we forsake some of our safety that we are really free.
Know how to use a frying pan.
It turns out that frying pans are super useful! If you’re frying some eggs and someone tries to attack you, you’re totally prepared. And this is true of most of the things around you. If you have the skills to use things like frying pans in their official capacities, it only takes a little imagination to find other uses. For example: blankets, chairs, tables, couch cushions, and dressers are important pieces of furniture and prime fort-building tools (even when you’re in your twenties).
At the end of the day, the things that really form our identities have far more to do with the way we interact with actual people than what we see on television screens. But for those parts of us that are influenced by pop culture, I think our little girls and little boys could do a lot worse than Rapunzel or the other Disney princesses.