Last night was a lovely evening, the evening on which, according to some, the world was supposed to end. For us, it was neighborhood movie night, with lawn chairs and blankets on the knoll, popcorn and soda, and four-year olds sharing their four-year old wisdom on the movie "Tangled."
"Tangled" is Disney's take on the Grimm fairy tale "Rapunzel," the one with the young, long-tressed lady imprisoned in a tower, and the refrain, "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair." It is natural Disney fodder, not as familiar as "Cinderella" for a story nowadays, but with the coming-of-age themes that animate, so to speak, the hearts of young female cinemagoers.
Rapunzel, a long-lost princess, is kept in the tower by a controlling, narcissistic witch who is posing as her mother. The witch is dependent on Rapunzel's magic hair, which can heal people and, if necessary, make them young again.
As a parallel, I thought first of Ariel, that finny young lady, who is hampered from finding her prince by her lack of feet. Last week, on the seventh-grade camping trip, we were sitting around waiting for a bus to take us somewhere, and somehow the Little Mermaid came up. Our Director of Christian Life, a versatile young man, sang most of Ariel's anthem, "Part of Your World."
I played the part of the fish.
It is just like Rapunzel's song "When Will My Life Begin?" in "Tangled." And like a number of other Disney songs about the growing-up dreams of young women.
Round about the time that the pure soprano of Mandy Moore was singing "When Will My Life Begin," I realized that Disney princess movies are not really archetypes of girls growing up, but something more local and American: they are homages to every young pure soprano who has ever dreamed of making it on Broadway.
You know the type. She's an ENFP, the darling of the high school, the one who will break your heart if you have a crush on her. She can sing like an angel. What comes out of her mouth seems to be magic, like vocal crystal. She's beautiful-- perfectly slim, with a perfectly delicate nose, huge, expressive eyes, and hair that seems a part of her personality.
And what a personality! Friendly to everyone, funny, charming, self-deprecating yet confident. Everyone's favorite babysitter. She's a champ, a real trooper. When the going gets tough, she just blows a stray hair out of her face and gets on with it.
She's more beautiful exhausted and filthy than ninety percent of women when they're made up and put together. When she pays attention to you, you feel like a million bucks.
The Rapunzel of "Tangled" is just that type, from the moment she first hits her prince with a frying pan to when she trusts him to come back with her tiara and his love for her intact, saying that age-old, half-trusting, half-doubting "Okay" that is the property of every young, beautiful actress that ever went on an audition.
There's even a scene in the movie where Rapunzel-- having supposedly spent her first eighteen years sharing an enclosed space 800 feet square with one other human being and a chameleon-- turns a bunch of ruffians and thugs into a singing, dancing musical theater company.
Of course, Disney's vision hides a secret. You end up finding out, if you ever get to know any of those ENFPs, that the effortless perfection of the aspiring Broadway actress is a front. Girls like these are prone to abuse. They often come from horrific conditions in their family. They act perfect because they are fleeing from chaos at home and desperately want everything to be okay. They make terrible choices of men, often chasing the worst types.
Rapunzel's home life is horrific. It's fun for the grownups in the audience. Oh, look, the mom is the bad guy. Isn't that just like my own daughter! But the truth is that many outgoing, talented and beautiful young women do have narcissistic, controlling mothers. And much worse.
Broadway runs on this type of woman. It's a glory, and a sadness. I salute Disney for getting the glory part right. Now I hope someday it might come out with a movie about the sadness part. It would be a downer, and it wouldn't be for kids. But it would be a tribute to actresses anyway. The truth is a good thing.