Tangled is one of my favorite Disney pics. Not because of the stirring soundtrack or amazing animation, although it has its fair share. I think it's because of the sense of redemption.
Unlike Brave, where the heroine needs to be courageous in her own right, and which I loved (go on, you know you want to read my review), Tangled follows the more typical Grimm-meets-Disney knight-on-a-white-horse kind of story. It's been out for a few years, so you've no doubt seen it. But if you haven't, it follows the Rapunzel story.
While the main character, Rapunzel, is fragile and naive because she has literally been kept locked in a tower away form the world her whole life, the hero starts out as an anti-hero, a rough and tumble, if good looking, thief. Over time they meet and she wins his heart. (Not much of a spoiler there). But in good measure, he grows a conscience,and begins to choose her good over his own. Here is the crux of the story.
Because fairy tales are about fantasy, sure. But if they're any good, and the Grimm tales usually are, they teach us something. This one is about love.
Love is not in the grasping.
Love is not in the witch-turned-mother who locks the treasure of the long-haired girl away in a tower. Love is not in the woman's use of Rapunzel's a'magical hair" (a Disney add-on). Love is not an ability to be dashing and make girls swoon. Nor is it letting this protected girl loose to fend for herself with no help or protection.
The best scene, perhaps (spoiler) is near the end, where the witch has captured the thief and strikes a lethal blow. Only Rapunzel's healing hair can save him. But the cost is a high one. The witch will allow this only if the girl promises to submit herself to her for the rest of her life, and allow her body to be used - her hair to be used to keep the witch young and vital.And she is indeed willing to do this, to be used and isolated, out of love for the man who has turned away from his sins and opened his heart to her.
This scene not only shows the strength of a woman's love, but perhaps more vitally, the way in which a man's love can be salvific. Before he is healed, the outlaw uses his last bit of strength to cut off Rapunzel's hair, thus freeing her from the clutches of the witch while ensuring his own demise.
This is the kind of love John Paul II speaks about when he exhorts husbands to love their wives, echoing Paul's letter in Ephesians. As Christ loved the Church. Freeing her from use and abuse, freeing her from isolation and voicelessness. Freeing her to walk the lands and preach the gospel, to use her gifts and be unencumbered by tyranny. As Christ loved the Church. Offering his life for her. Being selfless for her, kenotic in love, selfless in gift. His all for her freedom.
Freedom is not free. It demands great sacrifice. It requires great love.
This is where even Disney can get it right. Significantly, not in a Prince Charming this time. Rather, in a man with baggage, and scars, and sin, who turns his life around out of love for a woman, and who eventually brings her home. While I'm sure the writers would not see Flynn Rider's sacrifice as a conversion and a manly offering of self in imitation of Christ, you don't have to look very far to connect the dots.
I love this film because it is fantasy, but it holds a deep truth: that love is not just a ride off into the sunset, but a choice to give, to gift, to die so another may have hope and love and freedom. And when love is given in that total and complete way, the good guys always win.