Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Tangled -- worldliness, sharing and dreams

Director: Nathan Greno & Byron Howard, 2010. (PG)

Tangled provides a triple milestone in the Disney canon. It is the 50th animated movie from the studio, and an excellent one at that. It is also Disney’s first foray into computer generated imagery, and a fine one it is. Finally, it is the studio’s most expensive animated movie to date, costing $260 million to make. But they have more than doubled this in takings at the box office worldwide and are adding to that in DVD sales. They should, as this is a terrific film.

Tangled presents the story of Rapunzel, from the fairy tales of the German brothers Grimm. However, the title was changed to attract a broader market than just young girls. By changing the title, Disney moves the focus away from the princess alone and onto the scampish rascal Flynn Rider, a person boys could identify with, hence creating a wider audience. And the trick works.

The story begins with the pregnant queen lying ill and in need of a miracle, one that can only come from the magic flower that grows somewhere in the kingdom. This plant, though, is selfishly guarded by Mother Gothel (voice of Donna Murphy), an old maid whose youth is returned to her when she sings to the flower, which she wants for her own. Sharing is not in her vocabulary. But the flower is discovered and it brings healing to the queen. More than that, it transfers its magic powers to the hair of the new-born baby Rapunzel (voice of Mandy Moore). Aging rapidly, the old wicked woman steals the baby from the palace, and takes her to the hidden tower where she lives. Through the magic of the child’s hair, Mother Gothel once again retains her longevity.

Seventeen years later, Rapunzel is grown and her golden hair is 70 feet long. She believes Gothel is her mother, and she is kept in the tower for her protection. She is never allowed outside. All she can do is stare out through the tall windows at a world that seems both dazzling and dangerous.

Mother Gothel offers a perspective on worldliness that many Christians erroneously embrace. The world is indeed a dangerous place. With the entry of sin, the “prince of this world” (Jn. 14:30) lays claim and exercises his demonic powers. Worldliness vies antithetically against Christendom. Yet, Jesus never told us to withdraw, like cloistered monks. He prays about his followers, in his pre-crucifixion prayer, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of it” (Jn. 17:16). Moreover, he prays, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one” (Jn.17:15). Isolation is not an option; insulation is. If we are followers of Jesus, we are to live in the world, amongst those who deny Jesus, being “as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16).
Further, if we find, or are given, a blessing we should not keep it to ourselves, selfishly hoarding and protecting it from prying eyes. Instead, we should share it with others, being a blessing in turn. Of course, the greatest blessing we can receive is the Lord Jesus himself. Once we have seen how beautiful he is, we are obligated, even commanded, to share him with the world. We must take his gospel of forgiveness and reconciliation to the world, making disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19). We must share Jesus with others, simply telling them, “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psa. 34:8). We can do no less than this. We must not be like Mother Gothel, keeping Jesus all to ourselves.

Into the picture comes Flynn Rider (voice of Zachary Levi), a thief who has stolen the princess’ crown from the castle. Pursued by the king’s mounted guards, Flynn finds himself in the hidden valley where Rapunzel resides. Climbing into her tower, he is captured by the princess, literally. They have differing desires. He wants his freedom and the crown she has hidden; she wants to go outside to see the floating lights that the king releases on the birthday of his lost princess. They form a deal that will allow both to get their wishes. He will lead her there and then she will give him the stolen crown. Together, they leave the tower.

When Mother Gothel returns, her golden-haired giver of youth is gone. She is facing rapid mortality. Her wickedness comes to the forefront as she pursues Rapunzel and Flyn, with the help of Flynn’s two thuggish robber friends.

Along with these three main characters, two voiceless creatures steal the show. Pascal is Rapunzel’s pet chameleon who accompanies her everywhere. Maximus is one of the king’s guards’ horses, a strong powerful white beast. Through their actions and expressions, their emotions are evident. These speak louder than any words.

Another theme emerges in one of the best songs in the film. As Flynn and Rapunzel emerge from the hidden valley, he takes her to a dingy inn filled with dangerous outlaws who turn on them, looking for the reward money that has been placed on Flynn’s head. But when Rapunzel starts singing, “Have some humanity. Haven’t any of you ever had a dream?”, the whole gang breaks into song, sharing their own special dreams.

Dreams. Without them, life is dour and dismal. Depression sinks in. With them, we have something to live for, something to look forward to. They become our motivations when we are down. They can inspire and drive us forward. Too often, we allow life to choke and strangle our dreams. We lay them aside or forget them, as these thieves had done. But they remain, dormant dwellers in our subconscious ready to be awakened. And when they are, our monochromed life becomes technicolored once again. The power of dreams.

But there is a flip-side to dreams, as Rapunzel discovers. When she and Flynn sit in a boat about to watch the floating lights in person, she is filled with fear and uncertainty: “I’ve been looking out of a window for eighteen years, dreaming about what I might feel like when those lights rise in the sky. What if it’s not everything I dreamed it would be? . . . What do I do then?” Here is the rub; if we attain our dreams and find they were not what we expected, what do we do then? At that point, our lives that had been focused laser-like on achieving this goal, might become aimless. This is often the onset of a mid-life crisis. We got the promotion we worked for, and now find the job is anything but what we dreamed it would be. Our kids are almost grown and the dream of a tight parent-child relationship has dissolved in the teenage turbulence. What has it all been for?
Flynn offers Rapunzel, and us, the answer: “Well that’s the good part, I guess. You get to go find a new dream.” Here is the solution: a new dream. There is no limit on dreams. We can have more than one. Dreams are personal, particular and populous. They can even be complex, and tangled. We define our own dreams, and need not pander to others. After all, these are our dreams not theirs. If we attain one, we can add another. We can exhilarate in a dream realized and we can excite in a dream reformulated. We need not even worry if they are interwoven and tangled. Dreams are indeed golden and renewable!

Copyright ©2011, Martin Baggs

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