For: strong filial rebellion, foolish behavior, and moral confusion and illegal behavior
Tangled is the story of a sweet girl turned criminal teenage rebel, rescuing the cocky thief-but-hero from a bunch of harsh, incompetent policemen, and singing her way through hypocrisy, moral relativism and stupid decisions, praised for all of them and facing negative consequences for none of them, while she pursues her single, lifelong dream of solving the mystery of those lights in the sky… Oh, they’re lanterns?... single, lifelong dream of going to see the lanterns. Tangled is a world where a couple hours’ entertainment justifies anything. Just a hint for the uncertain: we don’t live in that world.
Strong Filial Rebellion
Tangled revolves around Rapunzel’s rebellion against her mother1, beginning with her deliberate lies to get her mother out of the way for three days so that Rapunzel can escape supervision and go on a “forbidden road trip”.
Throughout the film, Rapunzel describes her rebellion in positive terms, such as “For like the first time ever, I’m completely free!... finally feeling now’s when my life begins,” and “the biggest day of my life.” She’s asked, with surprise, why she didn’t go before, and her explanation does not involve a desire to obey her mother. Later, she transitions from deceitful to open rebellion against her mother when she disapproves of her fugitive criminal love interest.
Rapunzel’s co-conspirator, Flynn, tries to “ease” Rapunzel’s conscience by arguing that “This is part of growing up. A little rebellion… that’s good. Healthy, even… Does your mother deserve it? No. Would this break her heart and crush her soul? Of course. But you’ve just got to do it.” Rapunzel agrees to this and acts accordingly. Note, also, that Flynn, who had accurately called the mother “overprotective”, still says that she doesn’t deserve to be rebelled against, and that Rapunzel agrees. Rapunzel, on the verge of deliberate disobedience, asks herself, “Should I?” and replies, “No. Here I go!”
Rapunzel’s mother is negatively portrayed for saying that Rapunzel is “immature… gullible, naive,” even though the epithets are objectively accurate.
Rapunzel’s mother tells her that she can “leave the nest… soon,” but Rapunzel opts to run away sooner. This is presented as taking advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime, twenty-four hour window to follow her dream, but the event Rapunzel dreams of is actually said to occur annually.
Rapunzel lets her whole view of life be changed (“the world has somehow shifted… everything looks different…”) by her attraction and attractiveness to a man she just met, and whom she knows to be immoral. This is portrayed as romantic and good. Her mother responds sarcastically, “Yes, the wanted thief. I’m so proud,” and calls Rapunzel’s dreams of being liked by him “demented”. She is negatively portrayed for this stance even though it is technically much wiser than Rapunzel’s.
Rapunzel defends herself from an intruder, and then uses her mother’s decision to validate her independence or not as the basis for whether or not she will reveal the intruder to her mother.
Flynn is extremely and genuinely vain. This is portrayed as comical and harmless.
A two and a half feet high, white-bearded, drunken thug appears several times throughout the movie in one of two scenarios: playing a female, or wearing a diaper and cupid wings. This is supposed to be amusing.
Rapunzel is portrayed, as a stay-at-home daughter, as having an infinite amount of time on her hands, and nothing meaningful to do with it.
Moral Confusion and Illegal Behavior
Rapunzel constantly describes her desire as a “need”. Its dreamed-about-for-years status is portrayed as justifying immorality and criminal behavior. Characters engage in various, sometimes violent crimes in order to facilitate Rapunzel’s “dream”, sometimes at Rapunzel’s specific request. They are all positively portrayed for doing so. These crimes include assaulting police officers, evading and resisting arrest, assisting a criminal, distribution of stolen goods, bribery of government officials, and obstruction of justice—most of them on multiple occasions, and all of them portrayed as justified by Rapunzel’s “dream”.
Other crimes committed by positively-portrayed characters include conspiracy, prison break, grand theft, and theft of government property.
Flynn is a career criminal, continues to steal things for his own personal benefit well into the movie, and even smirks about passing off stolen items as purchased ones. This chronic theft is repeatedly shown as cool and actually funny.
Tangled portrays criminals as victims of social prejudice and misunderstanding who, despite their persistent interest in all things criminal, are basically good people.
Flynn was once a penniless orphan with no one to believe in him. His “sob story” is used to justify his subsequent crimes. He is portrayed as being redeemed from his selfishness and greed by Rapunzel’s love for him, his love for Rapunzel, and just being able to tell somebody what he’s been through.
Men who define themselves as “malicious” and “mean”, who freely admit that they are violent, imply that they’ve killed people, and say they’d enjoy breaking other people’s bones, tell Rapunzel that their “differences ain’t really that extreme” because they have hobbies and business ideas just like other people do. Everyone joyfully agrees with this.
As an aside, the hobbies listed by the thugs are typically viewed in western culture as feminine pursuits. Knitting, sewing, baking cupcakes, floral arrangement, interior design, and collecting ceramic unicorns are used to portray the thugs as virtuous and relatable.
Guards are universally negatively portrayed, even though they do nothing outside of the law, and are merely attempting to apprehend criminals. In the end, an animal takes over leadership of the guards, and is portrayed as infinitely more capable than any of them, even though open to bribery.
Rapunzel assures Flynn with the utmost gravity, “When I make a promise, I never break that promise. Ever.” This is supposed to reveal her true character as a sincere and trustworthy individual, even though Rapunzel is also clearly shown to be deceitful and scheming when it helps her get what she wants.
It is considered “creepy” when the villainess sings and waves her hands over the magical flower, but it is considered charming when Rapunzel does the same thing with her magical hair. Logically and ethically, however, the two actions must objectively be either equally “creepy” or equally appropriate.
The villainess is specifically condemned for not “sharing” the magic of the flower she found. However, the positively-portrayed queen deliberately uses up all of the flower’s magic, apparently leaving none for anyone else, and at the ending Flynn cuts off Rapunzel’s magical hair, also for the benefit of just one person, apparently leaving no magic for anyone else. In Tangled, characters are held to different moral standards depending essentially on how pleasant they are, personally.
1 It is important to note that during 100% of her rebellion, Rapunzel believed the woman to be her real mother. Rapunzel’s intention was to rebel against her true parent.