Tangled: The Series and Positive Romantic Relationships

by sketchyfeminist

::crawls out from under rock::

So, I crawled out from under my rock so that I could talk about an animated Disney Channel serial continuation of Tangled. (Hey, life is stressful and I like cartoons.) Super-minor SPOILERS ahead for Tangled: The Series and, weirdly, Parks and Recreation.

Something magical happened while I was watching Disney’s Tangled: The Series. In the “original movie premier,” Tangled: Before Ever After, a male character proposes to a female character, in public, in a big dramatic way. Then the female character feels overwhelmed, and runs away, functionally rejecting the proposal. Nothing too magical so far.

But then, the two characters get together and talk about it. He apologizes for putting her on the spot, and she apologizes for “storming out.” They agree to take things slow. And they stay together as a couple, and — stay with me, here — actually take things slow. She’s not ready for marriage, and he’s willing to wait. He doesn’t interpret her rejection of his public proposal as a rejection of him, or as a sign that they should break up or that she doesn’t love him “enough.” And he doesn’t spend the rest of the season passive-aggressively reminding her of the time she turned down his proposal, or acting all butthurt about it, or anything else I’ve been conditioned to expect male romantic-interest characters to do when the object of their affection shows any sign of hesitation.


Open communication, with cupcake

This scene (and its slow-paced romantic follow-up) was so, so refreshing, and that’s a little disappointing in and of itself, because why is this so rare?, but still. And I think it’s extra nice that this kind of thing showed up in a series that skews young, because it’s important to let kids know early on that it’s OK to be uncertain in your romantic relationships, and OK not to have your life figured out by age eighteen. (This is also a much bigger theme in the series as a whole, as the show more or less revolves around Rapunzel’s journey of soul-searching and self-discovery.)

And I just really like that there’s a kids’ cartoon out there where the female lead has a steady boyfriend and the two of them communicate openly about their relationship and the different expectations they have of it, and are also generally mutually supportive of each other while also pursuing their own interests.

For example, both Rapunzel and Eugene (He sticks with Eugene now. It’s cute.) get new best friends in the course of the series. Well, Eugene’s friend isn’t so much new as an old thief buddy who makes a reappearance, while Rapunzel’s new best friend is the lady-in-waiting who apparently gets assigned to her at some point between the movie and this. (She’s also the badass daughter of the captain of the guard and she could really use a few more hours in her day. Girl is busy.) And Eugene gets into wacky hijinks with his buddy while Rapunzel goes on adventures with hers, and that’s, well, fine. Rapunzel and Eugene love each other and support each other, but they’re free to do their own things. Cassandra (the sword-swinging lady-in-waiting) and Eugene don’t even like each other, and while it’s played up for laughs, it also drives home the idea that you don’t have to like the same things — or even the same people — as your significant other.

A while ago, my bestie L and I were trying to put together a list of the Best Television Boyfriends (or male significant others). As in: boyfriends (or male significant others) who were genuinely good and respectful and not intimidated by their partner’s success or devotion to their careers/callings, especially if their partner managed to outshine or outperform them in any way. We got to Ben Wyatt on Parks and Rec, and Luke on Gilmore Girls, and then we let a bunch of other Parks and Rec leading men make the cut just because (note: not Tom), and then we hit a kind of wall. (And we were also very aware that since we started with Ben Wyatt, there was really nowhere to go but down.) And Rapunzel is very much the star of her show, and very much the golden-girl of her town. And Eugene generally doesn’t get the same kind of recognition that she does. And, sure, that’s a bit of a running gag, but it’s also not something he ever (that I can recall, anyway) throws in her face, and he doesn’t seem to blame her for it.

Tangled: The Series is not a perfect show. It has many flaws, some, but not all, of which are a result of its being marketed to children. Sometimes it lacks conflict. Sometimes the conflict doesn’t make sense. Sometimes the character motivations don’t make sense. Sometimes it takes lazy storytelling shortcuts, or introduces characters out of nowhere as a convenient way to solve problems. And let’s face it, it could be way better with race portrayal and representation in general. (Though it does paint a more diverse world than the film.) But it is cute, and fun, and has a few catchy tunes, and it packs a lot of positive messages into adorable little packages, and it just might have one of the best TV boyfriends since Ben Wyatt.

Disney has made a bazillionty dollars and then some selling girly, princess-driven “falling in love” narratives. And while deviations from the formula like Frozen and Moana are nice, it’s just as nice to see them use a serial format to tell a girly, princess-driven story that tackles the oft-underrepresented issue of staying in love.

Some Random Thoughts

Random thought the first: Hmm, I get the impression that Varian is a fan-favorite character for this series, and it feels weird to do a whole post on the show without bringing him up. Uh . . . gotta love a self-proclaimed alchemist? They’re aren’t enough alchemists in kids’ cartoons these days.

Random thought the second: The episode “Pascal’s Story” is really emotionally affecting in its own right, but it’s extra disturbing when you realize how Pascal’s experience echoes that of the little boy in Emma Donoghue’s Room. (Uh, SPOILERS for Room.) They both live happy lives in prison environments where they are the center of their caretaker’s world, and then miss that prison environment once their caretaker has escaped and they have to share her attention with other people now that the scope of their world has expanded. Like, the parallels are freaky.

Recommended Reading

I found Rachel Paige’s review of the series / interview with Chris Sonnenburg (the show’s exec producer) over at HelloGiggles worth a read: “Tangled: The Series” is the best show you’re not watching — but really should be. Caveat that I know nothing about HelloGiggles except that it’s a lifestyle/entertainment magazine apparently founded by ZoeyDeschanel and some other people, and it bills itself as “a positive online community for women.”