4 Essential Lessons on Life from Tangled [the movie]

Written by Kate • November 12, 2011 •
1 comment


Tangled- The Movie

I finally watched the movie Tangled recently. I expected a light-hearted romp seen through the lens of Disney’s  perspective. I did not expect profound life lessons that help me see life and the challenges we experience in a new, very changed way.

[SPOILER ALERT- DON’T READ THIS BLOG IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW HOW IT ENDS]. The story is that Rapunzel’s hair is magic. As an infant, she is stolen by an evil woman who wants to keep the magic of the hair all to herself, to keep her young and beautiful. So she shuts Rapunzel up in a tower, ostensibly to keep Rapunzel safe. But really, the evil woman, who has pretended to be Rapunzel’s mother and who I shall refer to as Fake Mom, is keeping Rapunzel locked in that tower for her own purposes. A stranger comes along, an attractive, irreverent man, and helps Rapunzel down from her tower and experience life and her true family.  Fun, mayhem, and life’s curve balls ensue.

Lesson #1 – No one remains a victim. Rapunzel, it could be argued, was victimized by the woman who kidnapped her as an infant, who deprived Rapunzel of her life with her real parents, who kept her locked in a tower, who kept her from experiencing life.  I used to watch movies like this and feel the satisfaction that comes with knowing I’m right to be enraged at the injustice someone else caused. I always thought that the point of life was to avoid – at all costs- people who betray us, hurt us, or otherwise cause us pain, that Rapunzel’s life would be better or even perfect if only that mean ole evil woman hadn’t kidnapped her.  But I see now that the pain, the betrayal, and the hurt are all there to teach us and that pain, at least, is a great learning tool and motivator that helps us reach for new experiences.

Looking at this situation broadly, Rapunzel’s [fake] Mom did her best within her limited abilities – as we all do. Fake Mom both propped Rapunzel up with her love but also undermined Rapunzel to keep her off balance, keep her insecure.  [And how many of us have done that in our lives? Subtly or not so subtly sabotaged those around us for our ends? Perhaps not to the extent that Fake Mom did but we have.]

These incidences in our lives are not just pain- they’re also lessons on who we are and what we believe. And pain, it seems, is an essential factor in living a bigger life.

Lesson #2 – You can help or hurt your friends in their biggest crisis- what you do makes a big impact. We can either help our friends when they stumble by believing in their abilities or hurt them by believing in their story about why they can’t succeed. As Rapunzel’s Fake Mom so ably shows us how to do, there is a way to really undercut our loved ones so that they’re weakened by their experiences rather than strengthened by them, even the so called “failures”.

Rapunzel ran into a couple of tough spots and her Fake Mom, at these crucial points, chose to look at the problems that Rapunzel ran into rather than celebrate all that she had learned on her own.  Relationships break up, businesses go under, we trust the wrong person.  In the long term, so what?  Keep trying, keep believing, and use that belief to solidly commit to living the life you were meant to. And don’t let life’s lessons mean more than they ought: that you had some learning to do and now it’s time to try again.

I, for one, have realized that I only want people in my life who will support me, even when I didn’t get the results I want. And I will be that person for all those in my life who they can turn to with their moments of weakness and know that I only see in them the big life that I know they can lead, if they will only not believe their thoughts about their stumble.

Lesson #3 – Don’t be held hostage to love. In taking the hyperbole out of this Disney story, there is still an amazing current of truth to Rapunzel’s relationship to her Fake Mom that I think many of us resonate with.  Rapunzel is worried about hurting and betraying her Fake Mom when she finally leaves her tower and explores life on her own, with her own agenda with her own friends. There is a wonderfully funny scene in which Rapunzel alternates between enjoying her blissful freedom and a sense of worry about what her Fake Mom will think and feel about Rapunzel’s mutiny.

I have often felt that myself: Loving what I’m doing or planning to do coupled with guilt over what I should be doing, thinking about what I think what my family expects me to do [as opposed to actually knowing what they’d like-always a tricky nuance].  Like planning a Christmas trip to the Bahamas rather than spend it with the entire extended family for a week. Or going rock climbing rather than watching my nephews play basketball.

The other way in which we can be held hostage to love is when our family, friends or loved ones want to us act a certain way or refrain from doing something for our own good.  And although it may seem like our family and friends are trying to protect us, it’s really themselves they’re trying to protect. They don’t want to be hurt, or experience change, or perhaps be left behind.

One of the hardest things I’ve had to do is tell my Mom and my sister that I joined the Peace Corps and would be shipped over to West Africa for 2.4 years. I truly hated the thought of hurting them. My Mom was upset with me for months and really tried to get me not to go. But it turned out well. And over the next several years, I heard from countless relatives and friends about how proud she was of me, my accomplishments, my courage, and my willingness to stick it out over there. What she was afraid of was that she would die before I returned and never see me again.  An understandable fear since she’d had a heart attack the year before we all have to live our life. I had an amazing, life changing experience while I was in Africa and am a better person for it.

Experiences like what I went through or what Rapunzel went through with her Fake Mom are simply tests of your courage and commitment. Stick with your decision and you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish. But if your courage fails or you lose your commitment: never fear that you missed your chance. Life will always present you with another opportunity in which you can be courageous and committed in another, equally important context.

Lesson #4 – The Journey is What It’s About. We end up at the end of each journey/trial, stronger and more sure of ourselves. Rapunzel needed to experience life, in all its messy forms, as she came down from her tower and started to be the person she was supposed to be. No one is supposed to live their lives locked away in a tower [a metaphor for fear, guilt, shame and other feelings and beliefs that keep us from playing small. So as Rapunzel made her way to the big city, she had some tough lessons, even almost dying at one point. But she made it through that difficulty, and others, and became a much stronger, independent woman.

There is no “destination”. We’ll never arrive at the point where we can rest on our laurels and life will be perfect. Instead, we’re always on our journey and even if we’ll never arrive, the journey is the point, the fun, and if we’re present to it, all we need.

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1 Response to "4 Essential Lessons on Life from Tangled [the movie]"

Sandra on February 20, 2017 at 1:51 pm | Permalink |

This story is about narcissism.

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