Tangled is one of the most popular Disney movies, with thousands of little girls looking up to princess Rapunzel. It is considered a happy and funny movie, with a cute love story and a nice moral : “follow your dreams”. But, just like many other Disney movies, it has a much deeper dimension, particularly because of the relationship between Rapunzel and mother Gothel. In fact, Tangled explores the dangers and the trauma of having toxic parents, more precisely of emotional abuse.
First of all, this movie explores what it is like to have a parent that constantly degrades you and destroys your self-esteem. Mother Gothel bashes Rapunzel, mocks her physical appearance and tears down her self-confidence instead of building it. This is very common in abusive parent relationships, and it is very likely to traumatize the child. It is very hard for an abused child to rebuild confidence. A lot of them, even if they are adults, are very insecure because their parents never taught them to love themselves, and kept bringing them down when they were children. Parenting plays a very important part in a child’s self-confidence development. How parents behave towards their child and the amount of support they show them can determine, in some way, how the child feels about themselves later in their life.
In the same way, mother Gothel refuses to let Rapunzel leave the tower and doesn’t let her lead her own life. Of course, that rarely happens in reality, but it can be an interesting metaphor for parents who are too possessive over their children, to the point where it gets toxic. For example, fathers who are very protective of their teenage daughters, to the point where they threaten to hurt their boyfriends if their behavior gets inappropriate, or if they break the daughter’s heart. Parents who wish to control every aspect of their child’s life are extremely toxic. The child cannot grow in a healthy way if they are constantly being watched and controlled by their parents, and the relationship between the parent and the child will likely be based on mistrust and wariness.
In addition to this, Gothel mocks Rapunzel’s dreams and tries to destroy all her attempts at happiness. This is also a common behavior in abusive parents, and leads to similar consequences to tearing down the child’s self-esteem. Toxic parents often tell their children that they will not achieve anything in life, mocking them and making them feel like they are worthless and stupid. This often leads to the child being discouraged and hopeless, to the point where they decide to give up on their dreams and aspirations – only because their parents never believed in them, and didn’t show them support.
This movie is very important because it portrays something that isn’t visible. A lot of people who suffer or have suffered from emotional abuse because of their parents hardly ever talk about it. They carry this burden with them their whole life, but they don’t dare to talk about it. Unlike physical abuse, it isn’t something you can see or show as proof. It it very hard for emotional abuse victims to talk about it, as they fear that people will not believe them : after all, how do you prove a violence you can’t see ? A lot of emotionally abused children are told, when they dare to talk about the violence they go through, that it isn’t real and that “at least they aren’t being hit”. But emotional abuse can be as traumatizing as physical abuse. Words sting and they are stuck with us for a long time, especially if they are hurtful ones.
This is why having a movie such as Tangled is important for children who suffer and have suffered from emotional abuse from their parents. To me, Rapunzel is as important as Queen Elsa or Merida. It portrays an often overlooked issue, and it teaches children and grown-ups that, just like Rapunzel, you can get rid of your toxic parents and find happiness again – and you don’t even have to grow magic hair to do it.