Disney’s Tangled is possibly my favourite of the modern princess movies. It has a ridiculously upbeat soundtrack, great physical comedy involving a horse and a chameleon, a story of a family reunited and ugly thugs who sing a charming song about their quirky dreams.
I know that a song from a movie has stuck with me when I find myself adding it to my running playlist, and the two from Tangled that accompany me on my morning runs have a similar theme. “I’ve Got a Dream” is sung by the aforementioned ugly thugs, who aspire to more than just being small time criminals as they long for the fullest expression of themselves, mostly through creative means. The second is “I See the Light” which is about seeing clearly after finding a supportive relationship after years of isolation.
It strikes me that both these songs are about a longing for the fulfilment of deep desires, which provides an interesting thematic lens through which to consider the movie. We see it offers a critique of the desires of some characters and asks others to realign theirs. Rapunzel thinks that what she wants is to see the lights, but the film shows us what she really needed was a family. Flynn (Eugene) wants in his own words to be “on an island that I own, tanned and rested and alone, surrounded by enormous piles of money” but we learn that what he really longs for is a relationship in which he can express himself truthfully and to find the spiritual and emotional rest that comes from acting with honour and integrity.
Conversely, the movie exposes the faultiness of cheap desires, exemplified in the “Mother Gothel” character, whose obsession with youth and beauty leaves her caught in a tower of her own obsession. Or the brothers Stabbington who just want to make some quick money and are caught out by their greed.
Watching Tangled reminds me that the fulfilment of desire is the natural longing of the human heart. More than that, I think the movie points to the need for desire to be fulfilled beyond what this world can ultimately give us. Thus it should not be surprising that Mother Gothel is obsessed with youth and beauty, because like many people, this is a manifestation of fear of old age and death. Ecclesiastes 3 teaches us that God has set eternity in the human heart and yet we cannot fathom it. The desire to live forever, is a natural expression of the fact that we were created for eternal life and not for death. Hopefully most people are not locking young women with magical hair in towers in order to fulfil their desire for immortality but so often we all find ourselves misled or confused as to what our desires are and how to achieve them. We spend hours, dollars and effort looking for happiness in places where we will never find it.
So it might be that Rapunzel and Eugene can find the complete fulfilment of life in each other when they are in a boat on the harbour surrounded by lights. But it probably won’t last beyond the end of the film. What happens when they are tired, feel grumpy and there are no lights or heartwarming soundtrack? As Christians we know that no relationship with another person can possibly fulfill us, that indeed looking for relationships that do so often leads to pain and heartbreak for us and unfair expectations on the other person. Our deepest desires can only be met by Jesus and in the relationship, identity, truth and beauty that he offers us. The deepest expression of ourselves, in all its facets, is totally fulfilled when met and redeemed in Christ.
However, living this side of eternity, I know that I will always battle with broken and disordered desires. I have to contend with the sin which stops me from truly living out my identity in Christ and fully knowing him. As St Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13, now we see darkly, but then (in eternity) we will see face to face. One day we will know God, just as he fully knows us.
Sometimes I feel like Rapunzel at the beginning of the film, knowing there is a light out there and that there is a better reality than the one I am living, but unable to reach it. But then I am reminded that in Christ I already belong to that better reality, and that God invites me to be part of his kingdom work here on Earth. That as I speak truth, act with mercy and justice, as I pray that his kingdom would come and tell of his great deeds I am participating in that better reality even as I struggle with sin. That the desire of all creation is for God’s kingdom to come and that in my small way I can be a part of that hope enacted here on Earth.
Fiona is a follower of Jesus by identity and by trade a teacher of Science. She studied at Fuller Theological Seminary in California.