Our thanks to Master Cat! Jessica Brody — whose latest novel, My Life Undecided, has just hit the bookstores and is blazing on Amazon — for de-tangling the beats of this fine Disney film. See the trailer for Jessica’s book here – and read about her forthcoming sci-fi trilogy, Unremembered, which has already been optioned for film!
Written by: Dan Fogelman, based on the fairy tale by Jacob & Wilhelm Grimm
Original Music by: Alan Menken
Lyrics by: Glenn Slater
Directed by: Nathan Greno, Byron Howard
Genre: Buddy Love with a little “Golden” Fleece (or hair, rather)
Opening Image: A 17-year old Rapunzel is in her tower… alone. Her only friend is a Chameleon named Pascal with whom she plays hide and seek. This opening image shows Rapunzel’s solitude and lack of a real family.
Set-Up: We meet our two main characters, Rapunzel and her love interest Flynn Ryder.
Rapunzel, locked in her tower on the day before her 18th birthday, wonders what life is like on the outside world. She watches for the mysterious “floating lights” that occur every year on her birthday, wondering what it would be like to see them up close (her external/tangible goal.)
In other news, Rapunzel is afraid of her mother and unable to stand up to her. Unbeknownst to Rapunzel, however, her mother is not really her mother. She stole her as a baby and has been using her “magic hair” to stay young. Hence the reason for locking her away in a hidden tower. Rapunzel asks her mother for permission to see the floating lights and her mother bullies her out of the request. This is obviously not the first time Rapunzel has been bullied by her mother.
As in all Buddy Love movies, she is an incomplete hero who is missing the strength to be on her own and stand up for herself. She needs someone to help her find her strength.
Enter Flynn Ryder. He’s a wanted thief, first seen nicking the “lost princess’s” crown from its sacred storage space in the royal castle. He’s a smart ass and a conman. He even cons members of his own team. Although slightly charming (and therefore we’re able to root for him), he’s shallow, self-centered, and attached to material things. He needs someone to show him what really matters in life.
Theme Stated: There is an obvious theme of “light” in this movie. It appears everywhere — in songs, in imagery, in her golden hair, and in Rapunzel’s external and internal goals. What she wants is to leave her tower to see the floating lights. What she needs is to find the light within herself (i.e., figure out who she really is — the lost princess who was stolen from her parents as a baby! — and take control of her destiny).
In the Set-Up, she sings the song, “When Will My Life Begin?” which is our theme stated. Take control of your destiny. Don’t wait around for life to happen to you. Make it happen yourself. Find your own light.
Catalyst: So what’s going to help these two lost souls find their lights? Bam! A literal collision. The captive Rapunzel and the escaping Flynn Ryder meet. He climbs the tower and she knocks him out with a frying pan. And from this point forward, neither of their lives will be the same. They will force each other to change from their old limiting ways.
Debate: Once Rapunzel knocks Flynn unconscious with her frying pan, she literally has two debates waging in her head. The comical one: Where do I stash his body? Followed by a hilarious montage of her trying to cram it into a cupboard. And the more practical debate: What do I do about him? Do I tell my crazy mother?
After another barrage from her verbally abusive mother (a double bump?), Rapunzel makes her decision. She won’t tell her mother; instead she’s going to use the situation to her advantage. She sends her mother away on a bogus errand and utilizing Flynn’s previously stolen goods (the lost princess’s crown) as bait, she brokers a deal with him. Take me to see the floating lights and I’ll give you your crown back. He reluctantly agrees (after he comes to, obviously).
Break into Two: Act 2 is the antithesis of Act 1, the upside-down version of the world of Act 1. So if Rapunzel is in her tower throughout the entirety of Act 1, what’s the only natural place for her to be in Act 2? Outside, of course! And the hero must always actively step into Act 2 herself, she must never be forced or coerced. So our Act 2 begins as she’s literally leaving her old life behind and climbing (or more like swinging) down the tower that’s held her captive her entire life.
B Story: Although he has already been introduced, Flynn Ryder is Rapunzel’s other half in the B Story, the love story. This is actually the first time they’ve really interacted together. After all, he was unconscious through most of the Debate section.
Fun and Games: Rapunzel explores her upside-down world. She runs and jumps and leaps and rolls in the grass. It’s literally fun and games watching her go back and forth between feeling totally free and feeling totally guilty for disobeying her mother. She’s excited to be this new version of herself, but still feeling unavoidable ties to her old world. And she’s afraid of almost anything after her mother’s continual brainwashing.
Midpoint: Flynn tries to take advantage of Rapunzel’s fear and, in order to get himself out of the deal he made and get his crown back, he plays to her insecurities and fears of the outside world and takes her to the scariest place he knows: The Snuggly Duckling. A tavern filled with all sorts of undesirables. The Midpoint is often represented by a party or social gathering. A chance for the main character to put her new self on display. And that’s exactly what happens here. Rapunzel is able to charm the room full of “thugs” and “ruffians” with her personality (and song), proving that she is capable of fending for herself in the outside world, despite what her mother has brainwashed her to think. This is a false victory, however, because just around the corner the bad guys are waiting to close in.
Bad Guys Close In: Her mother has returned early from her errand and catches site of Rapunzel in the tavern. And she’s not too pleased to see her dear Rapunzel (and fountain of youth) out of her safe house. She quickly concocts a plan, employing the criminals that Flynn Ryder conned earlier to get her daughter back where she belongs.
But wait, there’s more! Bad guys, that is. Rapunzel’s mother may be Rapunzel’s bad guy, but Flynn’s got bad guys of his own. The palace guards are after him for stealing that crown and they’ve tracked him down at the Snuggly Duckling. Rapunzel and Flynn escape (just barely) using her mighty hair as a sort of Tarzan-esque vine. But they soon find themselves trapped in a cavern full of rising water. Her magic hair saves the day again as it lights up and helps them find a way out. Oh, and it also heals Flynn’s injured hand.
So now Rapunzel’s secret is out. She has magic golden hair that glows (light!) and heals. But she tells him, in a brilliant foreshadowing moment, that if it’s cut, it turns brown and loses its power (which explains why it’s so darn long!). Flynn, in turn, reveals a secret of his own. His real name is Eugene Fitzherbert and he ran away from his orphanage when he was younger. So now they’re both exposed and vulnerable. Stakes have certainly been raised.
It’s a very interesting (an obviously intentional) pairing: He’s pretending to be someone he’s not and she doesn’t know who she really is. Both clearly need to “see the light.”
Later that day, they arrive at the palace and enjoy a beautiful day of dancing and playing (and hair braiding) in the town with the gentle townfolk as they await nightfall, when the floating lanterns will appear. Once the sun sets, Flynn and Rapunzel take off on a boat to get a good view of the show.
A gorgeous, cinematic display of floating lanterns (light!) surrounds them as they share a very Disney-fied romantic moment and a song called, “I See the Light.” (Yes, more light!). They each cast their own floating lanterns into the air (releasing their old ways of life, perhaps?) and Flynn restates the theme of the movie when he sings, “All those days, chasing down a day dream. All those years, living in a blur. All that time never really seeing things the way they were.” He’s finally seen the err of his old ways. He was shallow and materialistic and not cool.
Then together they sing, “And at last I see the light, and it’s like the fog has lifted. And at last I see the light, and it’s like the sky is new….all at once, everything is different, now that I see you.”
The light is already inside of you. All you have to do is find it. And sometimes it takes another person to help you do that.
But alas, the movie does not end here. The bad guys are not finished closing in yet…
All Is Lost: The perfect moment is interrupted by Rapunzel’s mother and her recruited criminals, who trick Rapunzel into thinking that Flynn gave up her secret in exchange for fame and fortune. Her mother swoops in to rescue her, reminding Rapunzel that she was right all along. Rapunzel wasn’t ready for the outside world. After all, look how easily she was swindled by a conman!
Meanwhile, Flynn was tricked as well. His former partners have tied him to a boat and turned him into the palace guards who have been looking for him.
Dark Night of the Soul: Rapunzel returns home with her mother, convinced that Flynn betrayed her. She wallows alone in her room. (Always a bedroom wallowing scene in the Dark Night of the Soul!).
Flynn is alone too, wallowing in a prison cell awaiting his imminent execution.
It is the dark night of both of their souls. That light they found just a few moments earlier is suddenly extinguished and it appears all their progress has been erased. They’re back where they started (but worse off). Rapunzel is back in her tower (and heartbroken) and Flynn is being convicted as the criminal he once was.
Break into Three: Are you ready for some more light references? Because they’re coming!
Rapunzel stares at a piece of cloth she picked up while she was gallivanting in the town earlier. On it is the King and Queen’s royal crest. And guess what it is? A SUN! Rapuznel gets the feeling it means something. Something she’s not quite getting.
Then she looks around her room at all the paintings she’s done over the years while locked in this tower and finds that exact same sun design, subconsciously hidden in every single painting! (The light was in her this whole time, she just didn’t see it! Theme! Theme! Theme!) This leads her to her ultimate realization: a vision from when she was a baby (before her fake mother stole her). And in her visions she sees this very sun design hanging above her cradle.
At last she sees the light! Literally!
She finally knows who she really is and she knows what she must do.
Finale: Rapunzel confronts her mother and tells her that she knows the truth. And she also knows that it was her mother who set her and Flynn up. Flynn didn’t desert her, they were both tricked! She vows to leave once and for all.
Meanwhile, Flynn is being walked to the gallows to be hung. But he’s saved at the last moment by our friendly “thugs” and “ruffians” from the Snuggly Duckling! Hoorah! Now all he has to do is get to the tower and save the girl.
But when he arrives, he’s attacked by Rapunzel’s mother, who now has Rapunzel bound and gagged. Rapunzel’s fake mother runs Flynn through with a sword.
He’s on the verge of death and now the only thing that can save him is Rapunzel’s magic glowing hair. Rapunzel attempts to negotiate with her mother. “If you let me save him, I will go with you and I will never try to leave again.” She’s willing to sacrifice her freedom for Flynn’s life.
But Flynn won’t let her. As soon as she’s released, Flynn (using a shard of glass from a broken mirror) cuts off all of Rapunzel’s hair, turning it brown (literally dark) and powerless (her magic light is gone forever!). The act shocks her mother so badly that she stumbles and fall out the window…to her very Disney-fied death.
Well that solves one problem. But what about Flynn? He’s still dying. And now with no magic glowing hair left to save him, all seems hopeless.
Rapunzel cries over his lifeless body. And a single tear falls upon him. The tear is magic and it heals him. He illuminates in shimmers of gold light and is saved. Apparently she had the light within her all along! She didn’t need that stinking hair! (I know, I know, you’re sick of the light already.)
Final Image: Rapunzel returns to the palace and is reunited with her long lost family. As a mirror image to the opening, she is no longer alone. She’s surrounded by her true family… and of course, Flynn. Her hair is short and brown (vs. long and golden blonde) but she is happy. Because she found her true light. The one inside her. And they lived happily ever after. Cue the really upbeat music that is guaranteed to get stuck in your head all day.
Next week: Guest Blog from Alvaro Rodriguez