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It's (Not That) Complicated by Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin

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Are You a Fool?

Our Response to Rapunzel
Posted April 19, 2012

Dear Rapunzel,

Thank you for your email. We happen to already be familiar with your story as presented in “Tangled,” and even know a little more about your backstory than you do, and so we do have some thoughts for you.

We will be unusually blunt, because we know you are not a real person with feelings; you are the carefully written, cast, voiced, sketched, sculpted, scanned, painted, rigged, animated, rendered, and composited brainchild of John Lasseter, Glen Keane, and the Disney scriptwriting committee. We’re talking to you, polygons.

And not only were you meticulously handcrafted by others: Your entire universe was built around you, detail by detail, by these same imagineers. Your particular situation, down to Flynn’s serendipitous appearance in your window – your moral dilemmas, down to your conflicts with your mother – the characters you ran into, down to the last pub thug – didn’t just happen, but were deliberated over by a bunch of businessmen for approximately ten years. Everything about your world, including the ethical system by which it operates, came out of somebody’s head.

But here you are, in the middle of it, and you need advice. Let’s get down to helping you out! We would like to propose the following course of action for you:

Kill your mother with her own dagger (for poetic justice), run away from the tower once and for all, reunite with Flynn Rider (and propose to him – why not?), rally the thugs to your side, storm the castle together, throw out the authorities that were trying to imprison Flynn (doesn’t that make them the villains?), and establish yourselves as the ruling elite, where your word can be law, now not only for you, but for everyone.

No, of course that’s not the right answer. But why not?

Some might say that since your universe is a fantasy universe, God’s ethical system does not apply. But if His moral standard doesn’t have jurisdiction over this film – if, since this film isn’t a “Christian” film, we shouldn’t require it to line up with the Bible – then who could dare say bumping your mother out of the way would be wrong? Who’s to say any other solution would be morally better? Are we admitting that there is some overarching standard after all?

We’ve got good news for you: You, Rapunzel, imaginary creature though you are, are not ultimately under the lordship of Disney Studios, but of Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5 commands all men to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” – which means every imagination, every script page, and every film frame. Christ demands that every man’s mind and the stuff in it bow the knee, and that would include you. And His moral system – His law – is still the standard by which your moral system must be measured. In other words, stabbing your mother would be wrong, not because it’s not the sort of thing a nice girl with a dream would do, not because it would be politically incorrect, not because it would disturb children – but because it breaks one of His commandments (Ex. 20:13). And that’s why, even though you’re a fairy tale creature, we’re going to respond to you as though you were a real person.

What makes advising you tricky is that the brains who crafted your universe and situation never presented you with a good option. The film offered you two choices at the beginning: 1. Rot your useless life away in the tower with the world’s most detestable mother; or, 2. Defy your mother and run away from home with a thief. Your only visible choices now are: 1. Rot your useless life away in the tower with the world’s most detestable mother; or, 2. Follow your feelings, denounce your mother as a kidnapping imposter with no evidence, and leave again. Yes, it does occasionally seem that the only options life presents are bad ones, but in reality, doing right is always an option. Film has the power to create dishonest moral scenarios, forcing its characters to play a version of the lifeboat game (Who will you throw overboard, passenger A or passenger B?) and never offering a third option. And by making your option A look unspeakable, while making your option B look irresistible, “Tangled” draws us in so deeply that by the time your first moral dilemma comes around, we’re rooting for you to do (what we would normally call) the wrong thing.

So what is the right (biblical) thing for you to do, now? Here are a few (serious) suggestions:

1. Check the facts regarding your identity.

Feelings, hunches, and childhood drawings are a bad guide (and insufficient evidence), especially in such high-stake situations. There are ways to figure out who you are. We, the audience, of course know that your Mother is actually an evil kidnapper and the villain of your story; but you, the protagonist, currently have about as much reason to suspect this as every girl in the audience does her own parents.

If you were wrong, and she turns out to have been your biological mother all along:


2. Apologize sincerely for disobeying, deceiving, and defying her.

Some protest that you were justified in breaking the 5th commandment because she wasn’t really your mother, but let’s be honest: You didn’t leave because you knew that. You didn’t leave because you knew your mother’s command was biblically unlawful. You didn’t leave because you thought it would be wrong to stay and submit to the unbiblical tyranny of a kidnapping sorceress. You left because there was something you really wanted to do, the authority over you forbade it, and you decided to do what you wanted to do it anyway. You actually believed, and said, that it would be wrong for you to go. In your mind, you were as guilty of rebellion as the girl whose parents forbid her to go to a wild party and who sneaks out to go anyway: You left because you didn’t care.

We’re truly sorry that the filmmakers gave you such a loathsome creature as a mother. But if it’s wrong for her to be a law unto herself, you need to hold yourself to the same standard. “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.” (1 Sam. 15:23)

3. Biblically examine the legitimacy of her commands.

Even if she is your biological mother, however, that doesn’t mean you have a duty of unconditional submission to her whims. “The requirement of unquestioning obedience by any human authority is a sin and defiles the very intent of God’s Word,” writes R.J. Rushdoony. “The unquestioning obedience which Scripture requires is only to God, never to kings, rulers, employers, husbands, or parents. To render unquestioning obedience is a sin.”

There comes a time when, in the words of our founders, “Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God!” What you need to ask yourself is: Is your mother forcing you to sin, or is she forbidding you to do something God has commanded? In either case, you must disobey. (By the way, God didn’t command you to go see the floating lights.) And if she is physically abusing you or endangering your life, you have a duty to not be an accomplice to her crimes. You need to get out of there. Thankfully, you are fit and resourceful, as well as handy with your lasso hair, and you’ve gotten out of tougher scrapes. We’ll root for you.

4. Appeal to her regarding her sins against you in the spirit of Matthew 18:15:

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” If she refuses to be reasonable, the biblical answer is not to simply walk away from her forever. Verse 16 continues, “But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” Use your resourcefulness to bring in some authorities to handle the situation – and, yes, submit yourself to them. Unaccountable autonomy is an alternative Scripture never offers anyone, man, woman, or child.

However… If she is not your biological mother, but instead a kidnapper:

2. Employ your resourcefulness to go to the authorities.

God condemned kidnapping as seriously as murder (Ex. 21:16, Deut. 24:7), and she needs to be brought to justice. This is bigger than you and your feelings; she has sinned against God and your parents as well as you, and right must be done.

However, if justice is really your concern, then…

3….You also need to report the most wanted thief in the kingdom, who has also stolen precious items (the tiara) from your parents.

Flynn has also sinned against God and your parents, and again, this is bigger than you and your feelings. Biblically, he wouldn’t be hung or have his hands cut off, but there are consequences for stealing (Ex. 22:1-4, Lev. 6:1-7, Prov. 6:30,31).

This is not, of course, to assume that Flynn couldn’t repent of stealing. If he did, though, he would certainly go further than saying he’s sorry and never doing it again: He would make restitution to everyone he robbed, as many times over as biblically required. It would be nice if repenting meant not having to suffer the consequences, but God is a God of justice Who requires that things be made right. That He is also a God of mercy means that He does give second chances to those who repent, confess, make things right, go their way, and sin no more… and we can too.

4. Don’t embrace thugs just because they’re nice to you.

This film for young girls contained an interesting message: That everything your mother taught you was wrong. One interesting example was your mother’s caution that the world contained dangerous men. No one would dispute this fact in the real world, but it was a point the film pulled some tricky stunts to prove wrong. At the end of the day, the openly brutal and violent thugs were proven to be harmless to pretty blond girls. The ones shown to be the real villains were parents.

As regards both Flynn and the pub thugs – of course they have souls! But it’s no amazing discovery that the more villainous elements of society also have feelings, dreams, even artistic impulses. Hitler was sensitive and introspective, wrote poetry, loved music and art, collected artifacts, had a dream (a big one), and liked pretty blonde girls. A penchant for collecting ceramic unicorns doesn’t make a criminal innocent. It also doesn’t prove that your mother was wrong about the world – even if she was wrong about how people should respond to it (i.e. hiding in a tower). Unfortunately, neither you nor she figured out what it means to be in the world but not of the world, or the right way to be a light in the darkness.

5. If you are found to be the Lost Princess, step up to the role of royal daughter, and all that that involves.

As the daughter of such obviously wonderful parents, you will obviously not have any excuses for running off to attend events they forbid, or becoming romantically entangled with young men they disapprove of. (If you never had an “authority problem” to begin with, this shouldn’t be a problem for you.) As a princess, however, your new responsibilities go even further than this. As soon as you put on that tiara, you have to stop being the main character of your story and let your subjects take that place. Instead of being slave to a tyrannical mother’s whims, you must now be a slave to duty and the needs of your people. Dancing with the peasants and drawing pictures with them on the sidewalks will not be enough. Whatever your feelings may be, you have to set an example of law-upholding conduct to your people. Whatever your (or others’) dreams may be, you have to impartially uphold justice. Whatever your diplomatic power may be, your word cannot be law.

And Rapunzel, we’re afraid this means that you are going to have to become a different kind of girl.

Your example, unfortunately, can no longer be what it has been throughout the whole movie. You may be one of Disney’s most appealing recent characters, and you may have done some admirable things (such as try to sacrifice your life for Flynn). But your character is nonetheless an extremely dangerous one for girls to relate to.

Why? Because although your situation is so different from ours (our parents generally are our biological parents, and they generally aren’t locking us up in towers), and your universe operates so differently from ours (none of us have magic hair), your struggles, feelings, and questions are just the same. “Tangled” tackles the biggest issues in a young woman’s life: relationships with parents, attitudes toward authority, relationships with young men, the outside world, the use of our time, and our bigger purpose in life. It raises the questions every young woman is asking. Then it gives the exact wrong answers.

When a girl sits down to watch your movie, she is about to vicariously live your story with you, feelings, attitudes, romance, temptations and all. She is “you” for the next 90 minutes. And what is she learning along with you? That our parents are wrong about everything. That all will turn out well if we just follow our hearts. That no man is so bad he wouldn’t “turn it all around” just for us. Through you, we tangibly feel the temptation to reject our parents’ instruction, keep secrets from them, and defy them – and then, through you, we give in to temptation. Through you, we feel pangs of guilt, shame, and fear of hurting people we love – and then, through you, we learn to stuff those feelings down and ignore them. Through you, we learn: What I want is more important than what I believe is right.

And at the end of your story, everything turns out beautifully to prove that when you chose to follow your heart rather than your conscience, you made the right moral decision.

Some might still point out that, in order for your story to work out, you had to. True, but next time any of us want to “pull a Rapunzel,” and do something we know is wrong to make things right, let’s remember that our stories are not Disney movies; that our world is not populated with Disney characters; that we are not Disney heroines whose universes revolve around us; and that our Creator has rigged things to work differently. We’ve had to watch girl after girl after girl make the same decisions you did, give in to temptation the way you did, sear her conscience the way you did, and run off with scoundrels like the one you did. Unlike you, they discovered that the real world revolves around a God Who isn’t them, and that He has built into His world rewards for sin that don’t generally include “Happily Ever After.”

We admit, we don’t typically write emails to CG models representing imaginary people. The reason we’re writing to you is because for many girls, you’re much more than that. Though you’re just a figment of someone’s imagination, a mere idea – ideas are real. And that’s why “Tangled” matters. After all, girls don’t really love “Tangled” because it’s “just a movie.” The reason we love it isn’t because we just can’t, practically or morally, put ourselves in Rapunzel’s shoes. We don’t love it because it’s a totally un-relatable fantasy that has no connection to our lives. If we love it, it’s because it does strike a chord with our lives. We laugh and cry along with Rapunzel’s joys and woes because we can relate to her. And when we passionately, emotionally tell critics to leave it alone because “It’s just a movie!” we are proving that down inside our hearts, it’s much more than that.

You may be just an idea, an imagination, a thought – but thoughts (not people) are exactly what we’re commanded to take captive (2 Cor. 10:5). “Arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” are exactly what we are supposed to destroy (v. 5). Strongholds are exactly what we are supposed to tear down (v. 4).

Rapunzel, Rapunzel, we’re not condemning you.

We’re just trying to take you captive.

Love,
Anna Sofia and Elizabeth

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