Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Tangled (2010) and the Real Men of The Snuggly Duckling

Yes, that's right -- armchair media critic raising a little girl has been watching a lot of Disney movies, and in the spirit of this blog, I can't help but appreciatively thumb through their themes and messages and motifs. Here, as anywhere, there are many beautiful things to discover.

Despite having great friends and family who are intense Disney fans, I remain a bit of a skeptic. I have to take the position of the Critic on this topic -- I can't shake the suspicion that "Princess" culture might feed into crass, commercialized, rigid femininity.

On the other hand, I can't deny the company's love for cultural myth, and their commitment to storytelling. Rewatching their various canonical films, both Classic and Contemporary, I'm struck by the complexity of their aesthetic. They run the wide gamut of Romantic sensibilities, from the folksiness of Snow White to the Gothic sprawl of Sleeping Beauty, up through Princess Tiana's Creole Southern Gothic Americana.

I've been struck by some of the emotional moments in these movies... as, for instance, the crushing moment in Tangled when Rapunzel says "Yes, mommy" to her jealous kidnapper.

And I've been impressed with how Disney has changed: before what Wikipedia calls the Modern Era, the Princesses were generally pitted against standard monstrous adversaries. Since the 2000's, however -- with the adjective-titled Disney films, Frozen and Brave -- you'll find that a focus on internal turmoil, rather than external conflict... the estrangement between two sisters, a girl who resents her mother and the traditions she represents. These are the battles all the young people of the world will have to fight.

I did love Tangled... despite being a crusty 35-year old man, I was genuinely delighted by its earnestness and its slap-stick humor.

And I especially loved the bandits of The Snuggly Duckling.



These goofy men remind me more of myself than I'd ever be willing to admit to anyone, save the whole anonymous Internet. I imagine they're all living their Plan B -- they rehearse their piano lessons, reminisce about their first crush, and occasionally visit the storefront that was supposed to be their bakery. Pillaging was always supposed to be a side-job, they tell themselves... how did I end up here at the Duckling, just like my dad did, and just like his dad before him?

But they know. These bandits, they know -- it's not about who recognizes your hard work, or how much you get paid for it. They know that the free market economy chooses winners and losers based on inscrutable patterns, cynicism, charisma, and the flapping of a single butterfly's wings. For these ruffians, it's about flourishing, and they have faith that they CAN flourish, even as plunderers and highwaymen, as long as they set aside time for their true aspirations.

Eudaimonia -- a life of flourishing -- is all about having a space of your own to cultivate, even if it's deep under the radar of the prevailing social structures. It's all about having hopes, and passions, and a community of support.

That, of course, is the other beautiful function of the Snuggly Duckling... it's a community of enlightened, supportive masculinity, disguised as a rotten rat's nest of thieves. Who wouldn't want to be adopted by this circle of friends, who will listen to your concerts, taste your cupcakes, and watch your little puppet shows?

Of course, they have to keep up a front. Their furry capes and winged helmets are their Gucci business suits, and their battleaxes are their business cards. They have to talk in gruff obscenities, just like other male-gendered people have to make eye contact and shake hands. You never know when a potential client is going to come through that door and potentially catch you, looking like some kind of Unicorn Collector.

But for an earnest young lady who asks them the question -- what are your dreams? -- they will open up, just as they've opened up to one another. Breakin' femurs may provide a show of confidence, but it doesn't really indicate true security, genuine self-acceptance... only the recognition of your brothers-in-arms can do that. This is a truly magical little tavern, a temporary autonomous zone, where pretense is shed and aspiration takes all forms.

In fact, honesty and openness is so important to the denizens of the Snuggly Duckling that they will enforce it by violence, if necessary (truly an intersectional community). This is what Flynn Rider discovers when he refuses to sing.

All those swords.

Those swords have a clear message: In this community, a show of vulnerability and authenticity is the hazing, the expected trial by fire. If you don't open up and show your true self, they're saying, then you're not privy to the nurturing fraternity that's hiding here in the Duckling... nay, you get the malicious, mean, and scary outlaw pirates. And I don't think you want that, Mr. Slick-haired Pseudonymous Flynn "dying of insecurity" Rider. No, you definitely want to be on our Snuggly side.

My brothers, lost in this postmodern era, I promise you: we will eventually find our Snuggly Duckling. We will dream again!

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