Pop culture hills I would die on: ‘Tangled’ is better than ‘Frozen’ in every way

This is not a flex, but it sounds like one: I saw Frozenopening weekend. Before “Let it Go” became inescapable and grating, hordes of Olaf merchandise flew off shelves and the wickedly talented Adele Dazeem, I settled into to watch a nice light movie with my four sisters and two parents over the long Thanksgiving  weekend. Going into it, I obviously  had no idea how the movie would consume our cultural consciousness for the next several months. In fact, if you had asked me that day in the theater what I thought its impact would be I would have likely told you this: It was good, but it was no “Tangled.”

Years, Oscar wins, Broadway musicals and a sequel later, it is still a hill that I would die on. We give “Frozen” the love and the praise for its music and story and relationships and twists, but everything that it did, “Tangled” did first and better. For starters, the core story structure of the movie is essentially the same. Don’t believe me? Let’s walk and talk. The rebellious but cheerful shut-in gets the chance to break free of her lonely existence and goes on a journey of self-realization with the help of a reluctant and attractive but trustworthy stranger. Yada yada yada, things go wrong, someone dies, and is ultimately saved via love and magic tears. There are some other differences here and there, but save those for the semantics dome, E.B. White. 

I know, I know I have yet to convince you that Tangledis the superior movie, so let me break it down. First, let’s talk villains. A truly good villainous character is something that is hard to grasp (just look at literally any Marvel movie that isn’t “Black Panther”), and this is something “Tangled” accomplishes leaps and bounds over “Frozen”. In the battle of Mother Gothel vs. Prince Hans, Gothel would win in a landslide. Gothel was a legitimately terrifying power addict who successfully manipulated and tore down her surrogate daughter so much that she didn’t disobey her for 18 years. Gothel was so addicted to power and being young and beautiful (Jay Gatsby would never) that she straight up kidnapped a kid! What was Hans’ motivation? “I have so many brothers and I want a crown.” Were they both manipulative jag weeds? You bet. But Hans’s manipulation lasted a week, whereas Gothel kept hers going for years. 

The truth is, we think of Hans as such a good villain because of his twist ending. Until the last thirty minutes, the villain was the smarmy Duke of Weaselton and Elsa’s hubris, I guess? I will admit I love a nice shock and twist ending as much as  the next guy, but those twists need to be earned. Han’s motivation that he wanted a throne because he couldn’t get the ones his brothers had just doesn’t cut it. What it does do is serve as a great subversion of expectations on the traditional Disney format (the prince who the princess meets with love-at-first-sight is actually the villain and those love-at-first-sight songs are shallow) and I think this is why we remember Hans so fondly. But a decent twist does not a great villain make. We knew Gothel was evil and addicted to power within the first five minutes of the movie and that only made her relationship with Rapunzel and Rapunzel’s inability to pull away from her all the more tragic. 

Like the finale where Gothel has literally stabbed and killed Eugene (talk about a twist that is earned and not just there for a subversion of stereotypes!) and Rapunzel wants to save him but then Eugene cuts off her hair. This then cut off her power and Gothel starts dying and falls out the window and as she’s falling Rapunzel reaches for her because even though she was manipulative and emotionally abusive she was the only family Rapunzel has ever known? That right there is a tragic, emotionally gripping villainous ending. Hans ends the movie universally hated and locked in a brig. Gothel ends the movie dead but still somewhat loved and held onto. Pure villainy. 

“Tangled”: 1

“Frozen”: 0

Part of “Frozen”’s problem was that it was trying too hard. It had to subvert expectations with its surprise dream prince reveal, and the movie is centered on a sibling relationship rather than a romantic one. This is one of the aspects of the film that has gotten Frozensome of its most positive reviews and remarks. As someone with four sisters and zero boyfriends, this is something in “Frozen” that I actually can appreciate. Sibling relationships are tricky (there are not many people that I can tell to go someplace not so nice one second and be best friends with the next) and “Frozen” does an admirable job of showing this bond. 

But at the end of the day, what I’m looking for in a Disney movie is something akin to wish fulfillment. I don’t want to imagine myself as a princess in a magical land still having to deal with the same old sister problems. I want to be a princess who falls in love with a handsome rogue! Of course, this is only my opinion, but as this is a pop culture hill that I would die on, kindly step off. You may argue that “Frozen” gives us this with Kristoff and Anna, but c’mon. Kristoff is not half the charming outcast of Flynn Rider. Flynn Rider took the stereotype of the criminal with a heart of gold and played it like a tiny adorable lute. He is the blueprint. Kristoff remains frustratingly static, he starts and ends the movie basically the same gruff, orphaned, talks in a voice for his reindeer best friend guy that he started as. Flynn grows so much as a person by the end that he takes a different name, leaves his whole lifestyle behind and changes his goal and purpose in life. Eugene Fitzherbert if you’re out there, it’s a global pandemic and I’m at my window, sad and lonely

“Tangled”: 1 million

“Frozen”: Negative “Lion King” remake opening weekend number

I have not even talked about the best character in the movie: the anthropomorphic horse, Maximus. I will be the first to admit that I find the overreliance on the quirky animal sidekicks in Disney movies overdone and patronizing to its audiences . This does not apply to that magnificent steed. Maximus is a horse with a fully developed moral compass and sense of right and wrong. Let me just break this down for you who did not learn everything they know about philosophy from watching “The Good Place.” At the beginning of the movie, Maximus is after Flynn because Flynn committed a moral wrong. He hurt someone, the royal family, by taking something that didn’t belong to him and Maximus seems willing to die to right this wrong. 

But then that freakin’ horse, with his developed idea of morality, realizes the error of his ways. 

When confronted with Rapunzel and the motivations for why arresting Flynn will cause her more pain and her morally pure dreams and desires, Maximus changes his mind. The horse realized that by writing one wrong (the thievery of the crown) he was in fact allowing Rapunzel to suffer and allowing the evil of Mother Gothel to continue. That freakin horse figured it out what those he served could not. The captain’s guards are all complicit and just blindly follow the orders they are given without even thinking of the moral complexity. Flynn Rider commits petty thievery? Gallows for him! Doing so will cause an innocent person pain? Those are our orders! Ah, Disney movies and their indictment of the Military industrial complex. Maximus realized that letting a man die for the minor crimes he committed would be a greater wrong to the world than his petty thievery.  

What a horse. Olaf’s adorkable literalism can eat my shorts, I’ll take my king Maximus any day. 

“Tangled”: Put that horse in charge of the U.S. government, I swear to god.

“Frozen”: Negative Elsa’s never addressed ability to give snow life

“Tangled” could subvert expectations and deliver a moving and empowering movie without having to try so hard. When thinking now on “Frozen”, I am reminded of an all-time great Onion article that shows that “Frozen”’s place in the cultural consciousness is more for its updating of expectations, one pretty good song, and not much else. “Tangled” didn’t have anything to prove, and so it could simply be perfect.

Both movies are available to watch on Disney+, as is “Frozen” II, which I have not seen, but that my 12-year-old sister assures me is better than the original “Frozen.”