Finding Corona

Never leave the kingdom

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An open letter to Glen Keane, creator of ‘Tangled’

Dear Mr. Keane,

I do not know how to adequately thank you for what you have done. This is the best way I can think of, and I hope some day this letter reaches you, because I hope someday you will know how profoundly you have touched the life of at least one person.

I have long loved animation and, therefore, Disney. In my high school yearbook, my classmates correctly identified my ideal spouse as Ariel. I guess I have always seen animation as one of the purest modern expressions of imagination, and I have seen Disney’s best fairy tales as one of the purest examples of that expression.

I can remember the first time I saw “Tangled,” with my 3-year-old daughter on the day after Thanksgiving. It was her first time in a movie theater, but I think I persuaded her to go rather than the other way around. Still, I never could have imagined how deeply I was going to be affected by that day.

I remember sensing it when Rapunzel was running and racing and dancing and chasing. I remember wondering what that feeling was when I saw the look on Rapunzel’s parents’ faces in the moments before they released the lanterns – that I, too, was somehow on the verge of tears because I, too, had begun to understand what they had lost. And I remember watching Rapunzel – betrayed by the mother she thought had loved her and now robbed of the person who had saved her – singing to Eugene as he died in her arms.

I saw “Tangled” eight times. It would have been more if I weren’t a 30-something father of two who felt compelled to go alone and in secret on several occasions. When I finally confessed what I had done to my wife, I told her I was having an affair with Rapunzel.

But Rapunzel was no schoolboy crush on a celluloid dreamgirl. “The Little Mermaid” might have been a guilty pleasure for a 15-year-old high school boy, but “Tangled” was so much more to me as a happily married man. It was a fairy tale in the very best sense – a work that, like Hans Christian Andersen’s own, was a children’s story only in name.

I have read that these words inspired you to start work on what was then “Rapunzel”:

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of Lights with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”

I also read that you once considered becoming a pastor. To me, “Tangled” has been one of the most beautiful sermons of my life. It is, as much as any homily or parable told in church, a story about the incomparable power of a pure heart, and I am so grateful to you for that gift.

One criticism I have heard of Rapunzel is that she is too bland. My only possible explanation for this is that, to a world satisfied with itself and its own devices, perhaps such goodness does seem boring.

I am convinced that the greatest evil of this world is its attempts to make goodness seem a sham. Human logic compels us to equivocate and compromise – to concede that evil must have place and power, that goodness alone is not enough. Cynicism and satire paint themselves as the worldly wise, mocking innocence and purity as naïve.    

So many movies pander to this, embrace it. But this lie of “variableness” “Tangled” tenderly rebukes.

For all Disney Princesses, longing is something of an occupational necessity. Ariel longed for something more, but there was a teenage petulance in her longings. Belle longed with greater grace, yet there was the drop of sadness in her longing. It is Rapunzel – the one with the greatest cause for resentment – whose longing is purest.

She is a girl who has, for all intents and purposes, been imprisoned. Yet she transforms that prison into a place of beauty and warmth – the spontaneous expression of a beautiful soul. There is no anger, no sullenness. Her walls – the outward illustration of her thoughts and hopes – are luminous.

Rapunzel’s longing is an emanation of spotless radiance, like the sun that sustained her life. You have said in the past that Ariel’s hair represented this yearning. In Rapunzel, you have created a character whose every fiber aches with it. 

“…And it starts with the Sun.”

Rapunzel is indeed a gift to the world from “Father of Lights with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”

And what are you telling us about this “gift”? That it heals. That, no matter what conspires against it – be it neglect, or emotional abuse, or a love for material life so consuming that it would use this purity for its own lusts – it loves all the same. More than that. It triumphs.

Rapunzel does not win because she is stronger or even smarter. She wins because of the purity and constancy of her love. Everyone she meets is transformed by it – the pub thugs, Maximus, Eugene. Her expression of love is stronger than all, breaking down any resistance effortlessly, “as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts.”

Through the constancy and purity of her goodness, she helped those she met find that same goodness within themselves.

And when she most needed that strength, she found it in herself, too. Her “gift” was not a supernatural phenomenon that could be taken away, it was her very nature, her innate purity, which could never be separated from her.

I can think of no greater sermon than telling everyone that this same grace is within each of us. That our primitive goodness – our innocence – is powerful and unimpeachable.

This is the gift that you have given to all of us – the hope that, one day, we may see ourselves for what we actually are, which is so much more than what we appear to the world to be.

“I think of Rapunzel as an example of the highest qualities of human nature, male or female,” you have said. “I see her as an illustration of every human being who is born with a divine spark, a potential to become something unique. And the walls that surround her, and hold her back, are symbolic of walls in anyone’s life, those things that hold us back from being who we really long to be.”

With all my heart, I thank you for this unspeakable gift.

Finding Corona

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