We all know by now that most fairy tale-based stories end with “happily ever after.” Which is fine, I suppose, but sometimes you can’t help but wonder, “Is that really all?” There are plenty of movies from my childhood that went on to get spin-offs, like Hercules: The Animated Series and The Emperor’s New School. While Hercules and Kuzco both got happy endings in their movies, they went on to have more adventures in their shows. But they’re also both men, and while Hercules did get the girl in the end, their futures didn’t hinge on their relationship statuses. Sure, there was Lilo & Stitch: The Series, but Lilo is a little girl whose story ended not with romance but with found family. When it comes to Disney’s heroines, it seems like the only thing that matters is that they found their true loves. Even if they got direct-to-video sequels, their stories weren’t really their own. The Little Mermaid II focuses on Ariel’s daughter more than Ariel, Cinderella II has Cinderella adapting to palace life, and even Mulan’s sequel is all about marriage. So I guess “happily ever after” for women means getting married and settling down, right?
Enter Tangled: The Series.
Also known as Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure (no idea why they changed the name halfway through), the show takes place after the end of Tangled but before the short film Tangled Ever After which depicts Rapunzel and Eugene’s wedding. I really enjoyed the original movie, so I had my doubts about this series at first, but after finishing the first season, I have to say I’m shockingly pleased with it. Disney has finally let one of their princesses have an actual life.
After being locked away in a tower her whole life and being emotionally manipulated by Gothel, the series finds Rapunzel adjusting to life as a princess and forming a relationship with her parents. Her father, King Frederic, is kind of overbearing at first, which would usually annoy me; but in this case it’s less an “I’m your father and you’ll do as I say, daughter” situation, but more stemming from the fact that he has his daughter back after she was literally stolen from him, so naturally he worries about her safety. Thankfully he’s the kind of father who actually listens to and trusts his daughter, so he quickly turns into a likable and sympathetic character. It’s nice to see Rapunzel with parents who actually love her for who she is, rather than just the magical qualities of her hair.
Speaking of love, we also have the budding romance between Rapunzel and Eugene, a.k.a. Flynn Rider. Although they fell in love within the span of a day in the movie, this is a Disney romance I actually don’t mind, and it’s even better in the series. While Rapunzel is free-spirited and overwhelmingly kind, Eugene brings the irreverent remarks and charm to the series, and it’s fun to watch their personalities play off each other. It’s also great how they constantly check in with each other, asking if the other is OK after intense situations, listening to each other’s worries, and just generally having a healthy relationship. Plus, a huge plot point is Eugene’s quest to propose to Rapunzel at the perfect moment, meaning he wants to wait until she’s actually ready, and not make her feel pressured to agree. Truly groundbreaking stuff, for Disney.
Another thing this series has that’s seldom seen for Disney princesses is female friendship! That’s right, they actually let Rapunzel have a friend who isn’t a chameleon. Cassandra is one of Rapunzel’s ladies-in-waiting who quickly becomes her friend. Their personalities are very different; while Rapunzel is kind, trusting, and a bit naive, Cassandra is tough, shrewd, and loves to fight. While Cassandra comes off as a bit of a jerk to Rapunzel at times because of these differences, the two obviously care about each other, and learn and grow together as people.
So now Rapunzel has reunited with her non-abusive parents, found her true love, and even has a human best friend, so she’s all set, right? Not necessarily. While the series deals with Rapunzel learning how to be a princess, she also gets to have adventures. The overarching plot deals with mysterious black rocks popping up all over the kingdom (which now has people of color living in it, unlike in the film, by the way! Guess they were all on vacation at the time?) that have inexplicably caused Rapunzel’s magic blonde hair to grow back, but Rapunzel also deals with competitions of strength, thieves, ghosts, and potion mix-ups. She also struggles with her palace duties and doubts if being future queen is the right path for her. Instead of being slapped with “happily ever after,” Rapunzel gets to make mistakes and go through hardship, and it makes her a much more dimensional character. I’m really glad Disney used this opportunity to let Rapunzel have a life and experiences outside of just being in love.
Now if only they’d give The Princess and the Frog a series! Doesn’t seem likely, but a girl can dream!