Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Tangled: The Boxed-In Effect

Earlier this year, our very own Pepper dissected the plot of the movie Tangled. If you missed it, you can rewind here.

I just now got around to watching the movie last weekend. I know, I know, I'm way behind the times. But wow, what a movie! I can see why Pepper was inspired to post about it, because it inspired a post from me too.

As I watched this movie, one particular theme shouted at me from the screen--the concept of being boxed in. This theme came out in three primary ways.

The Initial Condition of Rapunzel

The whole premise of the movie is that Rapunzel is a lost princess who was stolen from the castle as a baby. She's being raised by the woman who stole her and she now lives in a tall tower, which she's ordered to never leave. Her life revolves around being boxed in--both physically and emotionally.

Relationships and the Can't-Trust-Anyone Dilemma

As the plot unfolds, she and handsome thief Flynn Rider join forces. But they face opposition from not only one direction, but ALL directions:

Rapunzel's "mother". Flynn's old cronies whom he cheated and who now have it out for him. The king's men who are chasing Flynn for his thievery. The crazy horse who later becomes an ally.

The viewer has all these opponents scrolling through the back of their minds as they watch. At any given moment, we wonder when one of these adversaries will make things interesting.

Flynn and Rapunzel truly are on their own. No one can be trusted. They're boxed in relationally.

Physical Danger--A Literal Representation of Their Internal Struggle

The boxed-in concept is well established in the viewer's mind. So to hone it even further, the writers of the movie provide physical action that represents the internal struggles of our beloved characters.

Flynn running from a crazed horse and getting stuck in Rapunzel's tower. Rapunzel and Flynn being trapped in a cave as it fills with water. Flynn escaping prison with the king's horses trapping him from both sides. These are just a few of the many examples of being boxed-in physically.

Bravo to the writers of Tangled for creating this boxed-in effect throughout the movie...on all levels. I was swept away in it and when the movie ended, I wondered how it could be done so fast.

So what does this mean for our novels?

The power of theme can't be underestimated. Think about the internal struggle your main characters face. Then build conflict and challenges that grow organically from it. Provide physical representations of the internal struggle, and you'll have a breathtaking combo.

How much does the theme of a book or movie stay with you afterwards? Can you think of other examples that use this type of effect?


Sarah Forgrave is a stay-at-home writer-mom who feels blessed to pursue her calling and passion. She writes contemporary romance for the inspirational market and is a regular contributor to the webzine Ungrind.

To learn more about Sarah, visit her personal blog at:


Anonymous said...

Tangled is a great movie and one to really dissect for great teaching. I like your thought on "boxed in" and realized that I have that all over my manuscript. It's funny how we can have a theme and not even really know it!

Great post...I need to go watched Tangled again. ;)

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Fun post, Sarah.

This one stayed w/ my family so much I'm in the process of redecorating a bedroom in a Tangled theme.
~ Wendy

Keli Gwyn said...

Love Tangled.

You did a excellent job of showing how the theme was woven throughout the entire movie, Sarah. Oh, that I could handle theme as well in my stories.

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Sarah, I bought this movie after reading Pepper's review of Tangled. :) Loved it!

I never picked up on the boxed-in theme. You nailed it. :) I will have to think on ways to weave in a certain theme in my wip when I do re-writes. :) Maybe coming up with a word picture to convey my theme....You got me thinking. Thanks!

Mary Vee Writer said...

Great post.
I agree with Sherrinda, it's amazing to discover themes developing in our work. Sure we need to plant themes, but as God works through our writing other themes develope. Theme is crucial and memorable.
Thanks, Sarah.

Pepper said...

Yay for SArah!!
Great post, great points, and great movie!!

I like the character growth too - especially of Flynn.

The boxed in theme works really well with tangled, but I wonder what other themes we see a lot in movies/books?

It makes me want to figure out how I can subtly portray more of my little 'themes' throughout my novels.

I agree with Mary (no surprise there ;-) - It's surprises me so much when I discover I have a theme planted throughout my novel and the only reason it's there is because God worked it out that way ;-)

Jeanne - glad you are wise enough to listen to me ;-) careful about that.

Sarah Forgrave said...

Sherrinda, You're so right. Often we weave a common thread in our stories without realizing it. Then it's fun to go back through and ramp it up even more. :)

Wendy, How fun! I'm picturing long strands of hair draped around your daughter's room, LOL.

Keli, I know what you mean. The theme was handled so masterfully in this movie, it makes me wonder if I can ever have the same effect in my books. :)

Sarah Forgrave said...

Jeanne, Isn't the movie great?! I especially loved how the physical representations were used...We can do the same in our writing too...whether it's the struggle being fleshed out in a character or a prop or a setting. The possibilities are endless! :)

Mary, You raised a great point. The less we plant a theme and the more we let it evolve through God's words in us, the more powerful it will be.

Pepper, Other themes...hmm, I'm sure there are oodles. I have a hankering now to read "The Moral Premise". I've heard great things about that book, and I think it plays into the point I raised here today.

Julia M. Reffner said...

Love this post and the movie! My daughter and I still quote from this one...

Sarah Forgrave said...

Julia, There are so many quote-worthy moments, aren't there? My favorite was when Flynn said he was doing the "smolder". :)

Pepper said...

I like the quote:
"Frying pans, who knew, right?"
I've known for a long time...but now it's official. ;-)

Btw, anyone know that the actor for Flynn Rider's voice is an outspoken Christian?
Thought that was pretty cool.
He's also the owner of a company called The Nerd Machine...which makes me like him even better ;-)
I'm all for a good nerd.
Love them!

Casey said...

Loved what you said there at the very end--something I work hard to grasp on concept. I hope someday it decides to visit me and take up residence and not leave any time soon. ;-)

Great post, Sarah! I love this movie. :D

Beth K. Vogt said...

OK. I so did not see this ... I mean, maybe on a subconscious level ...
I love how you took the movie Tangled apart and helped me see how the internal and external danger were woven together: brilliant.
Thanks so much, Sarah!

Jennifer K. Hale said...

We seem to both have Disney princesses on the brain this week. :) Cool post.