Beauty and the Beast has always been my favorite Disney princess movie. I’ve always loved that fairy tale, maybe it is because the princess rescues the prince instead of the other way around, or maybe it is because it’s about seeing past the outer appearances to find the beauty within. Either way, something in that fairy tale speaks to me.
But when I saw Disney’s Tangled, I was surprised by how much I loved it. I’ve never liked the story of Rapunzel, but Tangled almost took the number one spot away from Beauty and the Beast. Maybe it did or at least tie. I have a hard time giving up Beauty and the Beast because I love that story. But I do think that Tangled has a better romance. In fact, to me the romance in Tangled was perfect.
Before I get into why, I want to give a brief caveat. When I write these posts, I’m kind of doing them for myself. I’m trying to sort out what I think makes a great character or romance or book. I do hope that you will find them useful and maybe spark some ideas that will help you figure out what works for you, but I believe we all need to read lots of books and watch TV and movies for the purpose of figuring out what works best for each of us. Your opinion of a perfect romance may differ, and I love it if you would share your ideal romance in the comments.
One more thing, Melanie has already done a great five part series on adding a romantic subplot. Her suggestions are spot on and pure gold. So if you haven’t read it and have a romance of any kind in your story, you need to read this series. I’ll make it simple for you, go here, then here, then here, then here, and finally here. Well worth the read, I promise. :)
So in order to show you why I think Tangled is such a great romance, I’m going to go step by step through the movie to illustrate how the movie shows us Rapunzel and Flynn Rider (Eugene) falling in love. There will be massive spoilers. You have been warned.
1. Mutual attraction. When Rapunzel first knocks Flynn out, she examines him to see if he has any fangs, and there is this moment when she brushes the hair away from his eyes. And I’m pretty sure there is more than just curiosity there. Flynn’s attraction to Rapunzel is more obvious. When she steps out of the shadows, he’s definitely checking her out and gives her a cheesy pick up line that is hilarious.
When the two characters first meet they should feel some sort of attraction to each other. I know people get annoyed when the characters in books all seem to be gorgeous, but it ruins the romance a little if the two characters don’t find each other at least a little attractive.
Of course there is a big exception to this rule, like Beauty and the Beast. If the whole point of the story is to see past the physical appearance and find the true beauty within, then obviously there shouldn’t be an immediate physical attraction, but there still can be sort of spark.
2. They both have their own goals. Rapunzel wants to see the floating lanterns, and Flynn wants his satchel back. Both of them have goals outside of each other, and this makes the story far more interesting.
I don’t like either the girl or the guy giving up everything for someone they just met (Romeo and Juliet is not romantic at all). When once the two meet, their only goal is getting together. I prefer two people with their own agendas who just happen to fall in love along the way.
3. Their goals are at odds with each other. Rapunzel needs Flynn to take her to see the lights, but he’s not exactly willing especially since he’s a wanted criminal with a price on his head (I love how Flynn keeps trying to convince Rapunzel to go home at first). Flynn wants his satchel, but Rapunzel has hidden it from him and will only give it back once they return from seeing the lanterns. They both are standing in the way of each other’s goals, which gives some nice conflict.
Conflict is always good. I’ve seen a lot of complaints about the hate turns to love trope (like we see in Pride and Prejudice). But there needs to be some sort of conflict between the two love birds because it is boring to read about people getting along famously. Giving two people who would otherwise get along opposing goals is a great way to add some much needed conflict.
4. They have a good reason to stick together. If it wasn’t for Rapunzel holding Flynn’s satchel hostage, he would’ve ditched her (yeah, he’s not exactly a boy scout). If Rapunzel didn’t need Flynn to be her guide, she would’ve just let him go once she realized he wasn’t after her hair. They need a reason to stick together especially when the times get rough.
If the two people in the romance aren’t instantly in love with each other (I’m not a fan of instant love), they need a reason to stick together. This is especially important if they risk their lives for each other. There has to be a logical reason for one of them not to bail when things get tough, and it can’t be love, not in the beginning.
5. They come together to fight a bigger problem. Rapunzel and Flynn’s flight through the tunnel and subsequent fight with all the people (and the horse) who want to catch Flynn is where they first start working together. And they work very well together, each taking turns helping the other out.
It is important to see the couple work together and not just against each other. Strong bonds form when people learn how to count on each other and trust each other. If the couple is only at odds with each other, I’m not going to buy it when they are suddenly in love.
6. They open up to each other. When Rapunzel and Flynn believe they are about to die in the tunnel, they both share their deepest, darkest secret (Flynn’s real name and Rapunzel’s magic hair). They open up to each other, which makes their growing relationship stronger.
The two future lovers need to share something with each other on a personal level. They need to be vulnerable with each other to show the growing trust developing.
7. They have fun together. I love the city montage in Rapunzel where we see Rapunzel and Flynn exploring the city and having a great time with each other.
If the two people never laugh together or have any happy moments, if they only make each other miserable with all the angst, I’m not going to sold that these two really belong together. I need to have some sort of indication that they can be happy with each other.
8. They take a chance on each other. I like how until the lantern scene, Rapunzel and Flynn feel a little tentative around each other. But when they are together in the boat with the lanterns floating around them, they decide to take that chance on each other. After that point, only external sources keep them apart (Mother Gothel and the two thugs).
An important step in the developing romance is that scene when the two characters decide to go for it. There needs to be that declaration of love. This could of course come at the end, and actually Tangled does have another, stronger love declaration scene later. Where they have that moment before Flynn dies, "You were my new dream."
9. They are willing to sacrifice everything for each other. At the end, Flynn tries to save Rapunzel from Mother Gothel, but gets stabbed. Rapunzel is willing to stay with Mother Gothel for the rest of her life and let Mother Gothel use her magic hair if Mother Gothel lets her save Flynn with her magic hair. But Flynn chooses to die instead of letting Rapunzel be imprisoned forever and cuts Rapunzel’s hair, so that it can no longer heal anyone. They both are willing to give up everything for the other person.
And this to me is what really catapults Tangled from a great romance to amazing. I’m a sucker for sacrifice. To me true love is that willingness to sacrifice anything for the ones you love when they really need it.
Of course in order for this to work, the reader needs to really believe that these two crazy kids truly love each other, otherwise the whole thing comes off as melodramatic. Oh, and killing yourself because your lover has died (like in Romeo and Juliet) is not a sacrifice. That is stupidity not romance.
10. They live happily ever after, and damn it, they deserve it (Yeah, Rapunzel finds another way to save Flynn, and I loved it).
Not every romance has to have all of these moments (not every story should end in a willingness to sacrifice everything for each other, plenty of great romances don’t), but to me when they are all present and done right, the romance is perfect.
So what makes a romance in a story perfect for you?