Sky lanterns and irony: How Disney's 'Tangled' amplifies impact

October 15, 2021  |  2 min read  |  Story Craft


The sky lanterns boat scene in Disney’s Tangled is, to me, one of the most magical romance scenes in Disney’s canon. Why does it work so well? Let’s investigate.

First off, it’s backed by a tremendous score. The music is well-written, and the lyric tells a love story that has a unique resonance with the protagonists’ backstories.

Second, it’s visually stunning. The palette — the blues of the water and night contrasted with warm golds and reds of the lanterns — is a fantastic choice. The visual is a build and release of tension, lanterns appearing a few at a time and then more and more, surging to a crescendo in which the protagonists appear to be surrounded, floating in a sea of lanterns, both in the air above and reflected in the water below.

But for me, the bow on top is what’s happening in terms of story. There’s something subtle going on here that many of the other Disney love story moments don’t quite achieve.

It has to do with irony. Flynn Ryder here is bringing Rapunzel to see the lights. This is something that she’s always dreamed of. She feels a special connection to them. It’s a neat date idea and one that shows some care and thought on his part, but there’s nothing especially unique about that so far. Here’s the subtle difference: Rapunzel’s story is about reclaiming her heritage and belonging, and in this scene, she is literally surrounded by it.

Although she’s unaware of it at the time, her feeing that the lanterns are connected to her isn’t just a feeling. The audience knows what she doesn’t: that the lanterns literally are for her, calling her home. This dramatic irony adds a layer of emotional complexity to the scene that pushes it to a whole new level.

And of course, there’s a bit of irony for Flynn, too. He’s been trying to steal treasure from Rapunzel’s parents, and now, unbeknownst to him, he’s working to get their greatest treasure back to them.

The takeaway is this: In your own story design, see if you have the opportunity to use irony to push your “peak” moments even farther. It may layer in complexity that will make the emotion of the moment much richer.


Note

This was originally posted as a Twitter thread back in 2020.

Digital gardening epistemic status:

  • Moderate confidence
  • Low effort - I just tweeted out the ideas one morning; haven’t spent much more time on it than that.