Adaptations– the Art of Removing the Icky Bits

I love Tangled.  Straight up, its one of my favorite Disney movies of all time.  I think I’ve re-watched Tangled more than any other Disney movie.  This probably does not paint me in a positive light.  Whatever.

I’ve been working through Grimm’s fairy tales, I obviously bumped into ye olde version of Rapunzel, the fairy tale that Tangled is based off of.

And depending on the version you read, because kings are never given names and sometimes editors like to throw ‘the’ instead of ‘a’, the fairy tale can read like Game of Thrones.  But none of the epic dragon bits, or cool battles, or smart-ass midget– just the weird incest bits.

Oh, and the prince (who might be Rapunzel’s brother, maybe?) also gets stabbed in the eyes and wanders around blind for an unnumbered amount of years.  It doesn’t exactly scream “Disney magic”.

However, the important parts of the story still shine through in both adaptations.  Gothel steals Rapunzel away (movie: actual theft, fairy tale: part of deal) due to Rapunzel’s mother needing a plant (movie: so she doesn’t die, fairy tale: so she doesn’t die, with a side order of gorging herself on flowers).  Rapunzel is locked away in a hidden tower so her parents can’t take her back.

Both adaptations have the ‘let down your hair’ bit.  Rapunzel hoists Gothel up and down in both versions (still don’t know how anyone got in or out when Rapunzel was young).

However, our male lead is drastically different (we’re ignoring the weird maybe incest.  Oh, you were already ignoring it?  Good).  Both men fall in love with Rapunzel, however Flynn isn’t a prince, whereas our unnamed fairy tale hero is.

In the movie, this happens over the course of Rapunzel’s and Flynn’s adventures to go see floating lanterns.  Aside: I’m gonna assume floating lanterns are a lot cooler when fireworks haven’t been invented yet.

In the fairy tale, Rapunzel and unnamed prince totally get their mack on in the tower, several times while Gothel is away.  After Rapunzel leaves the tower in Tangled we get a lot of things that aren’t in the fairy tale.  However, the conclusion of the movie continues to remember the tale that it came from, Flynn does his best prince impression when he cries for Rapunzel to let down her hair.  Gothel, in both versions, lifts Flynn/the Prince up into the tower into a trap.

Rapunzel heals the male lead with her tears in both versions.  And both end with a happily ever after.

The fundamentals of the tale are the same in both versions.  The symbols are the same. Stuff happens in the same order. The parts that the movie does not include aren’t really needed to tell the story– instead of having Gothel transport Rapunzel to a desert and having the male lead fall out of the tower, go blind and wander around for a few years to find her, Gothel just gets her stab on and kills Flynn.  This sets the same scene, Rapunzel crying over the male lead’s body, a lot more efficiently.

Also, Rapunzel doesn’t have twins in the movie.  She totally does in the fairy tale, while she’s in a desert.  Yeah.  I’m gonna assume childbirth isn’t super Disney.  Things that are also not super Disney: a life in squalor while Rapunzel waits for her blind prince.

What does the movie add?  Character!  Most fairy tales aren’t long enough to really develop their characters.  Why would anyone fall for Repunzel anyway (outside of her voice, which is all we get from the brothers Grimm)?  Tangled tries to answer that.  Why would Gothel take Rapunzel away in the first place, what kind of flower is worth a child?  Disney movie.  What kind of person is willing to make that trade?  Disney movie.

And in making the characters more complex, some occupations changed.  The elements of magic where shifted from Gothel to Rapunzel.  However, the core symbols that everyone associates with the story stayed.

How do you know what are the core symbols of a fairy tale?  Great question!  Part of the reading I still need to do are several Rapunzel adaptations* from the YA section of the library.  Fairy tales have been adapted to death and back, so its a simple as identifying what every single adaptation keeps.

However, Shannon and I did talk a bit about this on Skype.  The rough consensus was that the core symbols of a fairy tale are those that jump to mind the moment you think of the fairy tale in question.  Hunchback  drastically changed its source material (I’m hazy because recalling details from the one time I tried to read the source material is like trying to recall the details of a suicide), I don’t think Phoebus even exists** in any capacity in the novel.  The core elements, however (a grotesque mockery of the human form falling in love with a woman who skirts on the outside of civilized society), remain.

And I seriously doubt any version of anything would keep awkward-maybe-incest.  I’m sorry, I just can’t drop it.

*I picked out the books that had the most reviews on Goodreads that were covered in gifs.  I know how Tumblr works.  I’m on to you, YA romance readers.

** Turns out I am in fact a silly duck.  From someone who does remember the Hunchback novel better than I do:
“Phoebus actually totally does exist in the novel. The difference is that in the book he never changes sides.  Which is funny because Frollo does try to kill him, similarly to what happens in the movie. But he manages to frame Esmeralda for it.”
Thanks, Facebook friends!


About relimited

Sup. I'm a computer science grad student out in California currently reading fairy tales rather than writing a strong testing framework.

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