Why Disney Made Tangled So Different From The Original Rapunzel Fairy Tale

Tangled was an instant hit for Disney, successfully introducing Rapunzel as an iconic member of the Disney Princess line-up - but the movie drastically changed the original fairy tale, and for good reason. Like many Disney films, Tangled is based on a classic fairy tale: Rapunzel, by the Brothers Grimm. However, the original source material provided a much different experience for the character, and subsequently received some major revisions in the 2010 movie.

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Tangled focuses on Rapunzel (Mandy Moore), who escapes the tower that her abusive adopted mom, Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy), has kept her trapped in for eighteen years. Along with roguish thief Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi), Rapunzel embarks on a journey to witness the floating lights she's been fascinated with since she was a child, creating a movie about discovery and finding yourself as much as it is about love. Even in these basic aspects, Disney changed the original fairy tale drastically. In the Brothers Grimm story, a sorceress allows a husband to take part of a rapunzel plant from her garden to satisfy his pregnant wife's cravings in exchange for the baby once it is born. The sorceress names the baby girl Rapunzel and locks her up in a tower after she turns 12. A prince discovers and attempts to rescue her, but the sorceress finds out and sends Rapunzel into the wilderness, and the prince falls from the tower, landing on thorns that break his fall but also blind him. Eventually, the prince reunites with Rapunzel and their twin children, and after her tears restore his sight, they all live happily ever after in his kingdom. Though some elements here are the same - such as the tower and Rapunzel's live-recovering powers - the majority of the rest of the plot is decidedly different.

Related: Tangled's Original Draft Could Have Ruined Disney Princesses

In the book Disney Princess: Beyond The Tiara, Byron Howard, the co-director of the Disney Princess movie, explains the reasoning for Disney's changes to Rapunzel in Tangled:

“We wanted to make sure she was as strong as Flynn Rider. We wanted to make sure she had a journey of self-awareness. And it was really important for us that fundamentally she chose to get out of that tower herself... The most important difference in our Rapunzel is that we did not want her to be a passive participant in her own life. We needed to set a good example for young people in the modern world. She needed to drive her own story.”

In the original fairy tale, Rapunzel is not an active participant. It's the prince who plans to rescue Rapunzel, who probably would've stayed in the tower otherwise. Faithfully adapting the original tale would've resulted in an unsatisfying story for modern audiences tired of the damsel-in-distress trope.

How Disney's Changes Made Tangled Better

rapunzel from tangled

By giving Rapunzel more agency and having her be a character who actively plans her own escape from the tower, she becomes a much more well-rounded character. The Rapunzel of Tangled is thankfully more self-sufficient than the Brothers Grimm character; she's able to hold her own and defend herself with a frying pan against Disney hero Flynn Rider when he sneaks into her tower. Disney's changes make Rapunzel a more interesting character and give her a more compelling story arc in Tangled than in the original fairy tale. Flynn Rider is great, but it's good that his character isn't the one to come to Rapunzel's rescue. He finds the tower by chance, and Rapunzel independently decides to use this as an opportunity to finally achieve the freedom she's been seeking.

One reason why Tangled works so well is because of Rapunzel's character. She has an interesting and dynamic personality that engages audiences with her plight and dreams, and this was only made possible because Disney decided to change the original Rapunzel fairy tale for their movie adaptation. The Brothers Grimm story was first published in 1812, so an overhaul of its passive characterization was much needed. Thanks to Disney's movie changes, Rapunzel was provided an empowering narrative in Tangled that creates a more feminist reading of the fairy tale and a more three-dimensional Disney Princess for audiences to root for.

2022-09-30T19:19:23.000Z

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