Rapunzel

This is a fairy tale I’ve been hearing a lot more about ever since Disney announced it was going to come out with a movie about her. Especially since it was supposed to be a) part of the new Disney Renaissance (they are releasing a fairy tale film every year for the next ten years, starting with the Princess and the Frog) and b) use a new animation technique. CG technology has come to the point where “the computer can finally bend it’s knee to the artist” so the Rapunzel movie is going to be more like a CG painting, not CG cartoon-realism which is all that was possible before.

I was a little surprised that Disney went for such a film, first off because of the themes in Rapunzel (lust, primarily) and secondly, well, just look at the art piece they are using as a basis for the style of the film.

Why yes, that is a man looking up her skirt. The piece is a French work of art, translated into English it means “The Happy Accidents of the Swing”, by Jean-Honoré Fragonard. My art major husband tells me that, yes, the men are doing this deliberately to get a peek, and yes, the woman is meant to be complicit in this act, and yes, the baby cherubs are watching you.

Symbolism aside, though, the tale of Rapunzel is really fascinating as far as princesses go. Almost all female heroines in fairy tales are presumed innocent until bad choices or a twist of fate brings about their need of rescue. Rapunzel is imperfect from the start and has to work to be pure again, and also doesn’t have a perfect happily ever after for her troubles. It’s more real than many other fairy tales as a result. The first flawed heroine with the first real life ending?

To start at the beginning we have Rapunzel’s mother, who craves rapunzel (German for lettuce) and lusts after it (here we go). Her weakness results in her begging her husband to go and get her some right now or she will die! Typical man who doesn’t want to deal with the ickiness that is “women’s issues” takes her at her word and, adam to her eve, goes into the forbidden garden. There he eventually gets busted.

The witch who owns the garden is pissed that someone has been mucking about with her lettuce and then she finds out about the child. She craves the child, wishes desperately to have one of her own, and so tells him she’ll spare his life and give the mother as much rapunzel as she wants as long as gets the baby afterwards. His weakness results in his acquiescence to her demands. He returns to his wife and she cries about it and then eats the rapunzel and sends him back for more.

When the child is born the witch claims her and names her Rapunzel (ironic, no?) and cares for the child and raises her as she would her own, until the age of twelve. There is some argument here over the symbolism of this. Some say this was just your average mean step mother that couldn’t take the teenage angst and locked her up in a tower before she got independent on her and got ideas. Others, and I agree with the later here for reasons I’ll explain later, say that the significance of this occurring on the year when, for most girls, puberty hits is because the sins of the mother carried on into the daughter. The witch knew this. To protect Rapunzel from the weakness, the lust, that was her mother’s down fall, she locks her away to protect her. How do we know that Rapunzel has inherited this weakness from her mother? The hair.

There are countless examples in old fairy tales and in older society norms that overly long hair was a symbol of lust and wantonness. I’m guessing the only people that had the leisure to grow their hair that long were harem slaves and the like perhaps. Oftentimes witches and fairies, sirens and other alluring magical creatures are depicted with long flowing locks of hair. As long as Rapunzel had the long hair, she was flawed and she didn’t even know it. And, this was borne out to her detriment later. Would Rapunzel have had the strength to resist had she known about the outside world, known the perversity of her mother, and known her own self? We’ll never know. As it is, the first opportunity that presented itself left Rapunzel powerless to resist due to the very nature of the protection that had been given her (isolation and ignorance).

Rapunzel is Exhibit A for why abstinence only education doesn’t work.

The prince arrives and instead of being noble thinks unattended female means free, no strings attached lovin’. The hair turns out to be the key to reaching Rapunzel in that inaccessible tower, and he takes advantage of it and her. Often. Another sign of weakness, and of lust.

One day Rapunzel wonders why she is growing large and that’s when the witch realizes what has happened. Despite her best, perhaps flawed, efforts she has failed. She cuts off Rapunzel’s hair and banishes her from the tower. Then she lies in wait for the Prince. When the Prince climbs the hair it is to find Rapunzel gone and the witch there, so much for being unattended. In the tussle that ensues the Prince ends up being blinded.

Now Rapunzel without her luxurious hair, that both trapped and cursed her, is free to live with the results of her choices in life (twins) alone in the wilderness. But at least now she is free of her flaw and has a chance to try and make things right. The prince also has had his feasting eyes that drove his lust damaged and is also now lost in the wilderness.

They find each other, and her tears over their reunion bring sight back to the Princes eyes. While they do not always get married, they don’t always return to the castle victorious to rule a kingdom, but they do live together happily, as a family, until the end of their days. They were never perfect, their ending may not be perfect either but I think, for a fairy tale, it’s a remarkably realistic look at the flaws we all have (mothers, fathers, stepmothers, daughters, sons) and how we can work to better ourselves in spite of and through them, and live with the consequences of them happily ever after anyway.

Yeah. So Disney’s doing this? Well, not quite.

When the kingdom’s most wanted (and most charming) bandit is forced to make a deal with the golden-haired, tower-bound teen, the unlikely duo sets off on a hilarious, hair-raising escapade complete with a super-cop horse, an over-protective chameleon, and a gruff gang of pub thugs. The handsome bandit, Prince Flynn Ryder, has sailed through life by looking good, talking fast and being lucky – but when he picks a mysterious and secluded tower as his hideout, it looks like his luck may have run out.

Flynn is knocked out, tied up and taken hostage by the beautiful and feisty Rapunzel, whose 70 feet of magical, golden hair, which she can use like powerful tentacles, isn’t even the strangest thing about her. Locked-away and lonely, Rapunzel sees this smooth-talking bandit as her ticket out of the tower. One comical kidnapping and a bit of blackmail later, Flynn and his curious captor are off on one of the most tangled tales ever told.

So, very different from the traditional tale! This princess looks like she’s ready to kick some butt too, I like her already.

The teaser-trailer for those curious. The film is called Tangled to appeal to the boys, they weren’t happy with the low returns for the Princess and the Frog.

Totally superfluous 15 second clip from the film. Love the fairies!

2 Responses to Rapunzel

  1. carol
    6:04 am on March 22nd, 2010

    I didn’t know Disney was doing this one.
    I’m always amazed at how different the stories are than I remember them from childhood. I really like how you saw the craving and lusting themes carried throughout the story. Good points.

  2. Tif
    6:31 am on April 4th, 2010

    GREAT post!! I love the themes that you saw of lust and craving. Once you pointed them out, I see them all over the place! And, I literally laughed out loud about your abstinence education comment!

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