“Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair.”
It’s fair to say that the latter is the one line that sticks with people most when they read or hear the tale “Rapunzel”. The Grimm brothers presented a tale of love, both maternal and romantic, in their book. Disney, however, sheds a different light on one of the key figures in the tale, Mother Gothel, in its film Tangled (2010).
In the Grimm’s version of the tale, Rapunzel is literally given to the sorceress by her parents in exchange for Rapunzel lettuce (parenting at its best!), hence the character’s name. The sorceress is presented as a lonely woman who genuinely cares for the child and wants to keep her for herself. When she discovers that Rapunzel has been sneaking the prince into her room (and most likely doing unspeakable things), she is upset. She cuts Rapunzel’s hair and banishes her. Although the sorceress’ actions were quite harsh, the poor woman only wanted to keep her daughter secure from the world and to herself, or so the Grimms made it out to seem in their account of the tale.
Now, Disney, in all of its fame and glory, took it upon themselves to take the tale and transform it into something marketable (so, the usual). In its film adaptation of the tale, Rapunzel’s long golden hair has magical healing abilities, which Mother Gothel wants to use to restore her youth and beauty. Gothel kidnaps the child and locks her away in a dungeon for her own selfish desires. Rapunzel escapes with Flynn (a substitute for the prince), is pursued by Mother Gothel, and eventually has her hair cut and loses all magical abilities.
Suddenly, Disney turns Mother Gothel from a lonely woman seeking a selfish companionship from her daughter to a vane and evil woman. Looks becomes an overlying theme in the tale in the film adaptation of the tale, as Rapunzel’s blonde hair is considered magical. All of this, of course, is a clever ploy on the company’s behalf to create a marketable film. From this results the urge of little girls all around the country to dress up like the beautiful Rapunzel and buy the long golden wig so their hair can be magical as well (children’s imaginations have always been an easy target for capitalistic ventures). The tale the Grimms once told turns from a twisted yet heart-warming story to a superficial one whose moral is that young beauty is always the winner in the end.
Unfortunately, Disney’s monopoly is evident everywhere. Upon making a Google image search for Rapunzel, the first page of results is loaded with images of the film’s Rapunzel. Tangled merchandise, from backpacks to clothing, flood many of the stores frequented by younger children.
The goal of tales today is no longer to entertain children or teach them any truly valuable lessons; it’s a capitalistic tool to transform even the youngest of children into consumers.
Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair…or the wig you purchased at your local Disney store.