Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Disney has an unparalleled record for successfully reimagining fairy tales and literature and twisting them into shorter, usually somewhat lighter versions of their original forms, throwing in arbitrary musical numbers and animals with unnatural friendliness and understanding of their human companions. Disney's newest submission to the fairy tale extreme makeover is the classic tale of Rapunzel, retold in trendy 3D but complete with the usual doses of singing, dancing, young complicated romance, and strange animals.

The fact that this particular tale was released in 3D as an option is of no appeal to me personally, as I still view the 3D trend as an overrated gimmick to boost the number of theater-goers and weasel a few more dollars out of the customers. That is not to say that the film was done sloppily, merely that the addition of the 3D neither added nor subtracted from the experience altogether. Now that's out of the way, the review can begin.

"Rapunzel" is a popular enough tale that any retelling of it would need to be new and inventive, and Disney accomplished this quite well. For starters, Rapunzel's hair is not just immeasurably long, but magical with healing powers that are released through a song. Why? This is going to sound ridiculous, but it's really not that bad onscreen. Because a magical flower was used to heal her mother during childbirth and the plant's healing properties were transferred to the child. Hence Rapunzel's upbringing by the witch is not part of an obscure bargain (as in the original Grimm tale), but as a result of kidnapping. Predictably, the witch longs to be her younger self and uses the power of Rapunzel's hair to restore her youth. Rapunzel herself is completely unaware of how she is being used by the wench whom she knows as her mother. Another difference to the old tale is that Rapunzel, not her suitor, is royalty.

The three characters that this retelling concerns itself with are Rapunzel, Mother Gothel, and Flynn. Rapunzel is a lively young woman who entertains herself with art and song day in and day out with none for her companion but a silent though expressive chameleon named Pascal. Unlike some of her princess predecessors, Rapunzel is not particularly rebellious (no matter how justifiable it might seem) and has bundles of energy and spunk. She falls somewhere between the sheltered but opinionated Ariel (from The Little Mermaid) and the sweetness and loyalty of say, Belle (of Beauty and the Beast). Despite her being a blonde, Rapunzel is well aware of the world outside her tower and longs to see it, but remains obedient to the wishes of her unreasonable "mother." Even when she finally ventures outside the tower, she experiences extreme (albeit comical) mood swings ranging from despairing guilt to jubilant glee over defying her mother's wishes.

Mother Gothel is the kidnapping youth-loving witch who looks like Cher. For the most part she doesn't seem all that formidable, and come to think of it, I don't recall seeing her even use magic other than the mystical song that releases the flower power (which sounds so much worse when I say it that way). As a villain, Gothel is not particularly precarious, mostly just annoying, working manipulative "mother knows best" and "because I love you" angles as her greatest power. But she is a woman scorned and we all know what they say about that.

Flynn on the other hand brings an interesting life to the film. Flynn is easily one of the most unique heroes Disney has ever produced for a fairy tale remake. Unlike Prince Philip, Prince Charming, or even Prince Eric who all fit the perfect mold of having little or no character and almost no purpose other than to be one for the heroine to fall in love with, Flynn is a bit of a rascal. He's a self-important cad and thief who is initially motivated strictly by personal gain, trying more than once to talk Rapunzel out of her quest. Predictably, he changes his mind along the way, but he never loses his cad-like qualities or sarcastic cocked eye-brow attitude. In the climax, Flynn proves himself willing to put aside his self-centered ways and make a sacrifice for the girl he comes to love.

All in all, this is not a typical fairy tale retelling, and that's a compliment. The quirky characters and creative changes from the source material make for an entertaining and enjoyable if predictable Disney movie experience, complete with singing, dancing, and well-timed comic relief.

1 comment:

  1. Have yet to see this one yet, but it does look good. We have a pentecostal blonde girl where I work and we all tease her about this movie, as she looks like the heroine.