This is both a movie review and an intellectual comparison of the movie and the fairy tale Rapunzel. To read the other parts of the comparison: part 1, part 2, part 3
************Warning; here be spoilers***************
In order to do this coherently I'm going to go chronologically, laying out a section of plot from the fairy tale, the corresponding section of movie plot, and state my analysis.
Rapunzel is a very old tale with many variations, I am going to try to summarize as many variations as I can, but there might be some that I miss. Please let me know of any insights that I might overlook.
The Fairy Tale:
The blinded Prince wanders through the world, living as a beggar. Rapunzel is also out in the world, living somewhere. One day Rapunzel is drawing water from a well as she sings. The Prince recognizes Rapunzel's voice and runs to her side. Rapunzel begins crying and embraces him. Her tears fall into his eyes, magically healing his vision. The Prince takes Rapunzel back to his kingdom and they live happily ever after.
-In some versions Rapunzel gives birth to two children, either while she is living on her own, or after she and the Prince are reunited.
The Tangled Version:
Rapunzel is back in her tower with Mother Gothel. Mother Gothel tries to pretend that everything is back to the way it was before Rapunzel left, but Rapunzel is very unhappy. Suddenly Rapunzel figures out that she is the lost Princess; Rapunzel then accuses Mother Gothel of kidnapping her. Mother Gothel ties Rapunzel up to force her to stay in the tower.
Rapunzel fighting Mother Gothel
Meanwhile, Flynn is in the Royal Prison, on his way to the gallows. Mother Gothel's two thugs were also in the prison. Flynn confronts the thugs, who tell him that Mother Gothel was the one behind the plan. Flynn realizes that Mother Gothel does not have Rapunzel's best interests at heart and that Rapunzel is in grave danger. Luckily Flynn is saved from the gallows by a friendly band of bloodthirsty thieves that he and Rapunzel met on the road. Flynn immediately runs to Rapunzel's tower. He shouts down for her to let down her hair. A rope of blonde hair falls from the tower window.
Flynn climbing the tower.
As soon as Flynn enters the tower he see Rapunzel tied up across the room. Suddenly, Mother Gothel springs up behind Flynn and stabs him in the side.
Mother Gothel stabs Flynn
As Flynn writhes on the ground Mother Gothel drags Rapunzel towards the trap door out of the tower. Rapunzel pleads with Mother Gothel, telling her that if Mother Gothel allows Rapunzel to heal Flynn with her magical hair, Rapunzel will go willingly with Mother Gothel and never try to escape.
Rapunzel pleading for Flynn's life.
Mother Gothel agrees and unties Rapunzel. Rapunzel runs to Flynn's side and starts to heal him. Flynn pulls Rapunzel close to him, as if to kiss her, but instead Flynn cuts Rapunzel's hair off.
Rapunzel's hair turns brown and looses its healing powers. Mother Gothel freaks out, trying to salvage the magic hair, as she rapidly begins aging. Rapunzel's chameleon friend trips Mother Gothel, causing her to fall out of the tower and die.
Mother Gothel falling out of the tower.
Rapunzel frantically tries to heal Flynn, but her hair no longer has any magical powers. Flynn falls unconscious in Rapunzel's arms and Rapunzel bursts into tears. The tears fall onto Flynn and heal him.
Rapunzel's tears healing Flynn.
Rapunzel takes Flynn back to her parents kingdom and they live happily ever after.
Rapunzel reunited with her parents.
I like the way that Disney switches Rapunzel's "punishment" between the movie and the story. Both Dame Gothel and Mother Gothel want to protect Rapunzel (or, in Mother Gothel's case, Rapunzel's hair) and go to great lengths to ensure that Rapunzel is cloistered. But when Dame Gothel finds out about Rapunzel's betrayal she cuts all family ties with Rapunzel and casts her out to fend for herself. In a sense, the punishment that Rapunzel suffers is that she is given agency. Rapunzel finally can make her own decisions and move freely, although she now also has to deal with the consequences of her actions and take responsibility for her own needs. In Tangled Rapunzel claims agency for herself. Mother Gothel drags her back to the tower in punishment, punishing Rapunzel by taking her agency away from her.
In the original story, when Rapunzel heals the Prince and he takes her back to his castle to live happily ever after, the Prince effectively takes away Rapunzel's agency. In Tangled Rapunzel sacrifices her agency in order to save Flynn. Flynn then restores her agency to her by cutting her hair and her tie to Mother Gothel.
In both stories Rapunzel's hair is cut as she gains control over her own life. Cutting hair is symbolic in many cultures, mostly signifying transition. In some cultures it symbolizes a woman cutting her ties with her parents and joining her husbands family. I think that both the original tale and Tangled utilize both of these symbolic meanings, although in Tangled the new family that Rapunzel joins is her original family, with her royal parents.
I found it interesting that Tangled kept the tear aspect in the story, it was a nice nod to those of us who are familiar with the original fairy tale, but it did seem to come out of nowhere in the movie. Will Rapunzel always be able to heal things with her tears? Will her tears also reverse aging? Does she still have to sing to activate the healing power?
Disney upped the violence quotient for Tangled, which surprised me. Mother Gothel stabbing Flynn in the side is far more violent than Flynn being blinded (although maybe being blinded would be more disturbing to a young audience..... which in itself might be a bit disturbing). However, it does up the stakes for the climax of the movie, has a nice callback to Beauty and the Beast, and ups the phallic imagery. I consider all of these aspects to be improvements over the original.
I found it very convenient that the bloodthirsty thieves from earlier in Tangled were able to infiltrate the castle security and save Flynn, but the entire sequence was a pleasure to watch!
I also like that in Tangled Rapunzel takes Flynn back to her castle to live happily ever after. She retains her agency.
Essentially, I think that Tangled tells a story of someone who becomes empowered and goes on to live a fulfilling life, as opposed to the original Rapunzel story, where Rapunzel does almost nothing of her own initiative.