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Very Real

Let Down Your Hair! The Sinister Story Behind 'Tangled'

Rapunzel's "fairy tale ending" isn't exactly magical or joyous.

By Mieko Gavia

Disney’s “Tangled” (2010) is based on the Rapunzel fairy tale. In the Disney version, a witch named Mother Gothel kidnaps a young princess whose magic hair can keep Gothel young.  By the end of the film, Gothel’s scheme fails, and the witch falls from her tower and dissolves into dust.

The Brothers Grimm retelling doesn’t contain a punishment for Rapunzel’s captor — Dame Gothel is the sole dealer of punishment in this story. She catches her neighbor stealing her radishes in order to feed his pregnant wife, and demands their future child, Rapunzel, in exchange for leniency. When she finds Rapunzel has allowed a man into her tower she cuts the girl’s hair and exiles her, and she pushes that man out of the tower where he is blinded by the rose bushes she has conveniently planted below.

An earlier Italian version of the tale, called Petrosinella, has all the main beats of the popular Rapunzel story — a pregnant woman with an incurable hunger for a certain vegetable, a villainess (an ogress) who kidnaps the woman’s daughter and spirits her away to a tower where the only access is through climbing her hair. However, In this version, Petrosinella and her bae escape her tower with her captor, an ogress, in hot pursuit. As she runs, Petrosinella throws three walnuts on the ground. The first walnut transforms into a snapping dog, which the ogress distracts with a piece of bread she happens to have in her pocket. Petrosinella’s second walnut becomes a lion, but the ogress steals the hide of a nearby donkey, throws it on, and scares the lion away. The third walnut is a wolf. It devours the ogress, and Petrosinella and her lover are free.

Disney Justice

Villain’s plot to extend her youth is defeated-she dissolves into dust while falling to her death.

Fairytale Justice

In one version, the villain is eaten by the wolf conjured in self-defence by the heroine. In the other, the heroine’s parents forfeit their daughter as punishment for the theft of villain’s resources. Villain exiles heroine for disobeying orders, and maims hero for trespassing and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

(Header Photo c/o Walt Disney Pictures)