Fairytale Adaptations: The Tale of Princess Rapunzel

A comparison of two different adaptations of Rapunzel — the Barbie movie and the Disney one.

So, for this post, I’m going to do something a little different. Instead of comparing an adaptation to the original, I’ll be comparing two adaptations: Barbie as Rapunzel, and Disney’s Tangled. If you haven’t watched them and you have any interest, you should go ahead and do that. There will be many spoilers throughout the rest of this post.

Barbie as Rapunzel (2002) follows a young girl with long blonde hair who’s trapped in a tower. While the premise for Disney’s Tangled is the same, the execution is very different.

The biggest differences are in the story, the world, and the main characters (Rapunzel, her love interest, and Gothel).

First, the story. Barbie as Rapunzel centers on a feud because of her disappearance, resolved once Gothel reveals that she stole her. (Though it also helps that their children end up married.) In contrast, Disney’s Tangled focuses on Rapunzel’s slow realization that her “mother” only wanted her because of her magical hair. The plot begins when Flynn/Eugene accidentally finds her, and slowly realizes that he cares more about their relationship than thievery. Another difference is that magic is explicit in Barbie as Rapunzel. She uses it to escape the tower, while Gothel uses it to trap and punish her. In Disney’s Tangled, it’s confined to Rapunzel’s hair and mostly kept secret.

In Mattel’s version, Barbie as Rapunzel centers on the tower. She’s explicitly Gothel’s servant, and has to leave in secret. In addition, the tower is more than just that. There are enormous rooms, a kitchen, and even a tunnel — this was a manor before being a prison. Disney’s Tangled focuses much more on the kingdom itself — the world that Rapunzel is discovering. We see the village and get the feeling that it’s friendly and approachable, in contrast to what Gothel describes.

Finally, there are the characters. This is where the biggest differences are evident, especially in personality and growth.

In Barbie as Rapunzel, Gothel is cold and cruel, with a penchant for making other’s lives miserable. She stole Rapunzel from her family because her father made the horrible mistake of not loving her. She treats Rapunzel as a servant, belittles her, and destroys her belongings when she disobeys. In the end, her own spell traps her inside, and she forces her pet Otto to serve her.

Meanwhile, Gothel in Disney’s Tangled is cunning and manipulative. She took Rapunzel to use her hair, all the while convincing her “daughter” that she truly loved her. She becomes cruel once Rapunzel runs away, and shows her true colors when Rapunzel realizes the truth. In this version, she actually dies, falling out a window and basically disappearing.

Next is the love interest. In the Barbie version, Stefan is a prince (though he doesn’t want Rapunzel to know that). He has four younger siblings — a brother and triplet sisters — and seems to be the perfect big brother to them. His disagreements with his father are about his feud, though it’s clear he respects him. He’s kind and respectful to those around him, though he does have a pretty good sense of humor. He falls in love with Rapunzel because she doesn’t treat him differently.

In the Disney version, it’s Eugene/Flynn. He’s a wanted thief who finds Rapunzel by accident, and only reluctantly agrees to become her guide. But through their journey, he realizes that he cares about her. That’s demonstrated when he sacrifices his life, though he does come back thanks to her magic.

Last of all is the main character. Throughout the Barbie movie, she’s kind and loyal, sacrificing her freedom to ensure Penelope’s father safety. She stands up to Gothel, despite the consequences. She’s also determined to escape — and believes that she will, despite being denied her freedom time and time again. By the end of the movie, she’s reunited with her family, ended the feud, and married Prince Stefan.

Tangled’s Rapunzel couldn’t be any different. She begins as a curious, artistic young girl living with someone who clearly isn’t her mother, but who she believes as her tower is all she’s ever known. She longs to see the floating lights, and will do whatever it takes to do so. But during her journey, she slowly realizes all the lies her “mother” has told her. The world isn’t a vast expanse of misery, and no one is out to get her hair (unless they’re explicitly told to, like the Stabbingtons). Most importantly, she’s not Gothel’s daughter — she’s the lost princesss, who everyone wants to return. She also realizes that her companion is actually a pretty amazing guy, and falls in love with him. But unlike her Barbie counterpart, they aren’t officially married until later.

All told, both are wonderful adaptations that do different things well. The Rapunzel from the Barbie version is unique, and Gothel herself is terrifying from start to finish. And the character relationships in the Disney version are fabulous, and the music is fantastic. There are strengths and weaknesses to both. In the end, they both tell the tale well, if in distinct ways.

Thanks so much for reading! As always, there’s a link at the bottom to follow my blog, if you would like to do so. You can also contact me by email or follow me using the buttons on my homepage. On my social media, I let my followers know whenever I have a new blog post and give occasional updates about my life.

What do you think about both versions of Rapunzel? Which is your favorite — or do you absolutely hate one or the other? Let me know in the comments!

And if you have any suggestions about topics, let me know there as well. I’d love to hear them!

Your Fairytale Enthusiast,

Kirsten Hardin

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