|27th November 2010||#1|
Join Date: July 2005
Rapunzel: Disney's timeless beauty
From the Kelsey Olson interview that we posted earlier this year, readers will know in what high regard we hold the great Walt Disney and his dream of reconnecting European-Americans to their Old World heritage. For that reason, and many others, the new film Tangled--Disney's adaptation of the Rapunzel fairy-tale--richly deserves a mention on this forum.
As it happens, one of those reasons even concerns the specific topic of body image.
In brief, the movie tells of a princess, Rapunzel, who is stolen from her parents by an evildoer who pretends to be Rapunzel's mother, then locks her away in a secret tower for 18 years.
Rapunzel herself is a stunning vision of loveliness--second only to Brier Rose from Sleeping Beauty as the most gorgeous of all Disney princesses. Whereas Aurora is ladylike and elegant, though, Rapunzel is more delightfully girlish. Her look is a cross between Kelsey Olson and Chloe Agnew, featuring Chloe's magnificent hairstyle and Kelsey's big, doll-like eyes and adorable, turned-up nose and round facial features.
With the predictable caveat that Rapunzel is thin rather than curvaceous, this is the closest that Disney has come in several generations to depicting the timeless ideal of feminine beauty. The company has spent decades celebrating ethnic heroines of every variety, but in Rapunzel, Disney at last returns to its roots in Brothers Grimm folklore, with a fair-haired, doll-faced princess exhibiting a peaches-and-cream complexion.
Mother Gothel, on the other hand--the scheming antagonist of the story--is depicted as Rapunzel's physical opposite: sable-locked rather than blonde; frizzy-haired rather than straight-haired. Such a contrast between fair-featured goodness and dark-featured wickedness is, of course, prevalent in European folklore. In this day and age, however, it is remarkable and courageous for Disney to be revisiting this polarity, especially given the fact that Hollywood has spent decades pushing the opposite trope, whereby ostensibly "evil" female characters in teen films, such as head cheerleaders and prom queens, are invariably depicted as blonde, whilst politically correct (and therefore supposedly "virtuous") characters are presented as dark-haired.
Personality-wise, Mother Gothel brings a contemporary psychological dimension to her wickedness. She is not an overt harridan to Rapunzel, but rather a passive-aggressive manipulator who slyly exploits the young blonde's innocence and naïveté. Their relationship constitutes a female equivalent of Wagner's Ring cycle, in which the heroic Siegfried, the golden boy of myth, is brought up by Mime, the dark and evil Nibelung.
As for the movie as a whole, it is a flawed masterpiece. The most agreeable element by far is Rapunzel herself. Beyond being extremely beautiful, she is the most genuinely likable of all of the Disney princesses. She is youthful and innocent, yet energetic and vivacious, and truly feminine, but in a delightfully girlish sort of way. She has a rich inner life--as anyone living alone in a tower for 18 years surely would. She loves art and literature, but lacks the snobbery and smug superiority that makes Belle in Beauty and the Beast somewhat off-putting.
A plus-size model with golden tresses such as these would have the world at her feet.
The second point of distinction in this film is its physical environment. Tangled exhibits the most gorgeous visual dreamscape of any Disney film since Sleeping Beauty. It is not a coincidence that both Sleeping Beauty and Tangled are the most visually Germanic of Disney's films, and also the most beautiful. Just look at the magnificent splendour of the Teutonic Urwald, the primordial forest of Northern Europe, as depicted in the Tangled concept art:
The initial sketches of Rapunzel's tower show a distinctively half-timbered structure atop the kind of defensive tower that distinguishes numerous German medieval castles,
like the famed Sinnwellturm of the Imperial Castle in Nürnberg.
Although later designs modified the tower to more closely resemble a French structure,
in the final cut of the film, Rapunzel's tower has recovered its Germanic elements. The secret valley in which the tower is situated is also breathtaking, like something out of a dream.
The interior of the tower was eventually brightened to make it appear more feminine and appealing, but this initial design shows commendably authentic-looking medieval elements.
The royal palace where Princess Rapunzel was born, as well as its surrounding town, are likewise depicted as locations of enchanting beauty. A preliminary Disney painting shows traces of Mont Saint-Michel in the design,
as well as the influence of the Prussian Romantic artist Karl Friedrich Schinkel:
Compare the two Disney concept-art paintings, above, to the following pair of canvasses by Schinkel. First, Cathedral Towering over a Town (1813):
Next, Medieval Town on a River (1815):
Interestingly, the movie is governed by the same rich colour palette that fans have always associated with Shannon Marie: purples contrasting with greens and laced with golds. This colour scheme is evident in the design of Rapunzel herself, with her lavender dress, green chameleon sidekick, and golden hair. Such a colour combination appeared most prominently in Shannon Marie's final Fashion Bug ad: a purple outfit, a green chair, and, of course, her golden mane.
The rest of the film's characters vary widely in appeal.
Some of the film's weaknesses are quite surprising. The musical numbers are very poor--poor in musicality (often sounding more like tuneless recitatives than lyrical melodies), and poor in storytelling, as they do not advance the plot and could easily have been dispensed with. They seem like intrusions in the narrative.
Here are several enjoyable video clips highlighting to the best aspects of the film. First, a clever trailer focussing on the delightful lead character:
Second, a similar trailer introducing the antagonist, Mother Gothel:
Third, our favourite clip: a video called "Creating the Look," which describes how the directors conceived of the visual style of the movie (which is its strongest aspect):
All in all, despite its significant flaws, Tangled is a thoroughly enjoyable film, and easily one of Disney's best fairy-tale adaptations. It blessedly avoids political correctness (which is the bane of modern filmmaking) and tells a traditional story in an engaging manner. Above all, it creates a lead character in Rapunzel who is remarkably attractive and also extremely likable, one who is much closer to the timeless ideal of fair, feminine beauty than anyone has any right to expect in the modern day and age.
Last edited by HSG : 28th November 2010 at 17:23.
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