Rapunzel’s Hairy Story Problems

It seems to me that one of the biggest trends within Disney’s Revival era is that most of the films go through at least one drastic story change before they turn into the final version released in theatres. The Princess and the Frog went from the story of a maid to the story of a chef. Frozen’s Elsa went from evil queen to loving sister. Most recently, Zootopia went from the story of Nick to the story of Judy. Yet, of the all the most recent Disney films, I feel like Tangled went through some of the most interesting and drastic changes. Given that the film was created during a tumultuous time in the studio’s history, that’s not very surprising. Over a ten year period, three incredibly different versions of the story of Rapunzel were developed at Walt Disney Animation. There is the final version of the film, the one we now know as Tangled (although many of you probably know that the film received this title very late in the game ).There was also a version entitled Rapunzel: Unbraided which was conceived as a satirical fairy-tale that would compete with Shrek.  Then there was the film I will refer to as Rapunzel , which was conceived as a dark, dramatic, and visually stunning classic fairy tale.  These two alternative versions of Rapunzel’s story could not have been more different from each other. Just compare these two pieces of concept art, one for each version of the film, both created by artist Claire Keane, and you’ll begin to get a sense of the drastic changes that were made during the development of Rapunzel’s story.



A Bad Hair Day: The Story of Rapunzel: Unbraided


The idea for a film based on the fairy tale Rapunzel was first formed by the legendary Disney animator Glen Keane while he was working on Tarzan around 1999. He wanted to tell a classic and sincere Disney fairy tale and use traditional hand drawn animation to do so. He proposed the film to Michael Eisner, who at the time was the CEO of the entire Walt Disney Company, as well as to David Stanton, who was the head of Walt Disney Animation. They both agreed that it was a good idea for a film, and that Glen Keane would make an excellent director, but they wanted the studio to start moving away from hand drawn animation. So they told Glen Keane that he could only direct the film if it was made with CG animation. Keane was sceptical of this idea at first, because he didn’t think that CG was capable of making a film look as beautiful as you could with hand drawn animation. So Disney’s CG animators set out to do a bunch of animation tests to convince Glen Keane the film could be made the way he wanted. One of the most important tests done was an image of Rapunzel swinging in a forest made with CG animation, but meant to imitate the lush design of Fragonard’s classic painting “The Swing”. It was this test that convinced Glen Keane to make the film with CG animation.


The problem was, in 2001 Dreamworks released Shrek, and the films sarcastic humour made it a huge hit. After that, Disney executives felt that audiences were no longer interested in sincere fairy tales. Instead, they wanted a comedic film that would capitalise off of the success of Shrek by making fun of older Disney films. Michael Eisner thought that Rapunzel would be the perfect film for the job. He renamed it Rapunzel: Unbraided and came up with a completely new plot for the film. One of the biggest changes was that Eisner now wanted part of the film to take place in present day San Francisco. Rapunzel and her prince would now share the lead roles with two completely original characters, Claire and Vince, a modern day teen couple with relationship problems. Claire would have been voiced by Reese Witherspoon, who was also a producer of the film at the time.


Uncovering the plot of Rapunzel: Unbraided is a little complicated, as it’s a part of Tangled’s history that Disney doesn’t like to talk about. So I’m going to fill you in with what I have managed to uncover, but you’re going to have to use your imagination to fill in some of the blanks.



Here is some concept art of the Rapunzel: Unbraided designs of Rapunzel and the male lead of the film. This version of the prince was named Prince Beau, and he’s the only version I’m aware of who was actually a prince. This version of Rapunzel was going to be voiced by Broadway star Kristen Chenoweth. Remarkably, Rapunzel’s basic design stayed largely the same over the course of the many changes to the film’s story.  The biggest changes that occurred were to her wardrobe. Her dress started out as pink, but then was changed to red, and finally turned green where it remained until very late in the film’s production.



What I have managed to uncover about the plot of this film actually bears quite a few similarities to Enchanted.  Claire and Vince would have been discovered by a witch from the fairy tale world who was sick of happy endings. She would have used her magic to transport the couple to her world as part of her plot to prove that true love does not conquer all. There she would have turned them into Rapunzel and Beau, while the real Rapunzel and Beau would have been turned into a squirrel and a dog. This would have forced the four of them to team up, reverse the witches spell, and prove the power of love.  A short clip of the moment that Claire and Rapunzel realize they have switched places can be seen here.



As you may have noticed in the video clip, there were a lot more magical creatures in Rapunzel: Unbraided than there are in Tangled. There were fairies, gnomes, and even two-headed cyclopes. The witch looked nothing like Mother Gothel, but harkened back to the hag in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.





Although he did not get to tell the story he wanted with the film, Glen Keane tried his best to make sure Rapunzel: Unbraided still followed his lush stylistic vision, especially during the fairy tale sections. You can get a feel for how he wanted the film to look by watching the first few minutes of this pre-vis clip, which was basically a video made by the artists as a sort of vision board to share their stylistic concept for the film with the director, producers, and executives (the rest of the clip comes from early story reels and gives you a decent idea of some aspects of the film’s plot).

Eventually Michael Eisner and David Stanton were kicked out of the company, and Bob Iger became Disney’s new CEO ,while John Lasseter, head of Pixar, also became the head of Walt Disney Animation. He watched the story reels of Rapunzel: Unbraided and immediately told Glen Keane to start the film all over again, and to follow his own vision of a sincere and dramatic Disney fairy tale.


Brushing Out the Knots: Glen Keane’s Rapunzel


Not a whole lot is known about Glen Keane’s version of Rapunzel either, but here’s what I do know. Keane continued to work towards a lush painterly style for the film, and in fact pushed animators even further towards that style once he gained back control over the film. He had technical teams working on new forms of CG animation that would imitate many of the aspects of hand drawn animation (this system would not actually be ready for use until the short film Paperman ). He wanted the film to have the glowing light and shadowy darkness of a Rembrandt painting and a renaissance style of costuming. This can be seen within his daughters many concept painting from this period of the film’s development.



The male lead of the film got a complete makeover. He was no longer called Beau, and he was no longer a prince. Instead he became a devilishly handsome rogue called… Bastion. Bastion’s design was a bit of a pirate mixed with a gypsy.



The plot of the film was going to be significantly darker than the version we know today, something closer in tone to Hunchback of Notre Dame. Rapunzel’s tower, for example, was not going to be a place where she could express herself creatively as it is in Tangled, but rather a dark and oppressive place where Mother Gothel’s presence was constantly felt



Instead of fighting with a silly frying pan, Rapunzel was y going to be skilled at using a crossbow. She even would have worn leather wrist guards throughout the film to protect her arms while shooting.



The dog and the squirrel also remained in the story, but as normal cuddly sidekicks instead of transformed people. I believe the fairies also remained, but in what capacity I’m not entirely sure.

rapunzel 2



Despite Keane’s efforts the film continued to have story problems, even after he brought in story artists Dean Wellins as his co-director. Then Keane suffered a heart attack, and decided to step down as director of the film. This closed the book on his version of the story of Rapunzel.


The Final Cut: How Rapunzel turned into Tangled


After Keane’s heart attack, John Lasseter selected Nathan Greno and Bryan Howard, two story artists who had worked on Bolt, as the new directors of the film. They immediately began to lighten the tone of the film, turning it into more of a romantic comedy. They then made a number of changes, some more drastic than others. Rapunzel continued to wear green until pretty far into production, when her dress was made purple.  The dog was cut from the film, the squirrel turned into a chameleon, and a horse was added for good measure. Bastion became a big muscular guy reminiscent of Kristoff, before becoming the Flynn Rider we know today.  The title was changed from Rapunzel to Tangled to reflect that the film now had two protagonists, Rapunzel and Flynn. Greno and Howard then had two years to come up with a story that worked and finish the film, and it was not easy to do, but that is a story for another article.

Rapunzel 2.png



There you have it, some of the rather hairy story of the development of Disney’s adaptation of Rapunzel. Given all the chaos going on from an executive level in the company at the time, it’s really no surprise that it had such an effect on the film. Glen Keane may have originally proposed a film based on Rapunzel, but it was CEO Michael Eisner who suggested it be animated in CG, and who suggested the modernized comedic plot of Rapunzel: Unbraided . When Eisner went, so did his version of the film, and Lasseter allowed Keane to start putting together his own lush vision. Unfortunately, due to Keane’s heart attack we will never know what his serious version of the film would have been like had it got past its story problems and made it to the movie theatre. Instead, we got Nathan Greno and Bryan Howard’s Tangled a mix of light and serious perfect for modern audiences. Although Tangled went onto be a wonderful and hugely successful film, one can’t help but wonder just what the two alternative versions of the film would have been like. I leave you with that thought, and one more piece of concept from those two lost versions, to consider what could have been.




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Image Credit
Images 1, 2, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 20, 24, 25, and 28: Claire on a Cloud
Image 3: ‘”Rapunzel Unbraided” Aims to be “…a Film of Astonishing Beauty.”’
Images 4, 17, 21, and 23: ArtofTangled.tumblr.com
Images 5 and 9: ‘Toon Tuesday: Can Glen Keane straighten out all of “Rapunzel” ‘s Story Snarls By June?.’
Images 6, 10, and 19: CG Meetup
Images 7, 8, and 11: ‘Don’t Toy with Me! An Extra-Long Hair-of-the-Dog Edition of Why For.’
Image 18: DisneyConceptsandStuff.tumblr.com
Images 22 and 27: Living Lines Library
Image 26: ‘Disney Animated’
Image 29: ClaireonaCloud.tumblr.com





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