I’ve talked a lot about fairy tale adaptations this week; I’m sure I don’t need to say that I think being able to differentiate yours from the numerous other adaptations out there is one of the most important parts of the creation process. But how can you get a unique plot out of a story that’s been going around the household for centuries?
To give an example, I’m going to look at two Rapunzel adaptations I came across in the span of a month: that charming movie Tangled (how did you guess?), which mostly plays the story straight, and the somewhat older graphic novel Rapunzel’s Revenge, which… takes the story, drops it in the Old West, shakes it up a few times and gives up entirely on the original sequence of events while still keeping the overall plot skeleton. It’s an interesting choice, particularly given that both make their heroine a lot more proactive; of all the archetypical damsel-types who really don’t do much in their original stories, I’d be most inclined to give Rapunzel a pass on her passivity—heck, with normal physics you could probably disable her by dunking her head in a duckpond and letting the resulting weight do the rest. (Then again, as both of these adaptations point out, you’d have to be pretty strong to haul that hair and whatever might cling to it on a regular basis.)
Of course, they start with the basic kernel of the fairytale. Girl with long hair, check. Named after salad (though this fact is ignored in Tangled; yes, it’s still set off by a plant, but….), stuck in tall tower by a witch (in both cases with a name that’s a variation on Gothel, I still want to know what version of the original gave her a name) who pretends to be her mother, and there’s a love interest in there somewhere.
Both cases actually try to explain the hair, rather than just considering its absurd length a logical result of sitting around in a tower for eighteen years and apparently not being allowed near sharp objects. In the case of Tangled, it’s magic sunbeam-hair with healing properties activated by singing, and drives the plot in a way that a pregnant woman’s cravings for salad apparently cannot (I could probably get an entire post out of my thoughts on the decision to make this one a princess by birth, given it’s the only Rapunzel variant I’ve seen that hasn’t involved lettuce thievery and its consequences as origin story). in Rapunzel’s Revenge, it’s the result of being stuck at the top of a tree with a heavy saturation of the growth magic that seems to be Gothel’s signature tactic.
The love interests of both comprise one thing that the adaptations have in common with each other but do not share with the original story. In both cases, they’re thieves of sorts with hearts of gold who serve as guides to The World Outside and provide further conflict in the form of the Law chasing after them. Neither, though, is the sole impetus for Rapunzel to leave the tower—Tangled’s Rapunzel has already made up her mind, and she captures the intruder in her tower by reflex and blackmails him into playing guide/bodyguard, while RR!Rapunzel got out of the tower—er, tree—herself (not much choice there, since the thing was sealing up) and doesn’t even meet her guide/love interest until later.
Then there’s the most important thing they share with each other but not with the original: these Rapunzels are not content to sit and sing and comb their hair. Tangled’s Rapunzel isn’t too much of a boat-rocker, but she wants one thing and wants it like mad: she is going to see what those funny lights that rise on her birthday are (one wonders why Gothel didn’t lie to her about said birthday, but that’s another question), no matter how against the idea dear Mumsy is nor how many people she has to brain with a frying pan and blackmail, convert to her side with a song and dance number about dreams, or otherwise circumvent to get there. And then there’s RR!Rapunzel, who takes it all one step further; her “mother” is a dictator who’s enslaved her real mother (along with pretty much the rest of the surrounding people) and used her growth magic to drain the land around dry—and backlash to this has given her a hero complex and a burning desire for revenge, neither of whom lets her stay still for more than a night’s rest.
Looking at all these similarities, would you expect there to be such drastic differences between the results?