The Disney Films That Never Were: RAPUNZEL UNBRAIDED - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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The Disney Films That Never Were: RAPUNZEL UNBRAIDED

That time she didn't throw down her hair...

Released in November 2010, Tangled became Walt Disney pictures 50th animated feature. Loosely based on the German fairy tale "Rapunzel" in the collection of folk tales published by the Brothers Grimm, the film tells the story of a lost, young princess with magical long blonde hair who yearns to leave her secluded tower. Against her mother's wishes, she accepts the aid of an intruder to take her out into the world which she has never seen.

Before the film's release, its title was changed from Rapunzel to Tangled, reportedly to market the film gender-neutrally, but that simple name change is nothing when compared to the total change of style and tone the film started out as, because prior to 2008 the film was known as Rapunzel Unbraided, and it was to be set partly in modern day San Francisco!

Rapunzel & Claire (Rapunzel's the squirrel!)

What eventually ended up morphing into Tangled originated back in 1996 from an idea by Disney supervising animator Glen Keane. It would be another 5 years before Keane pitched the idea to then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner who approved it as long as it was created using 3D computer graphics.

Keane had originally wanted the film to be animated using a traditional 2D animation process, and was hesitant of Eisner's suggestion as he felt computer animation was not quite as fluid or organic as traditional animation was. In response to that demand, Keane held a seminar called "The Best of Both Worlds", where he, with 50 Disney CGI artists and traditional artists, focused on the pros and cons of each style. After the meeting, it was decided that the film would be made in 3D CG animation, but in a way as to become an extension of the traditional 2D Disney "aesthetic", a term which referred to the naturalistic animation that conforms to the fundamental principles of animation as documented by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston in the book The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation.

In October 2003, the film was announced as Rapunzel Unbraided, with a scheduled 2007 release date. Keane described it as "a Shrek-like version of the story [of Rapunzel]". All round it was an entirely different concept to what eventually became Tangled. The real Rapunzel wasn't exactly the lead character, rather the story was to focus on a couple of teenagers from San Francisco called Claire and Vince who are magically transported into the fairy tale world and inhabit the bodies of Rapunzel and her prince.

The plot of the proposed film made it into the public domain...
An evil witch named Lucretia despised fairy tale happy endings and plotted to change all that. Meanwhile in modern day San Francisco, Claire and Vince are two vastly opposite teenagers who cannot stand one another. Claire is a short haired, fashion obsessed teen who was concerned with her looks. Vince is a stocky and crude pizza delivery boy on hard times. The two of them get on each other's nerves which gets the attention of Lucretia in the fairy tale realm. Lucretia takes Rapunzel and her prince Beau and transforms them into a squirrel and dog, respectively, while Claire and Vince find themselves filling their roles. Claire and Vince eventually team up with Rapunzel and Beau to defeat Lucretia and return to their respective places in time. 
An experimental art and story concept video of Rapunzel Unbraided also eventually surfaced on the internet...

Keane felt...
" was a fun, wonderful, witty version and we had a couple of great writers."
Not only great writers but a great cast too. Reese Witherspoon was to voice Claire, with Dan Fogler as Vince and Kristin Chenoweth as Rapunzel. But Keane just couldn't make the idea work.
"In my heart of hearts I believed there was something much more sincere and genuine to get out of the story, so we set it aside and went back to the roots of the original fairy tale."
In November 2005, Unbraided was pushed back to a summer 2009 release. The official word was that this was in order to give Keane "more time to work on the story". However in January 2006 Disney bought Pixar in a deal that put Pixar chiefs Edwin Catmull and John Lasseter in charge of all Disney Animation, as we discussed here. A week before that deal went through Disney went about shuttering several projects as part of a cost cutting exercise, one of their animated features in production that got the axe was Rapunzel Unbraided.

But... One of the first decisions Catmull and Lasseter made when they took charge was to restart the project and they asked Glen Keane to keep going with the film. With Annie-nominated animator and story artist Dean Wellins joining him as co-director, the pair developed a new story.

And so began the next phase of the film that would eventually become Tangled, now known simply as Rapunzel.

This back to the drawing board version was closer to the final film but would have been darker, in the vein of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Claire, Vince and San Francisco were all dropped and Rapunzel was back to being the lead, but in this version she was a mostly quiet character with limited speech.

Mother Gothel was a much more subtle villain with a sinister edge to her. Beau the dog became the sidekick to Bastion, an orphaned young man who is forced into a life of thievery. He worked for a man named Griffol who had been keeping the kingdom of Corona in a state of war since Rapunzel's kidnapping. Bastion finds the tower that Rapunzel has been kept in and they eventually form a close bond.

Perhaps the biggest difference between the proposed film Rapunzel and the released film Tangled is that in the earlier version, Rapunzel would have spent the majority of the film in the tower, only coming down in the last act. 

The above three images were released in April 2008, with a December 2010 release date announced at the same time. However, on October 9th 2008 it was reported that Keane and Wellins had stepped down as directors due to "other commitments", and were replaced by the team of Byron Howard and Nathan Greno, director and storyboard director, respectively, of Disney's 2008 animated feature Bolt. Howard and Greno oversaw significant changes, finally delivering the film we all know as Tangled in November 2010. (After Tangled's eventual release, Keane revealed the real reason why he had "stepped back" from the role of director was because of a heart attack.)

Thanks to its six years in the making, Tangled's production costs are estimated at $260 million, which makes it the most expensive animated film ever made and, as of June 2020, the twelfth most expensive film of all time (for comparison, Tangled cost more to produce than Star Wars: The Force Awakens).

Personally, Tangled is one of my favourite Disney films from the 21st Century. The back to back releases of Tangled & The Princess And The Frog saw a long overdue return to the more traditional Disney animated feature. I appreciate the feel of that style of movie rather than, say, Disney films like Bolt, Chicken Little, Home On The Range, Brother Bear etc, they never really worked for me.

So it may have taken 14 years from when Glen Keane first mooted the idea of a Disney Rapunzel movie, but it was worth the wait.

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The 1943 Sequel To Bambi
Where The Wild Things Are
Who Framed Roger Rabbit Two
Dumbo II
The Search For Mickey Mouse
The Original Non-Pixar Toy Story 3

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