Due to popular demand (read: one request), I’ve once again played matchmaker between Disney couples and the originals. All four dates went terribly, but that’s what you came to see, wasn’t it?
#4: Rapunzel and Eugene/ Rapunzel and the prince
Despite being movie-star attractive, Rapunzel and Eugene are non-plussed by the other’s good looks and instead form a slow and realistic bond over escaping guards, general optimism and a preference for wide open spaces. Over the course of the film they go from willingly defrauding or knocking the other unconscious to a romance that takes flight as warmly and slowly as one of Rapunzel’s birthday lanterns. A solid foundation for marriage then.
If the Grimms’ Rapunzel and the prince saw the image above, they’d think the two were mortal enemies or something.
Struck by Rapunzel’s beauty, the prince impersonates her fairy guardian so she lets him into her tower, and after a brief bout of conversation, it’s implied the two are at it like rabbits for weeks on end. The game’s only up when the fairy visits one day and Rapunzel innocently asks why her stomach has swollen up like a balloon. The girl is shamefully cast out and disowned, the prince attempts suicide and goes blind at the news, but then years later they bump into each other in the forest and are reunited with their two twins toddling around their feet. Um…ahhh, I suppose?
Romance Verdict: Heights of Passion
The only hint of sexual chemistry in the Disney version is in the poster, where Rapunzel and Eugene are peeping cheekily out from her blonde tresses. Otherwise, it’s a slow burner ending in marriage, at least for a film romance. The Grimms’ couple can barely contain themselves and Rapunzel ends up pregnant and homeless while the prince literally throws himself into despair for a few years. The trauma for this couple comes after they get together, whereas for the Disney version it’s the trauma that ignites the fires of passion. Happily, both couples survive hell and high water and become stronger than ever. Sadly, the opposite is true for our next couple.
#3: Bernard and Bianca
From: The Rescuers/The Rescuers Down Under
Elegance and chivalry are the order of the day for this mousey pair. Regardless of their social standing, the international ambassador and society caretaker exchange a few coy and curious glances before accidentally-on-purpose going on a mission together. The glamorous Bianca wastes no time flirting, ribbing and cheekily kissing her co-agent, while a pleasantly surprised Bernard puts on his most gentlemanly manner and does his best to protect and impress her, to the point that he still addresses her as “Miss Bianca” even when they’re supposedly an item and he’s looking to propose. Bianca accepts in the most romantic scenery ever – soaring into the night sky on an eagle’s back – and the two presumably live happily ever after.
Contrary to popular belief, death-defying situations don’t always send hormones a-buzzing. Not least when you have appearances to keep up.
Although Miss Bianca loves Bernard dearly, it’s merely platonic. She’s the chairwoman of the Prisoners’ Aid Society, raised in the lap of luxury, and he’s a pantry-worker turned Society Secretary with an entirely different upbringing, so as far as Bianca’s concerned, he’s off-limits. She advertises this by refusing to let him keep her lost necklace, and by repeatedly telling him to treat her like a sister. Duty is her real spouse, and she never flinches from it. Nevertheless, Bernard follows her around like a puppy and drops everything to help her, secretly hoping she might one day change her mind.
Romance Verdict: Hard Cheese
Disney’s Bianca doesn’t care about the social order at all – all she sees is a brave and practical mouse whom she clicks with. What’s more, she’s the one who instigates the romance, and Bernard didn’t seem to expect it. This is the utter opposite of the book: although Bianca is by no means a snob, she rejects Bernard on the basis that they’re worlds apart, and he’s the one who doesn’t seem bothered by the class divide. Most Disney films are about characters casting everything aside for the power of love, so it’s no surprise that these two mice cross the boundary. However, social rules can sometimes be a saving grace.
#2: Kala and Kerchak
I admit “couple” is pushing it a bit here, but Kala and Kerchak do have a child together. And kudos again to Disney – they got the gorilla family right. A troop is made up of a dominant male and his ladies, and so Kala is just one of Kerchak’s mates. Nonetheless, he genuinely cares about her and their ill-fated baby and eventually the adopted Tarzan, and Kala seems to be the only member of the troop who can talk him round when he flies into a rage. They’re not an exclusive couple, but they complement each other, and you get the sense that if Kerchak can confide in anyone, it’s Kala.
The brutal, animalistic apes in the original are as far from caring as they can be, even towards each other. Kerchak frequently attempts to murder his cohorts when in a strop, and it’s his attack on Kala that makes her drop her own baby to its death. Not that Kerchak would care as it wasn’t even his – Kala is mated to another grumpy ape called Tublat and is frequently hassled and beaten by him until an older Tarzan intervenes. While it’s implied Kerchak wants her in his troop because she is of breeding age, Kala is not known to mate with him at any point. Thank goodness for small mercies!
Romance Verdict: Ape Accessory
Burroughs’ apes aren’t gorillas, so being in Kerchak’s troop doesn’t automatically make Kala his mate. Instead she’s just another whipping girl with expendable children, possibly kept around for morale or eye candy (now isn’t that a lovely image). Conversely, Disney’s Kerchak genuinely cares about his females and their young, even a baby that isn’t his, and Kala is unmoved rather than targeted by his tantrums.This is to keep closer to the gorilla lifestyle and show the apes as an alternative loving family for Tarzan. But in their quest for a happy couple, Disney can go even further than mopping up domestic abuse and infanticide. How much further?
As high as the sycamore grows.
#1: Pocahontas and John Smith
These star-crossed lovers are both greatly respected and frowned upon in their respective cultures. Pocahontas, the chief’s daughter, doesn’t want to marry the best warrior and is more interested in diving and singing than taking her place in the Powhatan tribe. For his part, John Smith risks impossible odds to save his crew and show off at the same time, while also becoming involved with the Powhatan, their supposed enemy. The two sparks soon ignite a fire, and a romance that results in Pocahontas dramatically shielding Smith from her father’s war club, an act that unites their disparate peoples and echoes through the ages. Even though their love’s left to smoulder when an injured Smith leaves for England, the pair will always see each other in the colours of the wind.
Thanks to a mixture of disinterest, possible exaggeration and hearsay, it’s hard to pin down the “official” story of Pocahontas. But three of the four sources in my post take issue with the following: even though one of them was naked when they first met, the Powhatan girl and John Smith had no romantic relationship whatsoever. Not least because she was 10 years old, 13 tops, when she first clapped eyes on the Englishman.
What’s more, they probably only saw each other when Pocahontas’ father sent food to the colonists as a goodwill gesture, and this would only have happened after the legendary “rescue”. And this is legendary as in “we probably made it up” – two of the four sources vehemently deny the girl ever protected Smith from the chief’s club. If it happened at all, it was play-acting and he was never in any danger. As for uniting their peoples, their partnership was precarious at best, and thanks to the grab-happy English and wary natives, it was deteriorating even before Smith blew himself up and was sent home. By the time he met Pocahontas again in England some years later, she was already married with a child, and was understandably irked at him. I’ll leave you to decide whether it was due to any romantic regrets, because it took him at least a month to pay her a visit, or because his people had caused many a shit-storm among her own. Or kidnapped her and killed her first husband. But the course of true love never ran smoothly, did it?
Romance Verdict: Cross Culture
Man alive. Where to start with this one?
Disney got an army of cupids from Fantasia, borrowed Winnie the Pooh’s honey stockpile and got them to bury the story in syrupy arrows before covering their ears and singing louder than Ariel. The couple sadly parting ways at the end of the film is a fairytale wedding compared to what probably happened in real life: an invading Englishman nodding indulgently at a boisterous, prepubescent girl before he led his own people – indirectly or not – to take her lands by force. If you can find a more severe example of Disney sugar-coating, I don’t believe you.
Are there any Disney romances you think should or shouldn’t have happened? Let me know in the comments by clicking the small “+” sign down to your right.