Faerie Tale Theatre 2.01: “Rapunzel”

Once upon a time, in a magical decade known as the Nineteen Eighties, a then-modest little cable network called Showtime decided to launch its very first original television series. Although today known best for programs about serial killers, drug-addicted caregivers, and criminal suburban mothers, this was a quainter, more distant era, all but lost to the mists of time, and thus it was pronounced throughout the land that this first production wouldn’t be an edgy tragicomedy at all but rather an anthology series composed of beloved children’s tales known as Faerie Tale Theatre, produced by the actress, Shelley Duvall, who assembled all of her closest Hollywood celebrity friends to appear in modern dramatizations of the most cherished children’s stories of yesteryear.

As a child, I fell in love with Faerie Tale Theatre and watched it whenever I could. Unfortunately, however, my family didn’t have premium cable back then, so I was only able to see whatever episodes were available to rent on video and/or my mom’s friends were able to record off their TV for me, and/or eventually showed up on PBS. And so, while out of the 27 filmed episodes, there are some I watched over and over until I practically wore out the tapes, others I still haven’t seen up to this point.

And now, years later, I’ve decided to finally revisit this cherished series from my childhood, in order, continuing with the third episode, Rapunzel, which first aired on February 5, 1983, when I was just almost 2 years old, and was one of my very favorite episodes, growing up…

Rapunzel

Rapunzel

Rapunzel is actually Faerie Tale Theatre‘s second season premiere (yup, season 1 is only 2 episodes long…and people today complain about Sherlock series being too short!), and is a significant step up from the first two episodes. Although the budget doesn’t seem to have improved much, the visuals are stronger, and the writing and pacing tighter. I enjoyed season 1 but each of its episode had some lulls, whereas this one was completely involving from start to finish.

This may just have something to do with this one being a lot darker than the previous stories. Disney’s Tangled this ain’t. Rather than going the overall sunnier, brighter, more comedic route of that film, the Faerie Tale Theatre version of Rapunzel is far more grim(m), and faithful to the original story, to boot, with certain moments that ride the razor edge into horror, or at least properly scary.

This darkness manifests right near the start of the show, when the candlemaker’s wife–played by Shelley Duvall, in her second acting role on her series, after Rumpelstiltskin–beseeches her candlemaker husband–played by a young Jeff Bridges obscured beneath old person makeup and huge, white whiskers–…

The Candlemaker

The Candlemaker

…to sneak into their frightening next door neighbor lady’s garden to steal some radishes–a special kind of radish called a “rapun”–for her, in order to fulfill her desperate pregnancy craving.

The episode’s first–and probably its smartest–twist on the Grimm tale is that the wife’s pleas actually aren’t coming from nowhere. Instead, the witch–played by Gena Rowlands–is actually orchestrating the entire thing, in order to lure the candlemaker to rob from her garden, presumably so that she can later make her horrifying demand. In an early, eminently eerie scene, she stands in a black cape in her haunted garden, bestrewn with cobwebs and echoing with howling sounds, glimpses the candlemaker’s wife’s image through a glass pear and repeats the phrase, “Rapun… Rapun… Rapundulous” over and over, in a husky, hypnotic voice, seeming to infect the woman with an obsession for her radishes.

And the show continues to play the candlemaker’s wife’s need for the radishes as a compulsion and addiction. In a sequence that is both darkly comedic and unsettling, we watch her almost mindlessly devouring radish after radish, eating some raw…

Radishes!

Radishes!

…putting some on shish kebabs…

Yum!

Yum!

…baking others into pies…

Pie!

Pie!

…dipping others into chocolate fondue…

Fondue!

Fondue!

…seemingly enraptured by each bite but also almost robotically shoveling each one into her mouth. You’d think she was a Fraggle!

Author: Robert Berg

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2 Comments

  1. I seriously love Faerie Tale Theatre…am about the same age as you (1986 birth date)……and it is due to THIS episode that I began making chocolate-covered-radish desserts. I literally just made a cookie sheet’s worth of them for my co-workers. I’ve been at it for a decade now. Received the FTT DVD boxset as a Christmas present one year and have been non-stop ever since! I also recall with great affection going to the local video store (RIP — it’s a tanning salon now) and renting out sometimes 3 FTT’s a pop. The cover art and storybook video-box design that actually opened up were flawless. + let’s not forget the brilliant original theme music…idiotically changed for the single-episode-DVD releases of the early-00s. Sitting here, eating a bowl of chocolate-covered-radishes, on my first day of “summer break”, I tossed in Frog Prince and Rapunzel. On a whim, I started researching the origins of the terms: ‘rapunzel’; ‘rapun’; ‘radish’, and that’s how I came upon your blog. I very much appreciated it and wanted to write in. Good day to you!

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  2. Hi, I grew up watching these episodes and Rapunzel was definitely one of my favorites. Some of it was quite scary but still so fascinating. The evil screaming radish in the Mother’s nightmare always was, still is, and always will be absolutely terrifying forever more.
    One thing I am so badly wanting to find out is, that music, that very weird, strange and hypnotic sequence of notes, that musical melody phrase that starts immediately as the Mother bites into a radish and you hear the crunch. I heard that very same musical melody phrase briefly on a reality show “90-day Fiance”, and instantly recognized it, and it sounded as if this version had been recorded with the traditional musical instruments of a symphonic orchestra. It must be a somewhat fairly familiar piece of music to classical genre enthusiasts, but I have no idea what the name of it is or who composed it. I have searched the episode credits, blogs, information anywhere I could find, and still have know answer, so I was just wondering if you might possibly know? Thanks

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