Friday, April 09, 2010

Disney gets "Tangled" up in the name of Rapunzel

Here's an amusing and snarky rant...

Imagine this: A studio executive wants to market a new action movie. It has a burly male lead and an appropriately actiony title like “BOOM!” But then the executive realizes the with all the shooting and fighting and – yes – things that go boom, the movie is just too boyish. It simply won’t appeal to girls. And because girls are THE most important demographic to movie studios, the executive decides to change the movie’s name to “Kiss” and make the female character’s role bigger. And tada! Now that’s a movie we can sell!

Never gonna happen, right? Right. But now flip the original character’s gender and you have exactly what is happening with the new Disney adaptation of Rapunzel. The animated film’s name was recently changed from Rapunzel, the fairy tale everyone knows, to Tangled, something that sounds like a conditioner commercial. Disney was initially coy about the reasoning, but then the Los Angeles Times did some digging and found out the movie’s name was changed to appeal to boys.

[Editor: I love Dorothy's perspective here, but the issue isn't that extreme. The funny thing is that movies geared toward young girls sell for the whole family. Movies geared to young boys... not so much. For example, Princess and the Frog didn't do as well as hoped, but it did a lot better than Altantis and Treasure Planet (and Clone Wars, TMNT, Final Fantasy, Titan AE, Sinbad, El Dorado, etc.)!]

No, I am not kidding. You see, after The Princess and the Frog didn’t do as well as the studio had hoped (just $222 million worldwide – or, as I like to call it, chump change), they came to the conclusion it was because boys did not want to go see a movie with a princesses’ name in the title. So instead of embracing a genre it pretty much invented with its princess movies, Disney is running from its female-friendly formula and going macho.

So instead of focusing on Rapunzel, the girl locked away in a tower who uses her long, flowing tresses to help her get rescued by a handsome prince, they’ve punched up the prince. As the LA Times reports, the story now has “swashbuckling action” with a “dashing Errol Flynn-styled male lead to share the spotlight with the golden-haired namesake of the classic Brothers Grimm story.” Mandy Moore voices Rapunzel and Chuck star Zachary Levi voices the new roguish Flynn Rider.

[Editor: I admit that Disney didn't go about this right. I mean there's no harm in beefing up the dude's role (you have to beef up every role or there's no movie). However, this is a poor way to announce it. Why announce that you're making the dude's role bigger? You could just wait and announce all the characters' roles more so that you aren't showing favoritism or appear like you only care about the boys. And they definitely shouldn't have changed the name of the story.]

On the Disney Animation Facebook page, producer Roy Conli wrote:

“In our film, the infamous bandit Flynn Rider meets his match in the girl with the 70 feet of magical golden hair. We're having a lot of fun pairing Flynn, who's seen it all, with Rapunzel, who's been locked away in a tower for 18 years.”

Oh good, an experienced bad boy meets a naïve young thing. No one has ever made that movie before.

This new strategy is insulting on so many levels. It’s insulting to girls, who are seen as the less important audience here. It is insulting to boys, who they think are so dumb to be bamboozled by a simple name change. And it’s insulting to boys and girls because it assumes they have such rigid and underdeveloped brains that they only want to see movies about their own gender. In short, it’s pretty... insulting.

[Editor: Once again, I think snarky Dorothy is taking it too hard. They're just trying to contrast the characters, and according to the original story, yes, the prince was the adventurer and Rapunzel dreamed of what it would be like outside the tower. Not too different from Aladdin. And they're not going to be bamboozled by anything. Names change all the time, and name changes do actually make a difference. However, you can't change the name of a fairy tale when it's named after the princess. Bad move by Disney. Disney should see this as an opportunity to win the female crowd.]

Ed Catmull, president of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios explains the decisions this way: “We did not want to be put in a box. Some people might assume it's a fairy tale for girls when it's not. We make movies to be appreciated and loved by everybody.”

Because fairy tales about female character clearly can’t be loved by everybody. Not Snow White, not Cinderella, not Sleeping Beauty, not The Little Mermaid, not Mulan, not Pocahontas. Nope, that’s just dumb girlie stuff.

[Editor: And to Dorothy's point, look at these princesses below. The only one who didn't headline the respective movie was Jasmine.]

The assumption in Hollywood that boys won’t see girl movies but girls will see boy movies is a self-perpetuating chestnut that the industry should be fighting instead of embracing. And, even if it was a movie that appealed mostly to women, what is so wrong with that? More than half the population of Earth has to be a large enough audience, right?


[Editor: And back to my earlier point, they've got the priorities wrong. The moms and daughters control the movie tickets, not the boys. When a boy wants to watch a He-Man movie or animated Batman movie (or Star Wars: Clone Wars, TMNT, Atlantis, Titan AE, Sinbad, Iron Giant, Treasure Planet, El Dorado, etc.) then the mom says "Wait for DVD" or "Go watch TV." Why? Because the mom would have to go too, and the mom (and sisters) don't want to watch a violent movie for boys. Appealing to the girls is much more effective than boys.]

Okay. I'm done with the italics. This is still the Editor writing (hello).

So Disney is upset about Princess and the Frog not performing well? First, it did better than it should have, BECAUSE it was aimed at girls. I'm also surprised at how well black ladies like it. It only did $270 million worldwide, but it only cost $105 million to make (cuz it was done in 2D). And the foreign release was really solid (like 60% of the sales).

I mean, I know girls love this movie. Know how? First, over 50 girls in the US got salmonella poisoning after kissing frogs. Bad parents! Bad! Second, guess who's twittering about how much they love the movie? Black girls:

So if the reason why it didn't do so hot isn't about the girls, then what's the reason? The movie. The movie? Yes, the movie. Now it's my turn to be snarky against Disney...

(1) Let's freak kids out by featuring voodoo and demons. Oh, great idea, geniuses! Sure Walt played with it with Fantasia, but that movie cost him a ton of money. He tried to play with the dark side again with Sleeping Beauty... also lost him money. Disney tried again in the 80s with Black Cauldron. Big flop. They were 0 for 3.

(2) Let's make the princess a frog for most of the movie. Oh, yeah, that makes sense! Why would girls want to see a princess, when they can enjoy a movie about what girls actually love... frogs. +2 genius points.

(3) Why would we want to tell a fun and delightful fairy tale (that ironically centers more around the prince, which would have given the movie that boy-factor they were missing), when instead we could make the movie based on a teen romance novel (that was received with mixed reviews) that was based on the fairy tale? And then we'll market it like there's some sort of twist (that she turns into a frog too), and like the twist is half as creative as the Shrek twist which is now considered normal. Yeah, great idea. It just made me want to go see the Shelley Duvall version with Robin Williams.

(4) So... about these characters... The alligator, bug, voodoo lady, and stuff (not even going to think about a squished bug turning into a star; let's kill your favorite character; it's okay... he's a star now). Cute characters. However, these aren't Disney quality. The characters and songs are fine, but I don't really care about them. Why? Because this is the story of frogs going on a road trip and running into other random characters. These characters don't really resonate. They don't connect well. Sure, Up pulled it off (disconnected characters), but Disney shouldn't take those chances. It's hard to care about characters that don't seem driven or connected.

So there you go. Disney, don't worry about the girl/boy audience. Worry about (1) your villains, (2) your heroes, (3) your story, and (4) your supporting characters. That's why your movie didn't do so well. Don't blame the girls that they didn't shell out the money or the boys that they didn't show up.



  1. I understand why they called it "Tangled." Not just to get the boys well entertained, but there are scenes in the synopsis that have created an example of the word "tangled," such as the bandit, named Flynn Rider, who gets "tangled" with Rapunzel after she made a deal for her freedom. Flynn and Rapunzel's romance can be "tangled." Even Rapunzel's hair can be "tangled" as well famous for her 70-feet of golden hair or blonde either way.

    I watched the teaser trailer of Disney's Tangled, it is very cool, but did not show the name of the story. Which means that Disney COULD, but that depends on their version of the story perhaps, change the title back, even though changing the title from "Rapunzel" to "Tangled" is official. However, on the leaked trailer before the teaser trailer that I have watched as well, it has revealed the title based on Disney's title change. It is really cool, but I do not have the taste buds on the new title that Disney made. In fact, I love the title logo that Disney made for Rapunzel; it is very beautiful, and entertaining. It makes me want to see it so much. But since they changed the title from "Rapunzel" to "Tangled," perhaps I could see it, but I would find it a flop.

    To tell you the truth, I find that title, "Tangled," misleading, funny, but misleading. To me it is like watching a parody of Shrek, Hoodwinked, and Happily N'ever After put together. But I understand that Disney is sticking to one fairy tale by the Grimm Brothers, but I am afraid what they are doing is disrespectful to not only the Grimm Brothers, but to Walt Disney as well, because Walt Disney would never change titles on fairy tales. He probably does not care about people, like boys, who complain about fairy tales with girlish titles being too girlish, the only thing that Disney cares about is not only making dreams come true for FAMILIES by adapting fairy tales into animated movies, but to fulfill famous fairy tale writers who has shaped the world of entertainment for every family around the world.

    Also, those boys need to "Dig a Little Deeper (according to the song from "The Princess and the Frog")," on the story of fairy tales with girlish titles, because what if Disney arranges the story to make it more interesting than typical? Maybe then, even though fairy tales have girlish titles, but it can have an excellent story for not just girls or boys, but for FAMILIES to enjoy, learn, and love. The only way that fairy tales could be too girlish, including the title, is if the story is too girlish. But through Disney's experience when it comes to adapting fairy tales into animated movies with girlish titles, they are all FAMILY. That is what makes Disney very special.

    One more thing, it is not the title that bothers boys, it is the story itself that is not strong enough. Some times, Disney probably accidentally made the story a little too girlish for “The Princess and the Frog,” than trying to make it a family type, especially when some of the characters that Disney has created are not receiving enough roles. My advice for Disney is that the next time they want to adapt fairy tales into animated movies; they should try to make the story strong to fit to the title based on the fairy tale, instead of changing the title.

  2. It is safe to say that both Dorothy and your points touch on the topic of sexism, but it is just as sexist to assume that it is always the mothers taking their children to the movies and that "the mom (and sisters) don't want to watch a violent movie for boys" as it is to assume that boys don't want to watch 'girl movies'. Why don't the "[fathers] control the movie tickets]?

  3. Dorothy is a little defensive and quick to call it sexist.

    My comments are also not sexist, nor do I accuse Disney of being sexist. I think Disney is a little unwise to announce it the way they did and to change the name of the film. As far as beefing up the prince character goes... they have to do that. How else are they going to fill up the time?

    My comments are not sexist. They are stereotypes based on factual information. Like all stereotypes, there are exceptions. However, many stereotypes are true, and this one definitely is. The mom controls the family movie ticket. If her son wants to see a movie and it isn't appealing to her and her daugheters (if she has any), then she won't go see it. Instead she will tell her son to watch it when it comes out on video and to go watch his TV cartoons instead. There is a huge young boys market on TV, but not much of one in the theaters.

    Most fathers won't go see those movies with their sons either. Why? Because a father typically isn't interested in watching an action cartoon in the theater. He'd rather watch an action film instead. So he's more likely to counter to his son to go watch Iron Man than Star Wars Clone Wars.

    This is why the following animated movies have done poorly in the theaters (especially in comparison to movies that are attractive to mothers): Final Fantasy, TMNT, Star Wars: Clone Wars, Sinbad, Treasure Planet, Atlantis, El Dorado, Jimmy Neutron, Ant Bully, Emperor's New Groove, Osmosis Jones, Titan AE, Black Cauldron, and Iron Giant. Every time that Disney and DreamWorks has aimed more exclusively at the young boy... the film undersells.

    Atlantis and its sequel sold well on video to boys at home. Emperor's New Groove also did much better on video, and it made a great TV show that was far more successful than the film. Osmosis Jones was very successful as a spin-off action cartoon, Ozzy and Drix (even though the original film flopped).

    It's a stereotype based on factual information.

    - TAE

  4. I think they should use `Tangled`as a sub-name, kind of like Pirates of the Caribbean: the Black Pearl, that way people would know that there is more to the story then just `Rapunzel,Rapunzel let down your hair`, but at the same time i keeps it`s fairy tale roots and in addition is also respectful to Walt Disney and the Grimm Brothers, like it could be something like `Rapunzel: the tangled years` or `Rapunzel: A tangled tale of epic proportions` or `Rapunzel: prepared to get tangled`

    the options are endless, and in my opinion it`s a very ideal compromise.

  5. Anony,

    If nothing else, one of those would have made a good tag line.


    - TAE


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