Girls Get the Short End of the Stick Again: Disney Renames Rapunzel to Tangled
March 9, 2010

This is why some people get so upset about big companies putting out projects for girls, or analyze their phrasing, or worry about what it means:

Disney Restyles Rapunzel to Appeal to Boys

After the less-than-fairy-tale results for its most recent animated release, “The Princess and the Frog,” executives at the Burbank studio believe they know why the acclaimed movie came up short at the box office. Brace yourself: Boys didn’t want to see a movie with “princess” in the title.

To make sure their next big animated movie is a hit, they have

  • renamed Rapunzel to Tangled because it’s less gender-specific
  • made sure that the “dashing Errol Flynn-styled male lead”, named Flynn Rider, gets more of the spotlight
  • added more swashbuckling action
  • changed the “demure princess” into a “feisty teen”

Said animation president Ed Catmull, “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.” Boys are needed in the audience to “make an expensive family film a success.” It seems that once again we’re stuck in the problem of girls being expected to see entertainment aimed at boys, but boys have to be catered to to get their attention. I guess there just isn’t enough entertainment out there aimed at them, what with them already having most of the market and all.

These changes seem to be because The Princess and the Frog made $200-some million instead of $700-some million, as Up did. Could it just be that people are tired of cookie-cutter movies? The Princess and the Frog, which I haven’t seen, looked like yet another in the Disney mold, without much to set it apart. I was going to watch it on DVD, coming out this month, but then they decided to cripple that format in favor of pushing Blu-ray.

Disney wanted to label the movie as part of its princess line so they could expand the diversity of characters available for little girls under that branding. (Most of the existing characters are white girls.) Now they are upset that it was thought of as being aimed at those same little girls? You can’t get it both ways, guys.

Disney has also shelved plans for The Snow Queen because they thought they “had too many animated girl flicks in its lineup”. It would be the fourth in a row with a female lead. How many movies come out every year with male leads? Can we get concern over that? Of course not, that’s silly — everyone knows movies are for boys. Girl movies are so rare that they get labeled with their own derogative tag of “chick flick”.

On the bright side, the third film in that series of girl leads is The Bear and the Bow, which has Pixar’s first female director, Brenda Chapman, and stars Reese Witherspoon. Count me in for that! It’s about time Pixar puts out a female-focused film!

One last note: the Comic Critics strip beautifully captures the problems women have supporting media projects that highlight gender.

Update: NPR’s Linda Holmes tears into the name change as well, saying

There are princess characters who do just fine with boys, but I think the word “princess” now carries an implication of passivity and romantic fixation and therefore a lack of interest that Disney has created, not discovered.

20 Responses  
Diana Green writes:  

I suspect that aside from studio execs (male) imposing a paternalistic ideology, the presumption endures that girls still don’t spend money on things like movies. It’s clearly circular reasoning- if a film aimed at that audience is under-marketed, poorly made, or fails to sell as well as a “guy film”, it’s perceived as a loss against a greater potential revenue.
Therefore, films are still not marketed to “minority” audiences.
I’m astounded that anyone still considers females, more than half the population in the last census, a “minority”.

Johanna writes:  

Yeah, a crappy guy’s movie failing is seen as a failure of the movie — a girl’s movie failing is seen as a failure of the audience, i.e “girls don’t go to movies” or “not enough girls go to movies”.

If Princess & the Frog is a girls’ movie, does that make Cars a boys’ movie? Or are boys’ movies assumed to be the same as movies for everyone?

Thom writes:  

This extends to the creative people as well. If a woman has a flop as a writer or director? Her future career is called into question. With men, well, better luck next time, and there will be a next time.

Thad writes:  

Anecdotally, I DO know a couple little boys who refused to go to The Princess and the Frog because it had “Princess” in the name (despite owning the likes of Sleeping Beauty on DVD).

Course, the “Princess” image didn’t seem to harm The Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast when I was a kid.

…funny thing is, the fairy tale is called “The Frog Prince”. They changed the title explicitly to shift the focus to the Princess.

The Bear and the Bow sounds good, though (stunt casting notwithstanding). A friend of mine commented that Up was great but it would sure be nice to see a Pixar movie about a woman who doesn’t die in the first ten minutes.

Jer writes:  

You’d think in this post-Twilight movie world the idea that “girls don’t want to spend money” would be dead. And Johanna – yeah, I think Disney does consider Cars a “boys movie” and have been using it as a counterpoint to their “Princess” and “Fairy” lines that have been successfully marketed at girls. They haven’t been doing very well in the “boys” markets (which is why I think they bought Marvel), and Cars has been about as successful as they’ve gotten.

All that said – Princess and the Frog was surprisingly a much better movie than the movie they marketed. Maybe I just went in with low expectations, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. It was a little formulaic, but they did a pretty good job of fitting to formula while mixing things up a bit here and there. The ad campaign made it look so boring and uninspired that it took a while to get to the theater to see it (we waited until it hit the local $2 theater), but I’m glad we did. It turned out to be a fun movie.

(Part of me wonders the low ticket sales on Princess and the Frog comes from the fact that Tiana is black. I don’t want to believe that that would keep people out of the theaters in the 21st century USA, but I guess it wouldn’t surprise me as much as I wish it would.)

Johanna writes:  

Jer: That’s likely a factor. Unfortunately.

I’m sure I will be pleasantly surprised when I get around to seeing it.

Thad: Boys don’t want to see pretty girls if they’re called princesses? They must be young.

Kendama writes:  

Rebranding a “princess” story to appeal to guys just seems lazy. Why not come up with something original instead? Then again, this is a recession, so maybe they’re trying to be safe.

I predict that it will be neither fish nor fowl, and thus fail.

James Schee writes:  

Weird move here. Especially since Rapunzel’s story details aren’t really known that well I would expect. I know nothing except she’s locked in a tower and grows her hair long so the guy can climb up and save her.

Most of that I learned from that song.;) Nothing inherently…. *girly* to use a term my nephews and nieces tend to use about that….

Jeff Polizzi writes:  

I find that title, “Tangled,” disrespectful to not only the Grimm Brother’s title, but to Walt Disney as well. Because that is not what Walt Disney would do when he adapts fairy tales into animated movies. Just because fairy tales that have girlish titles does NOT make it a girlish story. Those people, who complain about fairy tale titles being too girlish, need to understand that those story titles being too girlish happens to be written by MEN before we are even born. Also, they need to understand that they do not write stories just for girls or boys, they write for families to enjoy, learn, and love. I even love the title logo that Disney created for “Rapunzel,” and now they want to change it to “Tangled?” That title does not make any sense, and it is misleading. If they ever do change the title from “Rapunzel” to “Tangled,” I would find Disney’s next CG movie a flop. But, if they leave the title, “Rapunzel,” the way it is, and the title logo that Disney created, then I would have high confidence that Disney’s next CG movie could be a huge success. So I say to Disney, “In the name of Floyd Norman, a retired Disney and Pixar animator, and Walt Disney’s ghost, I demand that you change that dreadful title back to “Rapunzel” at once, or else you will all become a disgrace to Walt Disney forever. And you will fall to DreamWorks Animation forever more.” Those boys need to “Dig a Little Deeper (according to the song from “The Princess and the Frog”)” on the synopsis and accept the title that is girlish. And besides, Disney arranges the synopsis to make fairy tales more interesting than typical, to make it more FAMILY like even though it has girlish titles. However, some stories with girlish titles may have girlish stories, IF Disney made it girlish. But through Disney’s experience, they make fairy tales FAMILY type as always, and that is what makes Disney the best, and forever the legacy. Anyways, since they are going to adapt a Grimm fairy tale into a movie, why not just leave the title the way it is, and just arrange the synopsis? Like I said, those boys need to get used of the title that is written, like Tim Burton’s, “Alice in Wonderland.” Plus, I have no problem with “The Princess and the Frog,” I give that movie infinite A+, especially when Dr. Facilier is a fun villain, evil, but fun.

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 synopsis of fairy tales with girlish titles, because what if Disney arranges the synopsis to make it more interesting than typical? Maybe then, even though fairy tales have girlish titles, but it can have an excellent synopsis 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 synopsis 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.

By the way, I have no problem with “The Princess and the Frog,” that I saw. I give that movie infinite A+, especially when Dr. Facilier is a fun villain, evil, but fun. But I can say this, if changing the title is what Disney wants to do to get the boys well entertained along with the girls, it is their movie. But I have a little bit of a bad feeling that their next CG movie could be a flop based on the title change. But if they decided to change the title back to the way it is, then it could be a financial success…I hope.

Suzannah writes:  

UGH. The conversation probably went something like this …

“Why did Up! make more than Frog Princess?”
“Clearly it was a marketing or appeal problem.”
“Think it was because Up! was a better movie?”
“Don’t be silly.”

American Male writes:  

One reason that is not given for the failure of The Princess and the Frog is that it’s a black cast film. Has anyone even considered that white audiences didn’t want to see this film because it’s “a black movie?”

No, instead it they blame the title. Forget “The Little Mermaid,” “Cinderella,” “Snow White,” “Sleeping Beauty,” and “Beauty and the Beast,” even though those films were huge hits and no one thought girl appeal was a problem with them. I’d bet that if Rapunzel kept its name as is, it would be a hit because it’s not about a black princess.

Johanna writes:  

While I’m sure there are racists who think that way, and it may have even been a factor in the film’s reception, I hope for a world where people realize that they can learn from stories of people who don’t look like them as much as the ones that do.

Chad writes:  

How long has it been since a standard (non-computer) animated film made a ton of money?

Also, while it might not have been a huge success on the level of Up!, Princess and the Frog was hardly a failure. According to Box Office Mojo, it made $270,431,309 when you combine its domestic and international take on a budget of $105 million. I know that doesn’t count promotion costs, but could they have eaten up the $170 million or so above the budget?

And that doesn’t count the TONS of money they made and will continue to make from the Princess Tiana character’s merchandise.

To get back to the original point, yeah, the title change is dopey. I went to see The Little Mermaid way back when as a teenage boy because I heard it was a good movie. I didn’t care about the title. If Tangled stinks, it won;t get more viewers than it would’ve as Rapunzel.

Johanna writes:  

That’s an excellent point. Success and failure are sometimes judged based on expectations, and Disney may have had way too high expectations for this film. Tiana has major long-term benefits for them.

American Male writes:  

Changing the title of “Rapunzel” to “Tangled” not only doesn’t make sense, it alienates those who are familiar with the original Grimm’s Fairy Tale. It’s like calling Cinderella “Midnight.”

When I go to the video store, I always see a lot of films made for black audiences that don’t get rented much. In many cases, I didn’t even know the films existed. Although Disney did advertise “Frog,” I just don’t see it succeeding on a major level because many took a pass on it for racial reasons. Had Disney taken the “traditional” route, I believe it would have been more successful. The same kind of thing befell “Treasure Planet,” where a departure from what audiences expect from Disney resulted in poor box office.

Johanna writes:  

I might find your anecdotal evidence more plausible if your email didn’t include the tag “palefacepride”, you know. “Traditional” in your case appears to be code for “white folks only”.

American Male writes:  

This email is my “covert” identity for when I discuss all things racial, regardless of the argument. It’s a touchy subject, and I just prefer to remain anonymous, especially on the net.

I just happen to think that with the current crop of tea parties, Obama’s low approval ratings, and racial flare-ups, why Disney isn’t even considering that the “black” factor may have played a part in low box office for this film is denying an aspect of reality. And racism in America is a BIG reality.

And, to be blunt, “traditional” for Disney in the past has been “white folks only,” unless it’s a stereotype (like “Song of the South” or the crows in “Dumbo.”)

I will also note that Disney’s animated black HUMAN characters in feature films were in “Lilo and Stitch,” “Hercules” and “Atlantis,” all in the 1990s and beyond.

To be honest, Disney has had a “white bread” image throughout its existence. I recall seeing the last “Herbie” film with Lindsay Lohan, and I noted that, although the director was black, the cast was all white. Disney knows who their audience is and aims to sell to that audience. “Frog” was taking a chance that the core audience wanted diversity, and if the box office is an indicator, it doesn’t seem so.

What do you think?

Johanna writes:  

I think you’re ignoring the success of such films as Mulan, Pocahontas, and Aladdin, all more than “white folks only”. Disney aims to sell to all audiences, which is how they became a worldwide media conglomerate.

DC Doesn’t Want to Animate Super-Heroines » DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

[…] me is the conviction that only females want to watch female heroes. Although that’s a common Hollywood idea, too. […]

Tangled » DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

[…] that female-centered movies don’t sell. (Although more likely, they’ll just decide that the changes they made worked. Did you know this is the first princess movie to be rated PG?) Either way, congratulations […]


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