Recently Disney had a problem, and her name was Rapunzel. After spending years locked away in the Disney animation studio, Rapunzel was finally scheduled to come down from her tower around Thanksgiving 2010.
But “Princess and the Frog” didn’t do well at the box office, and Disney execs discovered it was due, in part, from boys not wanting to see a movie about a princess. The House of Mouse didn’t want to fail again, so it decided to disguise Rapunzel a little, trick boys about her true nature. Specifically, it changed her name. Disney’s latest animated feature, releasing on November 24, 2010, is called “Tangled.”
I can’t quite figure who Disney’s trying to fool here. Sure, there isn’t the word “princess” in the title, or even the name of a well-known fairy tale figure, but won’t a simple viewing of the trailer or review of the film’s summary make it clear that this movie is a retelling of the famous Grimm tale? I’m not sure that boys who don’t want to see fairy tales or princess stories will be swayed by a title change.
I guess I should just be glad that the emendations to the story weren’t greater. For awhile during the film’s production the story was being called “Rapunzel Unbraided,” and was written as a “Shrek”-style genre lambast. Then (thank goodness) John Lasseter took over, and though “Tangled” won’t look like its source material (and when does a Disney film ever do that), it’s not trying to be “Shrek” anymore either.
From what I’ve seen and read, “Tangled” looks great. Disney introduces the rakish rogue Flynn Rider to give the movie more gender balance and further its appeal to boys. Rider comes across Rapunzel locked away in a tower, but that’s where most similarities to the fairy tale end.
According to the film’s producer Roy Conli, “It’s a really fresh, smart take on the Rapunzel story. 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.”
Great! I am beside myself with excitement for this movie. The animation cells look beautiful, the story sounds fun, Alan Menken’s doing the music, everything appears to be in order. Still, something’s bugging me.
It’s the name change. And the thing is, I can’t really fault Disney for making that decision. I believe the “princess” brand might be one of the reasons why boys didn’t go to see “Princess and the Frog” (though Disney really only has themselves to blame for the whole princess backlash).
Because the more I think about it, the more there does seem to be an idea in our culture that boys aren’t, or shouldn’t be, as interested in stories with female heroines. “Harry Potter” was read by all, but I have to wonder if it would have gotten the same number of readers if Hermione had been the main protagonist.
Disney’s not to blame for this idea in our culture, and I can hardly expect a media conglomerate primarily concerned with making money to take measures to change it. But it still bothers me: I know just as many girls who went to see Pixar’s boy-friendly fare like “Cars,” “Monster’s Inc.,” and “The Incredibles,” so why isn’t the reverse true?
The only solution I can see is to work the change at an individual, family-level. I don’t believe I know anyone who discourages their boys from reading/watching things with female heroines, but apparently the attitude is already out there in the media.
So we’re going to need to actively encourage our children, through equal exposure to male- and female-helmed stories, to embrace both. Girls won’t dismiss action and adventure as boy’s stuff, and boys won’t shirk from female heroines as only appealing to girls. And hopefully that will slowly create a society where Rapunzel can keep her name.