Disney gets “Tangled” up about the gender of Rapunzel

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.

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.

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 damn insulting.

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.

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?

Disney, Disney, let down your stereotypes.

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