March 11, 2010

Tangled up in Disney

Filed under: things I read on the internet — Tags: , — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 2:09 pm

Disney is to rename ‘Rapunzel’ because the name doesn’t appeal to boys. After a disappointing box office performance of The Princess and the Frog, the Disney corporation have conducted market research that has convinced them that ‘boys do not like films with girls’ names in the title’. A forthcoming adaptation of The Snow Queen has been shelved and the forthcoming version of Rapunzel (scheduled for November release) will be renamed Tangled.

Ed Catmull, president of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios, said: “We did not want to be put in a box. Some people might assume it’s a fairytale for girls when it’s not. We make movies to be appreciated and loved by everybody.”

It’s hardly surprising that after so much marketing of fairytales to girls that boys might feel included. The softening of fairytales to make them more appealing to the Disney market with changes such as a happy ending for The Little Mermaid has inevitably removed some of the gruesomeness of fairytales that might appeal to a more boisterous audience. With so much emphasis on Princesses and fairies, wings and glitter and a sea of pink is it surprising that boys, and undoubtedly a number of girls too, are turned off? Children are sensitive to marketing and boys can perfectly well see that pink products are not aimed at them. Wearing pink is now something that only the really ‘masculine’ man can get away with, a daring gesture of unconventionality. While for girls pink is de rigueur, and an eight-year-old girl must struggle to find an alternative colour in anything and everything from pencilcases to book covers.

Princesses are wet. They wear pretty dresses and have elaborate hairstyles and they play with golden spheres in their immaculate palace gardens, waiting for the day when they will be cursed by an evil witch (who will not wear pink) and then rescued by a Prince (who will be carrying a  sword even if he doesn’t use it). Even with Disney’s musical pizazz and Pixar’s animation genius, the story of a Princess is not an empowering one – especially when a combination of watering stories down to make them U or PG and the anti-feminist backlash have turned any story about a Princess into a wishy-washy mishmash of modern feelgood buzzwords hung on a blandly and unquestioningly misogynist framework. In Disneyland ethnicity is flavour text and gender immutable.

Personally I have no problem with the title change. Fairytales don’t have titles in the same way that modern works of fiction do. The title is a shorthand for the story. Tangled is a good title. It’s full of possibility and mystery. Rapunzel is just some girl’s name (although hardly a classic ‘girly’ name, it doesn’t even end with an -a.)

But if Disney/Pixar wants to make stories more universal then they, and the publishing industry as a whole, need to move away from the identification of the audience with certain gender-defined roles. Princesses are passive creatures even at the best of times. The fairytale is not a positive model for girls: choice is essentially limited to Princess, Witch or serving woman. Throw away the easy cliches and find the more subtle evolutions of fairytales or use contempory fiction ideas instead.

Suggestions welcomed for what would make a really excellent Disney movie with all the essential Disney ingredients (jolly singalong songs, settings with international ‘flavour’, zany mayhem, adolescent characters having adventures and forming friendships) but without the blatant misogyny or gender traditionalism.

I’ll start you off with Diana Wynne Jones’ A Tale of Time City, Margaret Mahy’s The Blood-and-Thunder Adventure on Hurricane Peak or Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth.


  1. How would any boy know that Rapunzel was a girl’s name? Or even a person’s name? “Tangled” is OK but if the story isn’t changed and the prince is tangled in her long hair, forget it!

    And yet she was far drom a “girly” heroine, searching for her prince over great distances after the thorns blinded him.

    Comment by Mary Hoffman — March 11, 2010 @ 3:22 pm

  2. An animated musical Phantom Tollbooth? – like this one perhaps? I haven’t seen it, but some people like it.

    (BTW the styling seems to have gone frm this blog, is that deliberate? — I’ll send you a screenshot if you’re not seeing the same thing as me.)

    Comment by Mo — March 11, 2010 @ 6:32 pm

  3. I’ve seen it and it’s okay. It feels rather low budget though and also, I don’t think it quite gets the madcap antics of the book.

    Here’s another idea though,. How about the 13 clocks?

    PS: You have to pay for styling of this blog, I thought I’d leave it until the new style is ready…

    Comment by Rhiannon Lassiter — March 12, 2010 @ 12:15 pm

  4. I’d like to see this non-animated version, which has Basil Rathbone as the Duke.

    Wikipedia claims that there is a recent musical stage version — wonder what the songs are like.

    Comment by Mo — March 16, 2010 @ 4:58 pm

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