Rapunzel Salvation

We’ve known for awhile now that Disney’s upcoming fairytale animated film was renamed Tangled, even though it was based off the classic Brothers Grimm story Rapunzel, about a princess whose tower-length hair helps her to fall in love with a wandering prince. One could easily deduce that Disney was trying to appeal to a broader audience with the new title, but now an article by the Los Angeles Times spells out their reasoning precisely: getting more boys into the theater. [Above picture: Floyd Norman via the LATimes]

According to the Times, Disney executives attribute the lackluster box office performance of The Princess and the Frog ($222 million worldwide) to the fact that boys didn’t want to see a film with the name “princess” in the title. Notably, Tangled re-styles the original Rapunzel prince into Flynn Rider, an “infamous bandit” who “meets his match” in Rapunzel, who (as you can probably predict) has been re-imagined as a “feisty teen.”

Ed Catmull, president of Pixar and Disney Animation, commented on the change, saying, “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.” Disney eventually settled on Tangled as a title because it alluded to “a twisted version of the familiar story and the tangled relationship between the two lead characters.” Plus, it obviously works as a reference to Rapunzel’s 70-foot long hair.

Not everyone is as upbeat about the name change though, most notably Disney and Pixar animation veteran Floyd Norman (see: Norman’s drawing above). According to Norman:

The idea of changing the title of a classic like ‘Rapunzel’ to ‘Tangled’ is beyond stupid. I’m still hoping that Disney will eventually regain their sanity and return the title of their movie to what it should be. I’m convinced they’ll gain nothing from this except the public seeing Disney as desperately trying to find an audience.

I don’t have any particular issue with Disney re-styling a classic story to suit their needs; they’ve been doing it since time immemorial, even with real-life events and people (e.g. Mulan and Pocahontas). If/when people have raised a ruckus, it’s typically been forgotten. I don’t even know if I’d want my kids to see a straight-forward adaptation of the original Rapunzel; I saw one on TV when I was a kid, and images of the writhing prince with his eyes gouged out have haunted me for the rest of my life.

What concerns me is the renewed emphasis on marketing, widespread appeal, and profitability. We’ve already seen that Disney isn’t interested in making a sequel to the wildly popular film The Proposal, which grossed $315 million worldwide. Why not? Because they can’t make toys, greeting cards, action figures, or a theme park ride off of it. When you are that focused on cross-platform marketing, I have to wonder how you can manage to keep your artistic integrity intact.

Tangled will be out in theaters November 2010.

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