Disney wrings the pink out of ‘Rapunzel’

March 10, 2010 | 3:36 a.m.

Here’s a longer version of the “Rapunzel” story that ran on the cover of the Los Angeles Times business section today.

Disney is wringing the pink out of its princess movies.

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.

This time, Disney is taking measures to ensure that doesn’t happen again. The studio renamed its next animated film from the girl-centric “Rapunzel” to the less gender-specific “Tangled.”

The makeover of “Rapunzel” is more than cosmetic. Disney can ill afford a moniker that alienates half the potential audience, young boys, who are needed to make an expensive family film a success.

“We did not want to be put in a box,” said Ed Catmull, president of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios, explaining the reason for the name change. “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.”

So Disney is taking no chances with “Tangled,” positioned to take advantage of holiday family movie-going when it opens Nov. 24. The studio’s marketing campaign will amp up the role of the dashing Errol Flynn-styled male lead to share the spotlight with the golden-haired namesake of the classic Brothers Grimm story. Hints of swashbuckling action are already being leaked online.

“In our film, the infamous bandit Flynn Rider meets his match in the girl with the 70 feet of magical golden hair,” wrote the film’s producer, Roy Conli, on Disney Animation’s Facebook page. “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.”

Flynn Rider, of course, is nowhere to be found in the original “Rapunzel” story.

Rapunzel Salvation


In the Grimm tale, a prince riding through a forest is enticed by Rapunzel’s sweet singing and climbs up the tower where the imprisoned girl is reachable only by her golden tresses. The prince is hardly the boastful swordsman type, let alone a charming rogue. And in Disney’s latest version, the demure princess is transformed into a feisty teen.

Disney hopes the introduction of the slightly bad-boy character will help it tap the broadest possible audience for “Tangled,” emulating the success of its corporate sibling, Pixar. Pixar’s movies have been huge hits because they appeal to girls, boys and adults. Its most recent release, “Up,” grossed more than $700 million worldwide.

“The Princess and the Frog” generated considerably less — $222 million in global ticket sales to date.

“Based upon the response from fans and critics, we believe it would have been higher if it wasn’t prejudged by its title,” Catmull said.

In rethinking “Rapunzel,” Disney tested a number of titles, finally settling on “Tangled” because people responded to meanings beyond the obvious hair reference: a twisted version of the familiar story and the tangled relationship between the two lead characters.

Snow White

However, some in the Disney animation community think the name change is misguided.

Floyd Norman, a retired Disney and Pixar animator, lampooned the new name with a cartoon on his blog that depicts Rapunzel in her tower brandishing a machine gun and declaring “Rapunzel Salvation: This Is Not a Princess Movie.”

“The idea of changing the title of a classic like ‘Rapunzel’ to ‘Tangled’ is beyond stupid,” said Norman, who worked on films including “Mulan” and “Monsters, Inc.”

“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.”

Rapunzel isn’t the only Disney princess to have a boy problem.

Concluding it had too many animated girl flicks in its lineup, Disney has shelved its long-gestating project “The Snow Queen,” based on the Hans Christian Andersen story. “Snow Queen” would have marked the company’s fourth animated film with a female protagonist, following “The Princess and the Frog,” “Tangled” and Pixar’s forthcoming “The Bear and the Bow,” directed by Pixar’s first female director, Brenda Chapman, and starring Reese Witherspoon.

Since the release of its first movie, “Toy Story,” in 1995, Pixar has uniformly featured male leads in its films, including Buzz and Woody; Mr. Incredible, the middle-aged superhero in “The Incredibles“; and Lightning McQueen, the stock-car star of “Cars.”

But princesses have played an integral role in Disney’s animation division since the 1937 debut of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” all the way to last year’s “Princess and the Frog.” Princesses and other female protagonists helped lead the 1980s and ’90s revival of the animation unit with “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Mulan.” The difference between those releases and “Princess and the Frog” is that those earlier films weren’t marketed as princess movies.

The female characters emerged as a brand only in 1999, when Disney Consumer Products lumped nine of the favorite Disney princesses together to sell toys, clothing and other merchandise. That licensing business accounted for $3.7 billion in retail sales last year. Even though “Princess and the Frog” was a box-office disappointment, dolls depicting Disney’s first African American princess flew off shelves last holiday season.

Over the last decade, “Rapunzel” has had a tortured history. The movie was conceived as a straightforward retelling of the German fairy tale about a girl who, at the age of 12, is locked away in a tower in the woods by an enchantress.


Initially, veteran Disney animator Glen Keane, who had worked on “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Little Mermaid,” was developing “Rapunzel” in the hand-drawn tradition. Then in 2003 Disney retooled the movie creatively and technically in response to the popularity of such computer-animated tales as “Monsters, Inc.” and “Finding Nemo.” Redubbed “Rapunzel Unbraided,” the new version attempted to echo the snarky tone of DreamWorks Animation Studios’ blockbuster “Shrek.”

Two years after Disney’s 2006 acquisition of Pixar, Keane relinquished his director role, citing health issues, and was replaced by Nathan Greno and Byron Howard, who were asked to give the film a fresh take.

Disney Princesses didn’t always suffer from lack of sex appeal.

Mary Costa, the actress who voiced Princess Aurora in the 1959 Disney film “Sleeping Beauty,” said the animated classic continues to attract male admirers. Indeed, she recently received a letter from a 22-year-old who wrote he has loved the film since he was a young boy.

“These young men are not the least bit embarrassed about liking ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and consider themselves young princes,” Costa said.

But times, and tastes, have changed. Costa said “Alice in Wonderland” director Tim Burton is considering a live-action retelling of “Sleeping Beauty” — as told through the eyes of the self-proclaimed mistress of evil, Maleficent, although the appeal of the classic animated film has endured for a half-century.

“The thing is that every time it comes out, it gets more popular,” Costa said.

— Dawn C. Chmielewski and Claudia Eller


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Photos: At top, a still from the upcoming Disney movie “Tangled.” The studio changed the title from “Rapunzel” and brought in an Errol Flynn-styled male lead, hoping to draw boys to the film. Credit: Disney Enterprises. Middle, “Rapunzel Salvation” cartoon. Credit: Floyd Norman. Bottom, Images from Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” and ‘Sleeping Beauty.” Credit: Disney


35 Responses to Disney wrings the pink out of ‘Rapunzel’

  1. Lisa Huberman says:

    I guess my bigger question to Disney is, why does a film with a female protagonist have to be a teenage princess at all? As a feminist, I personally get bored with attempts to insert grrll power into inherently misogynistic fairy tales just to seem PC and hip. I see no reason why the main characters in Pixar films such as Finding Nemo, Ratatouille, or Wall*e needed to be about male protagonists. While Marvel's in storytelling, these films perpetuate the idea of a male-dominated animal kingdom when in reality in most species the females out number the males 2-1 and do most of the heavy lifting. Talk about girl power!
    For examples of girl-centered animated films that don't feature princesses one has only to look to acclaimed Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, all of whose movies feature smart kick-ass chicks and whose movies are beloved by all ages and genders because for Miyazaki his feminism isn't just a marketing ploy.

    • Ashleigh says:

      As a woman, I find your feminist views ridiculous. I'm all for equal rights, which I fully believe we have, but you are just looking to pick faults. Not all the female protagonists are princessed – Esmerelda was a gypsy, Lady was a dog, Lilo was a little girl, Perdita from 101 dalmations is a dog, Bianca from the rescuers is a mouse, Duchess and Marie from Aristocats are cats. Get your facts straight.

    • Katelyn says:

      Please, be quiet, and actually watch the movie Tangled and Frozen. Those chicks are both bad ass, and who cares if it's a marketing ploy? A good movie is a good movie. Don't whine over spilled milk. Guess what? Tangled AND Frozen were both HUGE successes. For Frozen, I've had guys at my school singing 'Do you Wanna Build a Snowman?' for WEEKS. By the way, Disney lost it's typical Disney stereotype princess when Tangled came out, so don't even go there with the feminism ridiculousness. Elsa's an amazing queen who doesn't actually need a man to do her dirty work, and Rapunzel can do just fine with her frying pan in hand. So please, listen to what I said from the beginning.

  2. Jeff Polizzi says:

    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.

  3. Jennifer says:

    I wouldn't blame The Princess and the Frog's title for its poor numbers, but the story itself. It simply wasn't on par with the earlier animated films – even though many people (myself definitely included) were rooting for it to be.
    I completely agree with Mary Costa. I've seen young girls AND boys watching Cinderella, asking with very concerned voices if Cinderella is going to be trapped and miss out on trying on the glass slipper.
    A Maleficent movie sounds interesting. If it has Mary Costa's blessing, I'll definitely see it.

  4. Excellent points and insights, Margot, thanks for the comment

  5. Catmull is right about the prejudging, but he’s wrong about who and why.
    As the mom of three young girls, I prejudged “The Princess and the Frog” based on it’s title. I can’t spend any more money to see another Disney princess vehicle. (I was kind of intrigued by the first African American Princess, though I heard she spent most of the movie as a frog.) I think it’s great that Rapunzel is getting retooled, because the last thing I want to sit through, or my daughters to sit through, is watching a girl stuck in a tower, waiting around for some guy to rescue her.
    But did they change that part? Or just the title?
    From your article, I can’t tell. It’s ironic because you’re supposedly reporting about Rapunzel being effaced by a boy but mostly all that’s written about here is that boy, the title, the male executives, the male audience, and male animators. (Buried at the bottom of the article, you do mention Pixar just hired its first female director, which is great, exciting news.) But what of Rapunzel? Here is all your article tells us about her: “The demure princess is transformed into a feisty teen.”
    A good sign, though I’m not sure about “feisty.” Would one call a boy “feisty”? It seems to imply strong yet cutesy. Maybe the male equivalent is “jaunty.”
    Note to Disney executives: your potential female audience is sick of the princess movies too. We’re not sick of girls, just princesses. We represent half the population, and we’d like to see some more variety in your plots, and we’d like to see multiple strong female characters in your movies.
    We’d like to know why you bend over backwards to make a movie appeal to boys (market research, plot and title changes, characters added) but don’t preform the same production gymnastics to attract girls. Or even try to figure out what girls want. Do all the male executives, animators, and directors at Disney just assume they know what girls want to see? Or will put up with?
    Because the issue here isn’t putting “princess” in the title. The more controversial, unmentioned issue is that Disney executives are concerned about putting a girl in the title role at all. It’s prime Hollywood real estate because it means she’s the star of the show. Historically, Disney allows a girl to claim that space only if she’s a princess. It’s kind of like how you can win a scholarship if you compete for the Miss America title, but first you’ve got to parade around in your bikini.
    Movies from Pixar/ Disney with strong females including “Monsters and Aliens” or “The Incredibles” usually have the powerful woman hidden in an ensemble cast. Can you imagine a movie blatantly touting its cool girl star, perhaps called “Fantastic Ms. Fox?” Do you see the gender divide here– it would be considered some crazy feminist art film.
    I like the title “Tangled.” I have to admit, it’s witty. Somehow, in spite of everything I know about Disney’s treatment of girls, the re-conceived title gives me hope that the movie is also re-conceived in a “tangled” creative way that could be imaginative and special. I mean, really, how much worse could the original plot be anyway?
    Disney should be re-imagining these misogynist fairytales. I’m just hoping that Rapunzel doesn’t disappear from her movie the way she has from its title and also from this LA Times article about it all.
    More on my blog ReelGirl that rates kids media and products on girl empowerment.

  6. kelly says:

    great i guess now its not pc for girls to dream about being a princess. please trying to appeal to boys is what put a nail in disney animation. remember treasure island? disney princess movies have always been a staple for young girls. and guess what i grew up watching them and look i have a career. just beacuse girl watch princess movies doesn't mean they will grow up and have to rely on a man. good lord some of the comments on here make me laugh.
    guess this will be another bomb for disney. walt disney is rolling over in grave right now.

  7. brad says:

    Brace yourself. Bear and the Bow has also been given the rename treatment.

  8. Jessie Nicole says:

    I think they should use `Tangled`as a sub-name, kind of like Pirates of the Caribbean: the Black Pearl, that way people would know that there is more to the story then just `Rapunzel,Rapunzel let down your hair`, but at the same time i keeps it`s fairy tale roots and in addition is also respectful to Walt Disney and the Grimm Brothers, like it could be something like `Rapunzel: the tangled years` or `Rapunzel: A tangled tale of epic proportions` or `Rapunzel: prepared to get tangled`
    the options are endless, and in my opinion it`s a very ideal compromise.

  9. K.C. says:

    Maybe the reason "The Princess and the Frog" didn't do as well was because it wasn't that great a movie? I found the plot and lesson of the movie beyond disturbing: a workaholic girl fails to reach her goal through hard work and perseverance, and ends up reaching it by marrying a rich, narcissistic prince anyway!
    Pixar succeeds by simply telling great stories with wonderful lessons…they don't seem to worry about "demographics" (what demographic were they trying to reach with "UP", anyway?) and I think Disney Animated should take a page out of THAT book – simply tell GOOD stories with GOOD lessons…period.

  10. Julie says:

    I suppose I'm reserving judgement. I agree with Margot; I like the name. I would have liked "Rapunzel" in the title, too. I've also seen the trailer and concept sketches and this movie looks like it could be good ol' fun.
    As for appealing to a wider audience, I think Disney began facing the challenge of appealing to boys when they steamrolled forth promoting "Disney Princesses." As a mom of a boy who loves any Disney movie he sees, I have been frustrated by Disney's marketing focus on the girls. Other than Mickey and his pals, there's not much out there to appeal specifically to boys. So I look forward to what Disney has planned.
    And I completely agree with Jeff! Since "Snow White," Disney has been about entertaining families.
    No matter what, whether they go with "Tangled," "Rapunzel," or something else, I expect Disney's next animated film to be good, clean fun.

  11. Danna says:

    WTF? They shelved Snow Queen?
    @#$@$^#$%!!!! I was looking forward to another animated movie.

  12. Lacey says:

    @ K.C., Were you and I watching the same movie? Naveen didn't have access to his parents money, so he wasn't a 'rich prince' as you say. That wasn't even how she achieved her goal. Think a little bit.

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  17. emy says:

    EVERYONE BACK OFF I HONESTLY WOULD RATHER WATCH A MOVIE NAMED TANGLED THAN ONE NAMED RAPUNZEL AND IM A GIRL. IF U ALREADY KNOW IT'S A RETELLING OF RAPUNZEL LET EVERYTHING ELSE BE. it's like beauty and the beast being changed to beastly or snow white- sydney white. names affect the movie

  18. um-_- says:

    I'm a big tomboy so I really never liked the flowery, pink, gushy nonsense of princess movies. I think Disney just has always had the problem and they can't try to change it by switching around minor things. The only princess/catogorized as princess movies that I ever really liked were Mulan, and Tangled. If the guy who made mulan and mosters inc. says the name is dumb then the name is dumb. I also didn't understand why it was called tangled. I mean yeah she has long hair, but it has nothing to do with being tangled. They could've named it as simple as "Too Much Hair," or "A New World."
    Oh, but I Hercules was a movie my whole family (including the boys) loved. If they made something like that into a movie and made the comedy WAY better (it kinda stank) then people would definitely love that!

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