Disney’s Rapunzel movie changes title and cast to attract boys

The LA Times reports that that after the disappointing box office for “The Princess and the Frog,” Disney is drastically remaking it’s new Rapunzel movie to attract boys. It’s now called “Tangled” and co-stars a “swashbuckling” male in the lead.


Some people are upset. Retired Disney/ Pixar animator, Floyd Norman, says, “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.”

But Ed Catmull, president of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios defends the decision. Referring to “The Princess and the Frog,” he says: “Based upon the response from fans and critics, we believe it would have been higher if it wasn’t prejudged by its title.”

Catmull is right about the prejudging. I’m worried that he’s wrong about who and why.

I prejudged “The Princess and the Frog” based on it’s title. I’m the mom of three young girls. I can’t spend any more money to see yet 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?

I can’t tell. It’s ironic because the LA Times article is supposedly about Rapunzel being effaced by a boy but mostly all they report on is that boy, the title, the male executives, the male audience, and the male animators. What about Rapunzel? Here is what the article tells us about her: “The demure princess is transformed into a feisty teen.”

Steve Jobs,  Ed Catmull, John LasseterSteve Jobs, Ed Catmull, John Lasseter 

A good sign, I suppose. 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.” I’m mincing words here, but this is all the information they’ve given me to go on. And my extensive, past experience with Disney’s treatment of girls, along the reporting here on Disney’s hyper-concern about attracting a male audience, worries me.

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.

Also, 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?


The issue here is not 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 power 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.

If you’re going to comment that’s it’s in our DNA that girls will see movies about boys but boys won’t see movies about girls, please see my post here from a couple days ago. The basic point being girls don’t have much of a choice, and they’re just expected to suck it up.

Executives, Director, producers,  and stars of Washington Post 

Executives, Director, producers, and stars of “Up”

There’s some hope for the future though. Buried at the bottom of the LA Times piece is some incredible news, especially in the wake of Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar win, making her the first female director to win an Oscar in 82 years.

“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.”

Director  Brenda ChapmanDirector Brenda Chapman 

Did you catch that? Brenda Chapman is Pixar’s first female director. Yes, she’s making an androgynously titled movie, but it’s “starring” Reese Witherspoon, and there’s no indication that Witherspoon will be a princess.

I like the title “Tangled.” I have to admit, it’s witty. The LA Times elaborates: “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.”

And somehow, in spite of everything I know, the reconceived, witty title gives me hope that the movie is also reconceived in a way that could be just as imaginative and special. I mean, really, how much worse could the original plot be?

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 it’s title and the LA Times article about it all.

6 thoughts on “Rapunzel

  1. “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.”

    I’m not sick of princesses though I wouldn’t mind more strong female characters. I found Tangled to be a weak effort. OK, yes, part of that was because I’ve never liked Mandy Moore’s singing voice. But I also thought the character was too stereotypically “feisty” and that the movie skewed much younger than Disney movies usually do even with the romance.

    • Hi Cat,

      It’s the cookie cutter princess image that is so bad and boring. I am writing a MG book now with a complex princess. Also, what happened to queens? It’s like “princess” is the end of the road in the female narrative.


      • I guess I don’t find them all that cookie cutter because I spend more time dwelling on the variations than the similarities. Not that I can’t see what people mean. There’s something about the “queen” vs. “princess” idea in fairytale criticism that I can’t remember. But I’ve actually always had a bit of a problem with the way Disney princesses in particular are both women and girls. That is physically, they have fairly sexualized bodies and participate in romantic plots but they hire voice actors who sound young and when the character age is given, she’s usually a teenager. I understand fairytales being about children to appeal to a young audience. But I feel like the heroines are simultaneously children and adults in a problematic way.

  2. I agree with Sonia. The Princess and the Frog is just a name, and while Tiana spends the majority of the movie as a frog, she spends only a minute or two as a princess. But throughout the movie, she makes very clear her goals and strong determination to get things done through hard work. This gets contrasted with the prince, who begins the movie as a lazy oaf. Although it contains a lot of the Disney Princess movie conventions, I think Tiana is a good role model for girls and the movie is one of the most feminist movies Disney has made (I can only think of this one and “Enchanted.”)

  3. margot,

    don’t let the title fool you. the heroine in the princess and the frog (which my son really wanted to see and which we both loved) is not a princess when she starts, and is not much interested in becoming one. she is a strong young woman who works very hard to achieve her dreams. she doesn’t want anything to do with the feckless prince until late in the story. the music is awesome, the animation is pure disney… (and i usually think disney is almost as evil as barbie–but they sure know how to put a movie together). my advice: check out the dvd. i think you won’t regret it.

  4. This is a beautifully written and deeply discouraging post. Disney’s power and its continued demonstrable lack of interest in women is deeply discouraging. I dole out the Disney with great care to my 2 daughters–lots of movies “Chitty Chitty Bang-Bang” and NO Sleeping Beauty. They loved “The Princess and the Frog.”

    I troll the internet for alternatives–there are so many–for great movies about girls or movies like “The Red Balloon” that feature boys but are not about being manly or conforming to rigid roles.

    It doesn’t feel that different from 30 years ago when I was growing up. That’s a shame.

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