Monday, March 15, 2010

Rapunzel becomes more boy-friendly 'Tangled', Disney ditches their 'princess' label, and you really ought to rent The Princess and the Frog tomorrow.

As the LA Times reported about a week ago, Disney's upcoming Rapunzel (see the teaser) cartoon has undergone a gender-neutral makeover in response to the (comparatively) disappointing box office take of The Princess and the Frog. In short, they are changing the title to the gender non-specific name Tangled and beefing up the role of the male romantic interest, who is now a swashbuckling heartthrob who will no doubt engage in several gratuitous action sequences. Don't worry, I'm sure our heroine will get to throw a condescending 'girl-power' punch or two. Apparently the bosses at Burbank have concluded that the sole reason for the underwhelming box office haul of The Princess and the Frog was that it had the word 'princess' in its title and thus scared away the boys. Of course, that might very well be true. While Disney has had countless female-driven cartoons over their lifetime, most of the recent ones where not marketed as 'princess fantasies'.

Mulan was an epic action picture, Lilo and Stitch was a comedy/drama about a family in peril, even The Little Mermaid was a coming-of-age fable about teenage independence. For better or worse, The Princess and the Frog was the first modern Disney cartoon that was marketed as a 'chick flick'. It's no secret that girls are conditioned to see girl movies and boy movies while boys are conditioned to avoid having to sit through 'mushy chick-flicks'. It's why so many male-driven tent-pole flicks do whatever they can to advertise any hint of romance or 'female empowerment moments' that can be found in movies such as Transformers or Iron Man. Even the most misogynistic horror film will often conclude its trailer with a shot of a female character attacking the monster or killer in question. In order to do business above a certain ceiling, stereotypical 'guy' movies need to draw in a healthy chunk of the female audience as well. Conversely, the common wisdom is that a film relying purely on female ticket goers have a severe glass ceiling. There are several exceptions in any given year (Sex and the City, Mamma Mia!, The Twilight Saga: New Moon, etc), but they are always chalked up as flukes. Disney thinks its non-Pixar projects are losing box office ground because boys aren't interested, so they are tossing the 'princess' moniker that has made them so much money over the last ten years.

As someone who really enjoyed The Princess and the Frog (it comes out on DVD/Blu Ray today, hence the timing of this essay), I was at a loss as to why it did not do better. At $212 million worldwide ($104 million in the US), it was no bomb, but I think that Disney was hoping for something a little better than Bolt or Meet the Robinsons numbers. I discussed it as the film played out in theaters, and the common factors I saw popping up in the comments sections was 'fear of occult elements', 'my kids didn't want to see it' and 'my kids didn't like it'. Yes, some people did openly complained that the movie was 'too much about race' or 'too black', so I only wonder how much racism played a part. Fair or not, Mulan was not sold/perceived as an Asian myth. I have to wonder if Disney would even try to make Aladdin in today's cultural climate. The Princess and the Frog was certainly not about race or even all-that much about class, but the pundits at large didn't let that get in the way of writing countless wrongheaded articles exclaiming, among other things, that Disney magically produced the film to cash in on the election of Barack Obama. Since animated films take about four years to produce, apparently Disney studios has a time machine in their fabled Disney Vault.

Frankly, I'm personally convinced that a major culprit was simply picking the wrong release date and/or bad timing. Attempting to emulate the successful platform releases of the 1990s, Disney released The Princess and the Frog on two screens over Thanksgiving weekend. For the next two weeks, it played only in those two high-end (as in too expensive to bring my daughter) New York City and Los Angeles venues before going wide on December 12th. Alas, unlike the 1990s, entertainment news travels faster than the speed of sound, with the next big thing supplanting the previous 'big thing' within a few days. Most of the media coverage (and probable audience interest) took place over that Thanksgiving weekend. Heck, I participated in two radio interviews over the holiday concerning the racial and gender politics of the film (along with New Moon and Precious). Amusingly, not a single person in front of or behind the microphone had yet seen the Disney animated film. By the time the film finally went wide, the movie world had moved on. In fact, the film had the misfortune to open the day after that 'holy god, it's great!' first critics screening of Avatar. The all-audiences/both genders mega-smash dominated the entertainment media for the next month afterward. Disney also severely underestimated the appeal of Alvin and the Chipmunks 2, figuring that discerning parents would choose perceived quality over familiarity.

Point being, there are any number of reasons why The Princess and the Frog 'underwhelmed'. We can argue that the media trumpeted the film's racial and gender politics to a point where it scared off families not wanting a sociology lesson with their popcorn. We can argue that boys were not interested in a film about a princess and girls felt pandered to. We can argue that everyone who had the slightest reason not to see the movie all decided to see Avatar instead. Or we can simply acknowledge that this was Disney's first high-profile 2D film in nearly six years. It was a warm-up pitch, an attempt to reignite audience excitement in the old fashioned hand-drawn animation style that Disney built its empire on. No one should have expected Aladdin-type numbers ($212 million domestic) the first time out. I sincerely hope that Disney does not panic and cancel every planned 2D project in the pipeline or attempt to 'masculate' their upcoming animated films. To quote my favorite film of the last decade, Disney should just keep moving forward.

Scott Mendelson

6 comments:

Gerald said...

Once again feminists are hypocritical. Disney, as a corporation, wants to make as much money as possible by increasing their male audience WITHOUT REDUCING THEIR FEMALE ONE. What's the problem? The same with trying to do something about declining male academic performance I guess.

This only proves the claim "feminism is about empowering females, not marginalizing males!" to be false, as feminists have no problem demanding more female-driven projects from studios. The goal is not to promote equality, but to promote women.

Incidentally, if Disney wants to get more boys to their movies, then they need to - gasp! - make male themed films, especially those where manhood and male institutions aren't being mocked, demonized, trivialized and deconstructed. Take "The Princess and the Frog": nearly all of the male characters were dumb, had character flaws or both. Tiana's father, the only exception? A two minute cameo appearance, then he dies. Raymond, the only brave, heroic male character? The movie's dumbest character, and he dies too! By contrast, the closest thing that we get to a negative female character is one whose main problem was being spoiled by her weak willed SINGLE FATHER, and even her positive traits far outweighed her negative ones. So gee ... I wonder why men and boys didn't flock to "The Princess and the Frog" to learn what dumb, useless (and often evil) creeps they are.

It isn't as if it hasn't been shown that it is possible to draw men AND women by making films that elevate BOTH SEXES. Examples: the "Shrek" and "Ice Age" franchises. But rather than suggest that Disney learn from those, you want them to continue ignoring (and bashing) men. Such is feminism.

Anonymous said...

I hope your comment was either ironic or sarcastic, because it seems completely reversed about the way the film industry (especially Disney) really operates.

Your comment makes it seem like that femenism has taken over the world, leaving the poor, innocent, helpless men unable to make a mark for themselves. Really? I don't know about you, but MOST movies out there are male dominated, with a male protagonist. Transformers, Iron Man, (heck, EVERY superhero and Lord of the Rings-type epic of recent memory!) shows the same worn-out trend. A female in an action movies only serves the purpose of satisfying the male's romantic intentions, or as a way to convince girls that they should see it.

You claim that Disney should make more boy-related film that do not detract from their manliness. Really? Like Pirates of the Caribbean, where there is only 1 major woman role, and everytime she tries to fight, she gets knocked down by a feather, and leaves the real action for the men? Same with the male-dominated Narnia series, which leave the girl characters screaming for a boy's help, while hanging daintily off a tree branch. The upcoming Tron films, Prince of Persia, and John Carter of Mars are all male films. In addition to this, all Pixar films (with the exception of their upcoming 2011 release) feature a boy's view of the world with mostly-boy characters.

Thus, feminists are more than justified for promoting women. It is these, what I like to call macho-ists, who are paranoid to let go of the majority, and give others a slice of the apple pie. AFterall, the population consists 50% (possibly more) women, so how come they only get 20% of the films, and 5% of the video games???

I agree with you when you say films should cater to both genders. But unfortunately, boys and girls are raised differently now, where they are expected to like vastly different things: Barbies or toy trucks, fashion models or cops. Unfortunately, the toy trucks and cops have taken the center stage in this society, with girls expected to go along with it unquestioning...

Just something to think about...

jeff_polizzi said...

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 story of fairy tales with girlish titles, because what if Disney arranges the story to make it more interesting than typical? Maybe then, even though fairy tales have girlish titles, but it can have an excellent story 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 story 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.

One more thing, it is not the title that bothers boys, it is the story itself that is not strong enough. Some times, Disney probably accidentally made the story a little too girlish for “The Princess and the Frog,” than trying to make it a family type, especially when some of the characters that Disney has created are not receiving enough roles, and the fact that Disney has been away from adapting fairy tales since they decided to create their own stories. Such as, "Atlantis: The Lost Empire," "Lilo and Stitch," "Home on the Range," and, "Bolt." My advice for Disney is that the next time they want to adapt fairy tales into animated movies; they should try to make the story strong to fit to the title based on the fairy tale, instead of changing the title to get boys to see the movie. What Disney is doing now is the same level that DreamWorks Animation is doing: trying to know what people like than doing what makes themselves comfortable with. Disney right now is more of a, "think alike," type than a, "think for yourself," type. Pixar is ALWAYS a, "think for yourself," type, for their movies always succeed in every way.

Anonymous said...

I hope your comment was either ironic or sarcastic, because it seems completely reversed about the way the film industry (especially Disney) really operates.

Your comment makes it seem like that femenism has taken over the world, leaving the poor, innocent, helpless men unable to make a mark for themselves. Really? I don't know about you, but MOST movies out there are male dominated, with a male protagonist. Transformers, Iron Man, (heck, EVERY superhero and Lord of the Rings-type epic of recent memory!) shows the same worn-out trend. A female in an action movies only serves the purpose of satisfying the male's romantic intentions, or as a way to convince girls that they should see it.

You claim that Disney should make more boy-related film that do not detract from their manliness. Really? Like Pirates of the Caribbean, where there is only 1 major woman role, and everytime she tries to fight, she gets knocked down by a feather, and leaves the real action for the men? Same with the male-dominated Narnia series, which leave the girl characters screaming for a boy's help, while hanging daintily off a tree branch. The upcoming Tron films, Prince of Persia, and John Carter of Mars are all male films. In addition to this, all Pixar films (with the exception of their upcoming 2011 release) feature a boy's view of the world with mostly-boy characters.

Thus, feminists are more than justified for promoting women. It is these, what I like to call macho-ists, who are paranoid to let go of the majority, and give others a slice of the apple pie. AFterall, the population consists 50% (possibly more) women, so how come they only get 20% of the films, and 5% of the video games???

I agree with you when you say films should cater to both genders. But unfortunately, boys and girls are raised differently now, where they are expected to like vastly different things: Barbies or toy trucks, fashion models or cops. Unfortunately, the toy trucks and cops have taken the center stage in this society, with girls expected to go along with it unquestioning...

Just something to think about...

Gerald said...

Once again feminists are hypocritical. Disney, as a corporation, wants to make as much money as possible by increasing their male audience WITHOUT REDUCING THEIR FEMALE ONE. What's the problem? The same with trying to do something about declining male academic performance I guess.

This only proves the claim "feminism is about empowering females, not marginalizing males!" to be false, as feminists have no problem demanding more female-driven projects from studios. The goal is not to promote equality, but to promote women.

Incidentally, if Disney wants to get more boys to their movies, then they need to - gasp! - make male themed films, especially those where manhood and male institutions aren't being mocked, demonized, trivialized and deconstructed. Take "The Princess and the Frog": nearly all of the male characters were dumb, had character flaws or both. Tiana's father, the only exception? A two minute cameo appearance, then he dies. Raymond, the only brave, heroic male character? The movie's dumbest character, and he dies too! By contrast, the closest thing that we get to a negative female character is one whose main problem was being spoiled by her weak willed SINGLE FATHER, and even her positive traits far outweighed her negative ones. So gee ... I wonder why men and boys didn't flock to "The Princess and the Frog" to learn what dumb, useless (and often evil) creeps they are.

It isn't as if it hasn't been shown that it is possible to draw men AND women by making films that elevate BOTH SEXES. Examples: the "Shrek" and "Ice Age" franchises. But rather than suggest that Disney learn from those, you want them to continue ignoring (and bashing) men. Such is feminism.

jeff_polizzi said...

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 story of fairy tales with girlish titles, because what if Disney arranges the story to make it more interesting than typical? Maybe then, even though fairy tales have girlish titles, but it can have an excellent story 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 story 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.

One more thing, it is not the title that bothers boys, it is the story itself that is not strong enough. Some times, Disney probably accidentally made the story a little too girlish for “The Princess and the Frog,” than trying to make it a family type, especially when some of the characters that Disney has created are not receiving enough roles, and the fact that Disney has been away from adapting fairy tales since they decided to create their own stories. Such as, "Atlantis: The Lost Empire," "Lilo and Stitch," "Home on the Range," and, "Bolt." My advice for Disney is that the next time they want to adapt fairy tales into animated movies; they should try to make the story strong to fit to the title based on the fairy tale, instead of changing the title to get boys to see the movie. What Disney is doing now is the same level that DreamWorks Animation is doing: trying to know what people like than doing what makes themselves comfortable with. Disney right now is more of a, "think alike," type than a, "think for yourself," type. Pixar is ALWAYS a, "think for yourself," type, for their movies always succeed in every way.

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