I LOVE Tangled. This is no secret to anyone who wants to talk Disney with me, or hangs out with me on Facebook. I love it. I love it, I love it, I love it. I think Disney has taken the best bits about every single Disney Princess film, mushed them all together, learned from their mistakes, and turned out not only their greatest Princess film, but possibly their greatest film of all time.
I guess I love Tangled so much because I identify with Rapunzel. She’s been afraid to leave her tower for eighteen years. I didn’t move out of home until I was 21, because I thought it was some kind of big deal and I wouldn’t be able to handle myself out there in the big wide world. Turns out I was wrong. I even moved to the other side of the planet to be with the man I love.
But not only that, Disney learned a lot from their Princess and the Frog marketing campaign, Pixar’s success, and Princess films in general. The problem with Princess films, and the Princess marketing in general, is that it’s primarily aimed at girls, young girls. Sure, there are boys out there who love one or several of the Princess films (my hubs-to-be thinks Mulan kicks butt and often sings to the soundtrack) but the whole marketing campaign is very gendered to appeal to girls. Taking a look at Pixar, which Tangled very assuredly imitates – Pixar films are about boys. They are about male leads and male problems and very much appeal to everyone, boys, girls, adults of all genders, families. Yes, there are girls in Pixar films – that’s not what I’m arguing. All of the Pixar leads are male. Pixar knows that male-led films are gender neutral (!!!) and appeal to both boys and girls (take Harry Potter, for example, which appeals to everyone) and girl-led films primarily appeal to females (take Twilight, for an extreme example, even though it’s a romance). Disney could have marketed The Princess and the Frog as a male-female buddy road trip, but they focused on Tiana as the Princess. Her film sold reasonably well – better than recent films but not as well as any of the other Princess films.
Then Tangled came along. Initially titled Rapunzel Unbraided, Disney knew they had to take a step away from their hand-drawn Princess-marketed films and take a step closer to the direction their recently acquired Pixar animation staff were used to heading in: appealing to a bigger audience than just girls. They needed the Pixar animation, and they needed an appealing male co-lead.
Yes, Rapunzel is the film’s lead. But they gave her the best well-rounded male character companion of any Disney film: Flynn Rider. Ten times better than Naveen, deeper than the Beast, more appealing than Eric and more adventurous than Aladdin, Flynn, like Tangled, takes the best of the Disney boys and distils them with an excellent result. And the marketing department was saying all over the media that this isn’t just a Princess film, it’s a boy’s film too. Disney defended their marketing decision, which was criticised, by saying it’s not just a film about Rapunzel.
And guess what? It worked. Tangled spent 6 years in production and cost $260M to produce, which makes it the most expensive animated film of all time. I’m not sure it’s pure coincidence that it’s Disney’s 50th animated feature film, but after 49 attempts (and some very good gems in the meantime), I think they finally nailed it. It received generally good reviews from critics and it is also the second highest grossing animated film ever made by Disney, behind The Lion King, and it’s the fifteenth highest grossing animated film ever made. It’s critically and commercially one of Disney’s greatest films.
I love the Princess films. I love that I’m a girl and can feel no shame in loving the Princess films. But I’m also ecstatically happy that Tangled, which is a Princess film, has finally hit the right marketing angle and the right storytelling angle to appeal to a wider audience. While yes, I do recognise Disney’s desperation to reach for a wider audience, I think they made a better film for it. The only thing – literally the ONLY thing – that I dislike about Tangled is one of the characters – a suggestive geriatric dressed as a baby Cupid. That’s a personal taste thing, though.
Tomorrow I’ll post my Disney Dissection of Tangled.