A Background on Tangled and Gender-Neutral Princess Marketing

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.

And that’s saying a lot, because before Tangled came along, Belle was my favourite Princess (5th Princess, Beauty and the Beast film released in 1991), and The Lion King (1994) was my favourite film.

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.

This was me for the first 20 years of my life.

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.

The title changed a few times trying to find the right marketing angle.

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.

Flynn and his smoulder.

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.

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12 thoughts on “A Background on Tangled and Gender-Neutral Princess Marketing

  1. Archer says:

    This is actually my joint favourite princess flick, level pegging with Mulan lol. I love the characters, I love the animals, I actually love the soundtrack too. It is by far Disney’s own animation studio’s best film in a long assed time.

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    • Lissa says:

      I agree about the characters, the animals, and the soundtrack. I feel Disney missed the mark with The Princess and the Frog but they definitely made up for it with Tangled.

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  2. nikki says:

    I’m just imagining you tangled in your own hair for 20 years, and then remembering that… HEY, THAT WAS ME TOO. Well, sort of. Not so much in the “I’m leaving home” fashion (which occurred as soon as humanly possible), but definitely the “I don’t want to interact with those … What are they? People? They’re awfully scary.” This pretty much took hold until I was about 23, but I totally understand the “I live under a rock because it’s safe” thing.

    Also, I want to see this so badly because Rapunzel was one of the few fairy tales I absolutely loved to pieces. Also, if what you say is true, it finally reaches me more than most Disney Princess films combined (though, I’m totally with anyone on the Belle and Mulan train).

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  3. Nhan-Fiction says:

    I’m a guy, and I thought Tangled was an excellent film for a lot of reasons. You are right in your post – the film appeals to both guys and girls. It didn’t just center around Rapunzel, but instead struck a balance with the male lead. If there was anything to nitpick about the film, I think the songs could have been a bit better, mainly because they weren’t nearly as catchy or memorable compared to something like Mulan’s superb soundtrack (and I do find myself humming random Mulan tunes all the time).

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    • Lissa says:

      Thanks so much for stopping by and giving a male perspective! I’m afraid I can’t agree with you on the soundtrack – I listen to it whenever I do my chores, and I love it to bits. I don’t think it’s as good as The Lion King or The Little Mermaid, or maybe not even Beauty and the Beast but I do think it’s a great soundtrack, and I’m especially impressed that the actors do their own singing.

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  4. Penelope says:

    Tangled!! I went in to the theater expecting a typical Disney princes story, but it was so much better. I LOVED it! Although even after watching it, I didn’t realize exactly how different Tangled really is from all the other Disney princess films until you broke it down for me. I’m so glad they chose to create Flynn! 🙂

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    • Lissa says:

      I didn’t even see it in theatres because I saw the UK trailer, and I thought Rapunzel was going to be an angry-bitch feminist beating up Flynn for the entire film with her prehensile hair. I am so glad I was wrong.

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  5. melbourneonmymind says:

    Oh my God, you love Tangled?!?!? I had no idea! 😉

    I saw it for the first time a couple of weeks ago, and now understand what you’ve been talking about for all these months. And I too can relate to Rapunzel wholeheartedly!

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  6. Kathy says:

    My husband and I both really like Tangled! We saw it at the cinemas after months of me watching the trailers like an addict, listening to Levi’s voice… sigh… haha
    We don’t own it (yet) but it’s so popular among our friends that I’ve still managed to see it nearly half a dozen times.

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    • Kathy says:

      Oh, and I don’t like that old creepy cupid either. My favourite part is the relationship between Flynn and the horse (Maximus?).

      As someone who has been in a ‘friendship’ with an extrememly controlling and manipulative woman, the whole (false) “mother-daughter” relationship really resonates with me.

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