Disney has reportedly decided that what Rapunzel (right) really needs is a brigand named Flynn Rider.
Disney has reportedly decided that what Rapunzel (right) really needs is a brigand named Flynn Rider. Disney Enterprises
There's a story in The Los Angeles Times about how Disney is renaming its version of Rapunzel — and retooling the story, too, to focus on a young man named "Flynn Rider." Aside from the fact that they seem to have borrowed "Flynn Rider" from The Bold And The Beautiful, we could talk about the depressing implications of another boring swashbuckler, or lament the fact that even a princess movie can't be named after the princess, but I have another issue.
This is a moronic decision, it seems to me, based on a complete underestimation of the varied, complicated cultural tastes of boys.
The Nickelodeon Counterargument, plus the 'Tangled' trailer, after the jump ...
Disney's argument, distilled to its essence, is this: The Princess And The Frog did poorly at the box office. It failed to attract boys. This is because boys don't go to princess movies. Thus, we have to add a swashbuckling male protagonist to Rapunzel and conceal the fact that it's about Rapunzel by renaming it Tangled.
So now, instead of sounding like a princess movie, it sounds like a Lifetime movie about a murdered salon owner. Fantastic.
Here's my counterargument, in brief: iCarly.
While I don't have kids, I'm very well acquainted with three boys who are currently 8, 9, and 11. Only one of them is a big Harry Potter fan. One likes The Amazing Race. Two like baseball, one likes maps, two are currently growing their hair out, and one can beat me at Scrabble. Three very, very different kids.
All three love iCarly.
iCarly is a Nickelodeon tween show that is not only about a girl; it's really about two girls — Carly and her friend Sam, who make an online TV show together, and who go off and have various adventures. Carly has a brother, and they have a friend who's a boy, but mostly, it's the Carly And Sam Get Into Scrapes show, and all three of these boys who allegedly won't go near Rapunzel without Flynn Rider absolutely love it, and have since it debuted almost three years ago.
And why do I believe they love it when there may be some truth to the fact that they wouldn't all run out to anything marketed as a princess movie with quite this eagerness? Because iCarly's main characters have characteristics that, unfortunately, traditional kids' movies usually assign to boys and not to girls. In other words, any aversion they have to princess movies has nothing to do with needing the movie to be about a boy, or even, to be honest, needing the movie not to be about a princess. I believe it comes from what they have been trained to believe princesses will be like — and they will not be like Carly.
Carly isn't really into her love life; she's really into her friends and doing her show. She dates, but it's not her main focus. She gets in trouble, she hatches plans, they go awry, she has slapstick confrontations, and she basically behaves like a goofy Nickelodeon protagonist. And these boys like her just fine, because she's funny and smart and independent. They're just as happy to watch her as they are to watch the boys on Drake And Josh or The Suite Life Of Zack And Cody, because honestly, they don't care that it's about a girl.
I believe that Cinderella isn't problematic for them because it's about a girl, or a princess: it's problematic for them because it's about getting a makeover. They hear "princess" and, I can't help suspecting, their minds hear "prince-ess," like an auxiliary attachment to a prince, and who really cares?
Keep in mind that The Little Mermaid did just fine, and while it does contain a plot about the quest for a prince, it also contains lots of other things. Ariel is the rebellious one of her sisters, and she has adventures, and she has a singing lobster for a friend, and she makes the choice (to trade voice for legs) that drives the movie. She's not inert, or literally defined by her unconsciousness like Sleeping Beauty. There are princess characters who do just fine with boys, but I think the word "princess" now carries an implication of passivity and romantic fixation and therefore a lack of interest that Disney has created, not discovered.
Oh, and I might mention that Alice In Wonderland recently made a fair amount of money on its opening weekend as well, despite not being called Hatter!
I do not believe Up would have failed if Russell had been a girl instead of a boy. I don't think boys have, on that broad a level, an actual revulsion to main characters who are girls. (Don't get me wrong — I'm sure some do, just as some girls are only interested in princess movies.) I don't think Rapunzel needs to be made about — and marketed as if it's about — Rider Flynn Bullet Puncher McGee in order to appeal to boys. I think it just needs to be about a girl who has an interior life and some spark beyond "I want to get married," which, honestly, does not mean a whole lot to an eight-year-old.
Is all of this insulting to girls? Oh, of course, sure. And I still hold out hope that Pixar will pick up the slack and start the girl-movie revolution, just because I think they could. But in the meantime, I would ask Disney not to throw boys onto the fire as well, projecting onto them prejudices and limitations that their tastes in other kinds of culture — like television — demonstrate that they don't necessarily have.