Does Disney really know what boys like?
Disney’s effort to broaden its appeal with boys — a drive that fueled its $4.3-billion purchase of Marvel — is behind the media giant’s decision to rename its next animated film.
The Los Angeles Times reports that Rapunzel was too “girl-centric” for a studio wincing from The Princess and the Frog, which performed well for a December opening but fell short of the ’90s heyday of Disney animation. The blame for the film’s $222 million worldwide gross fell on its inability to attract boys, who apparently won’t come near anything with “princess” in the title.
So last month, the studio replaced the name Rapunzel with Tangled, which executives felt was less gender-specific. But they didn’t stop there: The marketing campaign leading up to the Nov. 24 opening plays up the “Errol Flynn-styled” male lead, voiced by Chuck‘s Zachary Levi, with an emphasis on the movie’s swashbuckling elements.
In the article, a retired Disney and Pixar animator called the title change — Tangled tested well — “beyond stupid.” At NPR, Linda Holmes dubbed the makeover “a moronic decision … based on a complete underestimation of the varied, complicated cultural tastes of boys.”
Holmes builds a case against Disney’s decision by pointing to the Nickelodeon television series iCarly which, despite featuring two female leads, apparently draws young male viewers. And why is that?
“Because iCarly‘s main characters have characteristics that, unfortunately, traditional kids’ movies usually assign to boys and not to girls,” Holmes wrote. “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.”
She also notes that The Little Mermaid, credited with starting the Disney Renaissance, did well with an obviously female lead. And Alice in Wonderland held its own back in the day, “despite not being called Hatter!”
Disney’s repositioning for the young-male market extends to television, where last month it rebranded its Toon Disney channel as Disney XD to target boys ages 9 to 14. The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes animated series will debut on that network this fall.