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Monday Mouse Watch: Will “Rapunzel” ‘s new title translate into higher grosses for Disney’s next animated fairy tale?

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Monday Mouse Watch: Will “Rapunzel” ‘s new title translate into higher grosses for Disney’s next animated fairy tale?

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I got a note this past weekend from HatMadder

Am I the only who’s confused by what’s going on in Burbank these past few week? First Disney changes “Rapunzel” ‘s title to “Tangled” and then cancels “The Snow Queen” outright because studio execs reportedly believe that modern moviegoers are no longer interested in watching feature length animated fairy tales. But then they announce that they’re making a sequel to “Enchanted.”

Did any of those executives actually watch “Enchanted” ? If so, don’t they realize that this 2007 Walt Disney Pictures release pays tribute to that studio’s library of animated fairy tales? So what’s the point of making a sequel to “Enchanted” if Disney execs no longer believe that there’s really an audience out there for these sorts of movies?

Enchanted poster with Amy Adams and Patrick Dempsey
Copyright 2007 Disney. All Rights Reserved

Long story short, MatHadder, the reason that Walt Disney Pictures has put an “Enchanted” sequel into active development is that the “Enchanted” franchise is now a known commodity. That – provided that Disney Studio execs mount the proper sort of promotional campaign (more importantly, pick the right opening weekend) – “Enchanted 2” is virtually guaranteed to turn a profit.

As for the reason that Disney opted to change “Rapunzel” ‘s title to “Tangled” … According to the Mouse’s market research, it would seem that – outside of the United States & Germany –  the story of Rapunzel itself has very little name recognition. More to the point, even those among surveyed who actually recognized Rapunzel’s name, these people had little or no knowledge of what her fairy tale was actually about. They knew that this story featured a princess with long hair who was trapped in a tower. But beyond that … zippo.

So here was Disney’s marketing department trying to trade on Rapunzel’s name recognition only to then discover – outside of the U.S. & Germany – this fairy tale didn’t really have any name recognition. Which then forced the Studio to rethink how it was going to sell this particular animated feature.

A prince climbs Rapunzel's tower using her hair
Copyright 2008 Disney. All Rights Reserved

Now to answer the really difficult question: Did “The Princess & the Frog” ‘s overall box office performance really have an impact on Disney’s decision to retitle “Rapunzel”? Well … I’m not going to lie to you folks. There are a lot of people in Burbank who are still scratching their heads over the disconnect that seems to have occurred in regards to Disney’s return to hand-drawn animation. I mean, how is it that a film that was this heavily hyped and received so many glowing reviews (i.e. this Ron Clements & John Musker movie received a 85% freshness rating over at Rotten Tomatoes) still needed eight weeks in wide release before it was finally then able blow through the $100-million-in-domestic-ticket-sales box office barrier?

The prevailing theory in-house seems to be that having the name “Princess” featured so prominently in TPATF’s title may have had a detrimental impact on this movie’s grosses. That – to be specific – young males may have deliberately shied away from buying a ticket to a movie that had the word “Princess” in its title. Which seems to have been a contributing factor in Disney’s recent decision to rename “Rapunzel” “Tangled.”

Know this, though: At least from the Disney Consumer Products’ side of the fence, “The Princess and the Frog” was a smash hit. This past holiday season, most retailers regretted not taking a bigger position when it came to merch associated with Disney’s newest hand-drawn animated feature. Given that they typically sold through everything that they had in stock by Thanksgiving and then had to turn away customers who specifically came in looking for Princess Tiana toys in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

Mattel's Prince Naveen as a frog stuffed toy and Princess Tiana doll
Photo by Nancy Stadler

Speaking of Princess Tiana: Of all the Disney Princess dolls that were sold over the 2009 Christmas shopping season, Tiana moved the most units. Which is pretty extraordinary for a brand-new character.

So as far as DCP is concerned, “The Princess and the Frog” was a home run. They’d love it if WDFA turned out a new movie like that every year. Whereas the folks on the Studio side of things, who judge success not by how many dolls were purchased, but – rather – by how many tickets were sold … “TPATF” ‘s grosses weren’t quite what they were looking for.

Which bring us back to “Rapunzel” … Or – as this film is now known – “Tangled.” As I understand it, in an effort to win over young men, to convince them that this Holiday 2011 release is far more male friendly that “The Princess & the Frog,” the posters, trailers and TV ads for this upcoming WDFA production will place a pretty heavy emphasis on Rapunzel’s love interest, the infamous bandit Flynn Rider.

Flynn and Rapunzel as they appear in Disney's next animated feature "Tangled"
Copyright 2009 Disney. All Rights Reserved

Mind you, just as the title of “TPATF” was adjusted for different foreign markets (EX: In Germany, this Ron’n’John production was known as – simply – “Kiss the Frog”), “Tangled” ‘s title will also be tweaked as this picture is trotted out around the globe.

Which is why you just have to love the French. I mean, here’s Disney execs reportedly so upset about the impact that the word “Princess” has on “The Princess and the Frog” ‘s box office that they changed “Rapunzel” ‘s title to “Untangled.” And yet – in spite of all the brouhaha back in Burbank -- what does Disney Studios France’s marketing staff choose as the title for this holiday 2010 / January 2011 release? “Princess Rapunzel.”

Anywho … What’s your take on “Rapunzel” ‘s name change? Do you think that retitling this CG feature “Tangled” is really going to compel that many more young males to buy tickets to this new WDFA production?

Your thoughts?

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  • I'm not real sure what the failure was of TPATF, perhaps it was just a tough season, and going up against The Chipmunks, which was a surprise hit. When I saw the movie, it seemed like there were a lot of girls in the theater, so perhaps marketing failed as well.

    I don't know that changing Rapunzel's name will buy that much in their audience, and the numbers it turns, but it can't hurt, right?

  • Rapunzel is an old movie that, like a lot of other Disney animation films has a lot of, uh, history and re-writes. It also comes from the "Princess" period where girls were being favored over boys in terms of targeting. Strangely enough Pixar films seem to be aimed at boys mainly and perhaps just conincidentally,(much better stories?)  have been cleaning up.

    I'm just praying that we don't see a Marvel Disney animation to try and win back the boy market. Anything but that.

  • Did "Mulan" have any name recognition outside of China?  Did everyone know who Bambi or Dumbo were prior to seeing those films?  Pinocchio?  Or even Basil, the Great Mouse Detective...  I mean, from the marketing (trailers, posters, etc.), people would learn who Rapunzel is...well, actually, apparently not...since Rapunzel is a girl and Disney is anti-girls now...

    I think that the reasoning of, "Boys don't want to see a princess film" makes more sense to me than, people outside of 2 countries don't know who Rapunzel is...

  • Are the people in Disney's marketing dept really that disconnected from how the general public spends money these days?  How expensive it is to take a family to the theatre? During a recession?  Folks are likely to spend money on that sort of outing once for any movie nowadays, including TPATF, and then wait for the DVD.  A name change isn't going to effect that fact one way of the other.  

    If Disney was hoping for something like the Nemo phenomonon with all the repeat theatre viewership, they're relying on the wrong business model. Perhaps they do know. Perhaps that's exactly why they shortened the theatre run schedule and pushed up the DVD release date for Alice in Wonderland.

  • Jim, I know you don't normally respond to the comments here, but I'd really appreciate it if you could make an exception to answer this question.  

    If this is the Disney exec stance, how the heck can they justify the WDW Fantasyland expansion, which is _entirely about princesses and fairies_ ?

  • I know that a name change may seem like a cop-out for the marketing people, but I had a lot of trouble getting my son to go to the TPATF. He thought it was a girl move (he's almost 12). My daughter was more than happy to see it, and was actually a littel scared by some parts of it (10 years old).

    So, while they both loved the movie, the markettoing almost kept Disney from getting two tickets (since either Mom or I would have had to stay home with the son).

    It's tough to get butts in the seats during this economic climate, so anything that will help would be a good thing for the viewership of the movie.

  • I don't think the title change is going to do a darn thing.  However, I DO think that the way you've said they wish to market the movie - that is, focusing much more on the thief Flynn than on Rapunzel herself - will help to get more boys into the theater (the ones old enough to not be dragged along to every movie their sister sees.)  

    MAYBE that marketing strategy would get more boys into the theaters,

    coupled with the name change - but I think the biggest money problem is in the pockets of theater-goers, not the movie's title.  Ticket prices have gotten pretty ridiculous, and to take a whole family with kids included to the theater is - well, I'm sure a lot of parents are telling their kids "we'll just wait till the DVD comes out".  

    I think that the ticket price problem coupled with everyone being much more frugal these days is the biggest factor.  

  • I don't think that a name change will bring the prime demographic (males 18-49 years old). If someone asks me what this "Tangled" film is, I'll just tell them it's a Disney animated film. THAT is what turns away the prime demo, not a title but the content.

  • I think more boys would have seen it if it wasn't sandwiched between Avatar and Chipmunks, both more heavily in the boy camp.  Also it probably wouldn't of hurt to call it by the fairy tale's actual name, The Frog Prince.

    Tangled?  Right.  Good luck with that.

  • In terms of title, having Beauty in the title back in '91 didn't seem to hurt. But that was in a better economy for one. Ticket prices weren't almost $10 per kid. Chipmunks better emphasized the his-and-hers element in marketing (did any of you see that awful Geico PATF ad?) and got more business. Still, I think a gender-specific franchise title is probably something to shy away from- Disney's done princess movies with the heroine's name as the title but I think actually having the p-word is too much. But on the upside, DCP is happy with the performance. I find it interesting the first 2 new hand-drawn releases have existing franchises.

  • Although you said that the Studio doesn't care about how many dolls were sold, Bob Iger does. Iger is ALL about creating franchises and long term value. I think that HE is happy with the Princess and the Frog. Did he hope it would do beter at the box office? Sure, but Tiana opens up a whole new demographic and adds a new character to one of DCP's MOST popular franchises, Disney Princesses. And that sucess spills over into all of the other divisions.

    Again, in terms of worldwide gross, Cars is number 8 out of 10 Pixar movies, but the Walt Disney Corp (as a whole) benefits FAR more from Cars than from the number one Pixar movie, Nemo or number 2, UP.

  • I think part of the reason TPATF didn't do too well was the voodoo magic parts which were kind of scary weird.

    I think the Rapunzel name change is dumb. If in other countries it needs to be changed, fine, but in the US Rapunzel is well known, so call it "Rapunzel", not some weird non-descript word like "Tangled." If they want to emphasize the guy in trailers, fine. Just call it what it is. People know the story of Rapunzel, does anyone know Tangled? It will be confusing for people and the movie won't do as well as it should.

  • This sounds like the great debate about the Little Mermaid.  However, that movie was an unexpected hit for the studio, even with the concerns of minimizing the market to only girls.

    I think the reality of the season is that, not only are many films not as doing as good as the once did, but also we're being hit by Avatar too many other hugely anticipated films released at the same time.

    Lets face it, the Thanksgiving and Christmas release dates that used to work best for Disney just doesn't anymore.  

  • Personally, I think TPATF didn't do as well as it could have because the marketing campaign wasn't very good - the print campaign was OK, but on TV and in the theatres, you got same half-baked ads that WDS Marketing had always put out for an animated movie that didn't do a very good job of getting across what the movie was about. (Don't buy that? Go over to disney.co.jp and disney.co.fr and have a look at the French and Japanese trailers.) Hopefully, that'll change now that Marketing has cleaned house.

    Also, Disney was busy trying to sell two movies at once - TPATF and A Christmas Carol - and the division would up being to the detriment of both. They probably would have been better off shelving one of these movies - my preference would have been "Carol" - until next December and premiered the other - say, TPATF - in November, where it would have been free and clear of "Avatar" and the 'Munks.

  • When I first heard the name change, "Tangled" sounded like a rom-com to me. I don't know if that particular title would be any better at winning over boys.

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