Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Disney's newfangled 'Tangled'

Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair!

I mean, um - Walt Disney Walt Disney, let down your guard!

Seriously, Disney, I'm worried about you. For quite awhile you seemed to have things figured out. You settled that whole Eisner mess, you made sure Pixar stayed in the fold and your own animated movies started getting better, culminating in the revival of hand-drawn animation with The Princess and the Frog.

Unfortunately, however, that movie did not do as well at the box office as it should have, taking in about $103 million. Not bad, certainly, but I know you were hoping for better, especially considering in the early 90s, you sometimes made twice that - more if you adjust for inflation. It didn't help that you guys had to compete with the Chipmunks "Squeakuel." God bless young kids, but they're not exactly known for their discriminating taste.

Understandably, you wanted to make sure your next movie, Rapunzel, avoided a similar fate. Not understandably, you gave it a new name. Tangled.




Ick, blecch and yuck. Where's the hairspray when you need it?
Come on  - that sounds like your classic misbegotten, studio-group-think screw-up. That's almost as bad as Sony changing the title of a Nicolas Cage/Bridget Fonda romance from the very intriguing Cop Gives Waitress $2 Million Tip to the utterly bland It Could Happen to You.
What's Tangled supposed to mean, anyway? As Linda Holmes of NPR so wittily stated, "So now, instead of sounding like a princess movie, it sounds like a Lifetime movie about a murdered salon owner. Fantastic."

This decision is starting to remind me of your animation output of about 10 years ago, when movies like Atlantis and Home on the Range  felt script-noted, focus-grouped and test-marketed to death. NOT the era you want to evoke.

You guys are geniuses at selling your movies, but testing them? Not so much. What are we to make of the supposition in this Jim Hill Media story that "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."

Uh huh. Like Mulan was a household name?

I mean, really, guys. Tangled sounds like you're trying to hard to be "hip, contemporary, with it." No. When it comes to animated movies, that's not your job. Leave that to your inferior rivals like DreamWorks. The charm of the Disney brand for animation is that it's timeless, ageless. Rapunzel speaks to that. Tangled does not.

Speaking of DreamWorks, their next animated movie, How to Train Your Dragon, comes out later this month. It's directed by two guys who used to work for you - Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, who helmed Lilo & Stitch, one of the best moves you made this past decade. I get the sense that DreamWorks is going to beat you at your own game, because Dragon seems to have more Disney charm than Tangled does.

But I hope I'm wrong. I'm still very fond of Disney. I like most of your animated movies very much. I will see Tangled, but I'm forced to admit I'm more worried about it than anticipating it.  In that sense, the title change is very appropriate after all.

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