In most Disney princess films, the main focus is on the princess with the prince occasionally showing up to save the day. However, Disney’s 50th animated feature Tangled (2010) shakes up that age-old formula in favor of a new onscreen dynamic. In order to draw a larger male audience after the poor box office performance of 2009’s The Princess and the Frog, Tangled‘s marketing and overall narrative structure put the prince and the princess on equal ground. This technique would go on to benefit the film both financially and critically.
Tangled opens with Rapunzel’s origin story, complete with absent parents and an evil witch. Eventually Flynn Rider shows up to whisk the princess away from her prison to show her the world. But wait! Flynn Rider is no prince! Well, maybe a prince of thieves… The only reason we know that Flynn is potentially bad news for Rapunzel is due to the fact that the audience is treated to the prince’s origin story as well! This is relatively new ground for Disney, and it pays off. We witness the ruthlessness of Flynn’s lifestyle but still root for him because he is drawn a lot more handsome than his evil friends, the Stabbington Brothers. Even his name alone inspires awesomeness and envy. Flynn Rider may be the coolest name in the entire Disney canon. Throughout the story, both characters have arcs and show growth with plenty of instances of showing true humanity. While this is expected from the titular heroine, it is somewhat progressive for Flynn to get the same treatment in this type of film.
You can’t even technically refer to Rapunzel as the titular heroine, as the title of the film was changed from Rapunzel to Tangled. The reasons are up for interpretation, but Nathan Greno, one of the co-directors, had this to say about the title change in an interview with Entertainment Weekly.
The original intention was to make a film more closely related to something like Cinderella, where your main character is Cinderella, and there’s also a prince that’s in the movie that shows up once in a while. So we started developing: Okay, who is the male character in the show? We started playing around with scenes with our writer, Dan Fogelman, and doing this banter thing back and forth [between Rapunzel and Flynn]. And very early on, without realizing it, we were creating this duo. That’s what eventually lead to the title change. Just as you wouldn’t call Toy Story “Buzz Lightyear,” we really needed a title that represented what the film is, and that it’s a duo, and it stars Rapunzel and Flynn Ryder.
While that supports the argument made above in this post, from a marketing standpoint it makes sense as well. With 49 films before this one, Disney had built a respectable reputation with its female-driven stories. Tangled had the story to entertain people of all ages and gender, but it had to do something to defy expectations and fill theater seats with both boys and girls. Thus, the marketing campaign emphasized gender neutrality in the title and equal representation on Flynn in the posters and trailers.