Over the past few months, I’ve had a lot of conversations about “Tangled: The Series”.
I’ve asked people why they watch it. I’ve asked adults if they’re even into watching cartoons and their feelings about them. I’ve gotten ratings information from a connected friend, and discussed said ratings with another.
Because the thing is, it’s a good show. The writing, the animation, the cast, the songs-- everything is solid. The Disney and Broadway fandoms ALONE should be having a field day with it! But for some reason, it’s somewhat struggling in the ratings, versus other animated series and even other Disney series. Why?
As we wait for the announcement of the premiere date for the second season, let’s look at what I believe is keeping it from getting the viewership and popularity it deserves, shall we?
1) The storyline is primarily overarching, not episodic.
We live in a world of fleeting attention spans, thanks to social media and online streaming. It’s easier to consume a show where we can watch one episode easily when we’ve missed others, and the most popular cartoons nowadays follow that structure. “We Bare Bears”, “Spongebob Squarepants”, “Adventure Time”, “The Amazing World of Gumball”-- hell, even “Rick and Morty” is episodic, mostly. And while “Tangled” has a few episodes that can stand alone, for the most part, its storyline progresses throughout the first season (and will continue to do so into the second, if the finale cliffhanger is any indication). This isn’t necessarily a negative aspect-- there are many animated series that have had similar plot structure and succeeded--but it does mean that it’s not one of the cartoons that one can just throw on TV whenever it airs, depending on the episode. And being that Disney can’t be bothered to air the show consistently (more on that in a bit), that could be hurting its viewer potential.
But anime series have primarily featured overarching storylines, as well. Is it an issue with Western audiences? Would “Tangled” find more success in the Eastern hemisphere?
(I tried to look up information about “Tangled” and Disney Channel Japan, but couldn’t find much. They totally get the better merchandise over there, though.)
2) Lack of Diversity.
While it’s wonderful to have a female lead AND a realistic female friendship front and center in “Tangled”, the show is severely lacking in diversity, particularly compared to other animated series nowadays. And of the many adults I spoke to, diversity is one of the key components in getting them interested in a series aimed at kids. Most of them named “Steven Universe” as an example, a popular Cartoon Network show that features multiple ethnicities, fluid and non-binary genders, varying body types, and LGBTQ+ relationships.
“Tangled” is not a show that I would consider diverse-- at least, not yet. All of the main characters are white and straight, as are most of the guest stars and background characters. The closest character the series has to a “diverse lead” is Lance Strongbow, a childhood friend of Eugene’s (and voiced by James Monroe Iglehart), who is currently just a recurring character in the series. Many of the show’s fans have been hoping that Cassandra (who is voiced by actress Eden Espinosa), Rapunzel’s best friend, will be revealed as a LGBTQ+ character, but that remains to be seen-- not to mention that although she’s voiced by a Latina, there’s been no evidence of Cass herself being a Latinx character.
But “remains to be seen” is an important distinction. The show’s lack of diversity is possibly the most fixable issue it is facing. If they added more diverse characters, more characters of color, more non-straight relationships in the second season, they may be able to turn this around.
We’ll have to wait and see.
3) Lack of Advertisement/ Unknown Audience.
Disney has no idea what to do with “Tangled”. If that wasn’t blatantly obvious from the constant schedule changes during the first season, then you can tell from the contrasting episode trailers (this vs. this), merchandising options (there’s basically only stuff for small children, not even tweens, and nothing for adults), and honestly? The general lack of promotion. They seem to be wondering WHO, exactly, to market the show towards. And that’s a problem, because if THEY’RE not sure, then we’re not sure what we’re being asked to watch. So far, it seems like their solution is to simply not promote it as much as, say, “Ducktales” or “Big Hero 6”. But that can’t be the RIGHT solution, can it?
Towards the end of the first season, the show moved to an early Saturday morning slot on the channel, and it seemed as if they were pushing the show towards the Disney Jr. crowd (similarly to "Elena of Avalor"). In the beginning, it seemed to be aimed at the all-important older child/tween demographic. But here’s the thing: as someone who once wrote recaps for adults, the show can be enjoyed across the board, and should be treated as such.
(Not to mention that the D23 panel was CHOCK FULL of mostly adults who screamed in pain at the preview of “Pascal’s Story”. ADULTS. Not kids.)
Embrace the Varian fangirls-- give them shirts and other merch and they’ll be happy. Embrace the fact that this is a cartoon showing one of the VERY FEW healthy heterosexual relationships on television, and PROMOTE that relationship! People love strong, capable female characters, and both Rapunzel and Cassandra can be those characters for all ages. And HOW is Disney, particularly with how much they’ve pushed the Oh My Disney-fangirl platform, NOT taking advantage of how many people have the hots for Eugene?!
Come on, you guys. There’s a literal POOL of potential audience groups to pick from, but you’re gonna miss out on them if you promote “Tangled” as just a kiddie show. If you don’t know where the show fits, don’t shove it into a box that it’s not shaped for. Get rid of the box.
4) Lack of Pre-Existing Audience.
“Voltron”, “Ducktales”, “The Legend of Korra”, “Star Wars: Rebels”, etc.-- these titles popped up over and over again when I asked adults what animated series they were watching. When asked what got them interested, the answer fans gave was always the shows’ previous material.
For “Voltron”, it was nostalgia for the old cartoon from the 80s-- same for “Ducktales”. “The Legend of Korra” was a sequel/spinoff of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” series. “Rebels” has, of course, not only the “Clone Wars” series but the entirety of the Star Wars universe on its side. Unfortunately, “Tangled” doesn’t have the fortune of relying on previous material, even though it’s based off of a successful movie. If the series had been released sooner, perhaps it could’ve capitalized off of the movie’s success a bit more. But both Frozen and Moana have come after it-- two massive hits that make even the movie itself get lost in the Disney fray, let alone the series.
And speaking of the timing of Tangled’s release, it was released in theaters in 2010. Only eight years ago, which means it’s too soon to capitalize on nostalgia. It also means that kids who were the perfect age to appreciate the movie when it came out (let’s say 7-8 years old) are now teenagers, who don’t tend to watch live TV anymore. Which brings us to our next issue…
5) Lack of Accessibility.
The first season of “Tangled: The Series” aired last summer into the fall, and the only places to catch it at the moment are on the Disney Channel itself (including the website and on-demand), on blu-ray/DVD, or purchasable on iTunes/Amazon. This is typical for new Disney Channel shows, but here’s the problem: when you check TV Guide for when episodes of “Tangled” will repeat, there’s NOTHING for the next two weeks (it was the same case about a month ago, when I last checked). But if you check “Ducktales”, there’s a repeat showing every day, even more than once in some cases. Same with “Gravity Falls”. And “Phineas and Ferb”. And “Elena of Avalor”. And the newer Mickey Mouse shorts. And pretty much EVERY Disney Channel/Disney XD show except for “Tangled”. So what’s the deal? How is Disney expecting to gain new viewers in season two when they’re not even bothering to air episodes of the first season?
Both Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon are known to air their shows over and over again, too. It makes sense, when there’s 24 hours of programming and a very small percentage of that is dedicated to new material. Many people state the ease of finding a show as a reason for checking it out, so why not push some of the lower-rated shows instead of airing a show that’s already ended?
It’d make more sense if they had put “Tangled” up on Netflix for viewing, but there’s nothing there, either. There’s ONE episode available on YouTube (for viewers in the US, as far as I can tell), and the music videos. But how are people supposed to be able to catch the show, OR get interested in the storyline? I’d wager that there will be a marathon or two closer to the release date of the second season, but it may be too little, too late.
What do you think? Can “Tangled”’s issues be fixed so that we’re guaranteed a third season?