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13/05/2014 11:53 BST | Updated 13/07/2014 06:59 BST

The Case of the Incredible Disappearing Princess

I watched a trailer for a movie I didn't recognise at the weekend.

It was for an animated movie about a daring, unstoppable thief having a series of misadventures. Right at the end of the trailer, we glimpsed the female character who would presumably be his love interest.

Same old stuff, I guess. Such a large percentage of movies only seem to have a female character at all so that the male hero will have someone to snog in the last shot that it isn't really a surprise to see another one. Except that this trailer for a movie I didn't recognise was actually for a movie I've seen dozens of times (not necessarily through choice, although it's a decent flick).

It was for Disney's Tangled, the movie known throughout development as Rapunzel.

The trailer (which can be seen over here) was presumably part of the same process of de-Rapunzelling Rapunzel that led to the name change.

A friend suggested that the trailer's emphasis on the character of Flynn rather than Rapunzel (and, indeed, the increasingly developed male characterisations in recent Disney flicks) was part of a process to improve male representations in these movies rather than marginalise female ones, since the 'handsome prince' archetype has long been used in fairy-tale movies as little more than a third-act deus ex machina with good cheekbones. Me, though, I'd go so far as to say that portrayals of males in Disney cartoons don't matter in the slightest, because kids of both genders get a million other types of portrayals of 'lead character' masculinity to contextualise them against. Proper female leads, though? Not so much. Kids' movies that are "for everybody" like the Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs movies often don't even pass the Bechdel test, let alone present interesting, fully developed female characters who meaningfully interact with one another. Male leads are seen as the default, female leads the unusual oddity.

In such a climate, to devise a marketing campaign which obscures that rare example of a female lead (even if only in one version of the trailer; I've been told that there's a separate trailer featuring mainly just Rapunzel, but it certainly wasn't on the DVD where I saw the Flynn one) is doing our kids a disservice. The idea that a female protagonist has to be 'hidden' in order to attract male viewers is insane and inaccurate, but surprisingly widespread even when her name manages to remains in the title. Even the DVD cover for bloody Frozen places a male snowman, a male reindeer and the character of Christoff more prominently than either of the two sisters around whom the whole sodding film revolves.

I also can't help pondering the recent John Carter movie. The 2012 film was based on a novel called A Princess of Mars. The working title for the movie was John Carter of Mars, and ultimately it was released as just John Carter. The movie didn't perform very well critically or financially under this new 'masculine' identity, but is there any doubt that if the novel's title had been kept in place the failure of the flick would have been directly attributed to the 'female' title?

We're in a world where only 15% of movies have a female lead. If one of those 15% tanks, there seems to be an odd industry impulse to attempt to create a line of cause and effect - it tanked because it had a female lead - in a way that would be considered ridiculous for a male-orientated film. Although evidence suggest that films with decent female characterisations actually outperform male-heavy flicks the cinema in general (and the summer blockbuster season in particular) continues to be dominated by the same old male protagonists.

Disney princesses should not be the only kind of female lead character that kids can draw influence from; it gives them a totally inappropriate level of cultural weight. I'd have a lot less worries about the wide-eyed princess archetype if there were thousands and thousands of other prominent female lead archetypes for kids to respond to (in the way that there are for male characters), but if they're all we've got for the moment let's at least put them front and centre in the marketing.

Talk about two steps forward, three back. Cinderella and Snow White may have been piss-poor role models but at least they got to headline their own goddamn movies.