Interview: ‘Tangled’ Directors Talk About Creating Disney’s 50th Animated Feature

Tangled is what many of us thought would be one of Disney’s smaller films, almost a direct-to-DVD movie that found itself in theaters, yet something about the animated feature put butts in seats. Globally, Tangled brought in over $350 million. When you actually take time to watch the film, you’ll see it tells a great, if traditional, Disney story with solid performances from the lead voice actors Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi. Geeks of Doom recently took part in a roundtable discussion with Tangled‘s directors, Nathan Greno and Byron Howard, to talk about film, which arrives on 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray, and DVD this Tuesday, and the duo shared some great nuggets of information from behind the scenes of the making of the movie.

Tangled was originally simply titled Rapunzel. Early on the film’s titled was changed to the much more modern Tangled. Byron Howard commented, “When Nathan and I figured out that this film was really about two characters, Flynn and Rapunzel, we knew that changing the title would be a good idea. We like that Tangled as a title sounds smart and intriguing, while also relating to the tangle of plot, characters and emotion in the film.” One of the best things that Tangled does is tell a classic Disney animated film story, but with a modern more approach to the style and characters. There’s edginess to Rapunzel’s mother that is hilarious and clever all the way down to her Oscar-nominated song.

Speaking of the music, Howard commented on the decision to do the film as a musical rather than just a romantic comedy. “We knew it could be both. Music can be more effective than the most brilliant dialogue at conveying emotion, so we were very excited to have someone as skilled as Alan Menken writing our songs and score. And just because it had songs didn’t mean that the film couldn’t be an action filled roller coaster ride. We like that.”

Tangled is a story that has been over 80 years in the making at Disney. Nathan Greno explained: “The idea of a Rapunzel story has been around the Disney Animation Studios since the 1930’s… it was on one of Walt’s early lists. It took a long time to bring this film to the screen. The problem is the original tale is a very small story. It takes place in a tower. A girl is waiting around to be rescued. It’s all very passive and small. We needed to blow up the scale of the film… turn it into a big event. We really tried to keep what worked in the original. The original icons of the classic story are all there… it’s just been updated for a modern audience.”

Tangled is a mixed bag as far as the animation goes. It doesn’t look like it has the budget behind it of some of the studio’s bigger tentpole films and certainly not like the Pixar films but some bits, such as Rapunzel’s hair and one particular scene on the water with lanterns, are outstanding. Byron Howard has worked for Disney since the beginnings of CG animation. “When I first started at Disney animation, CG animation was really just a tiny blip on the radar. Lion King had just come out to huge success, and Disney had a long slate of traditionally animated films in production. I actually remember seeing some of the first scenes from Toy Story, when the Army Men leave Andy’s room to spy on the birthday party, and I was like “Wow. This is going to change things from now on.” Now CG is the expected route for animated films, and the scope of the stories get bigger and bigger with each release.”

While the film is no Toy Story 3, the directors and crew did work extensively on all aspects of the creation of this fairy tale world. They even considered real locations and other details in creating the environments. “Yes. We take our research very seriously. Knowing that we wanted Rapunzel’s story to take place in central Europe (Austria/Hungary) we did exhaustive research into local architecture, artwork, even flora and fauna. Every tree you see in Tangled‘s forest actually grows in those regions of central Europe,” Howard shared.

The film weighs heavy on the shoulders of the two lead actors. If their chemistry didn’t work then the whole project would have been a failure. Co-director Nathan Greno shared the experience of finding Zachary Levi and Mandy Moore: “In the very beginning, we try to create very appealing characters. We have friends around the studio do the temp voices for our early screenings. At some point (before animation begins) we begin the casting process. We saw hundreds of people for the role of Flynn and Rapunzel. Hundreds! It was crazy. It seemed that all of Hollywood wanted these parts. There were a lot of amazing auditions, but in the end Mandy and Zac totally nailed it. They were incredible. People are always surprised to hear they didn’t record together because their characters are so charming on screen. Mandy and Zac were the perfect fit.”

The film hits DVD and Blu-ray this week so it seemed like a great time for the directors to reflect on what they are most proud of in regards to the film: “The whole thing! Really. We worked hard to make sure it was all worth watching. The movie had to look great, the story had to be strong, and the characters had to be fun and appealing. There’s so much action and emotion in the film… it’s really everything I wanted it to be. I’m most proud of the whole thing!,” Greno said. “I think we’re most proud of our crew. Nathan and I asked the world of them during our hectic production schedule and they delivered the most beautiful film anyone could imagine. It’s a great reward for all six hundred crew members to see people around the world falling in love with their work,” Howard added.

It’s always fun to dig into these animated films and find the little Easter eggs. The directors shared two great ones with us. The first is that if you look closely you’ll see Pinocchio in the pub and the second is that each newel post of the staircase in Rapunzel’s tower is painted with the symbol of Disney’s previous five princesses. I’m not the biggest fan of musicals and Disney films in general, but I have to say this is a charming film that definitely deserves your time.

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  1. “Tangled is what many of us thought would be one of Disney’s smaller films” – excuse me, but who in the world thought that? Anybody who followed its genesis knew at which price tag it would finally arrive…

    Comment by Jons12567 — March 28, 2011 @ 6:37 am

  2. I agree that it is no Toy Story 3 – it´s actually much better than that overrated Pixar flic. I am not saying it´s perfect, because there are more holes in the plot than in the hull of the Titanic (maybe the directors were too busy researching trees… Jesus, who cares about acurate trees…), but I efinitely enjoyed it more than TS3…

    Comment by TylerD — March 28, 2011 @ 6:47 am

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