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Hey boys and girls, we had the great joy of speaking with Byron Howard and Nathan Greno, the co-directors of Disney’s Rapunzel retelling, Tangled.  We chatted about everything from Mandy Moore and clever lizards to Buster Keaton to frying pans.  We were even gifted with an exclusive tip on a Bolt-related fine-feathered onscreen in-joke.

Dig it!



Directors Byron Howard and Nathan Greno


The Lady Miz Diva:  How did you guys get tangled up in Tangled?

Nathan Greno:  What happened was the two of us were working on the film Bolt {2008}.  Byron was one of the directors and I was the story supervisor and at some point toward the end of the production, John Lasseter {Disney head of animation} asked whether or not I would be interested in directing a film.  The way John works is he starts with a short; kinda like driving a car around the parking lot before you take it out onto the street.  So I was asked if I wanted to do a short and of course I wanted to do a short, and it was going great and part of the reason it was going so well was that Byron was there to help me through some of these other departments that I had not worked with before.  Byron and I have been at the studio for about 15 years now, and we came up through different ranks; Byron was this brilliant animator and I came through the story ranks, so we like to say we both have different superpowers. There’s overlap in our abilities, but we have great strengths in different places and we realised we made a pretty good team and working on the short we realised that we really worked together well and John Lasseter saw the same thing.  So when it came to getting this movie done on a two year schedule, I think he saw the potential in a team that could tackle a film as big as Tangled.


LMD:  Which was the biggest challenge for you in making this film, creating an entertaining story or achieving the gorgeous animation?

Byron Howard:  I think the biggest challenge for us was the schedule.  Normally, we’d get four years to do these films and on this one we only had two.  So it was a very tight schedule, but the great thing is that everybody’s saying that the film looks gorgeous and the animation is unbelievably amazing, the only thing that suffered was the poor crew.  They work hard normally on the movies, we have about 500 people on our crew and we really asked a lot of them.  We’re very nice guys but we’re very demanding directors. We never want to settle for less, we always want to the films to be as great as we could possibly make it.  So we were constantly pushing our crew and animators to exceed what they’d had done in the past.  They loved that, they loved to have that challenge, but again it does mean having a lot of time spent locked away in this building for two years.  What Nathan and I really tried to do early on was to make sure the story really is one that’s worth telling and worth the time of all these magnificently talented people, so we’d really work the story hard before we’d give it to our animators.


LMD:  I wonder how much the success of Dreamworks’ Shrek {2001} and its twisted look at fairy tales has influenced this type of film?  Do movies based on story books now have to be fast paced and hip as opposed to the straighter storylines of the earlier Disney classics like Snow White or Sleeping Beauty?

NG:  We knew we didn’t want to poke fun at the retelling of a classic story.  We didn’t want to make a snarky movie.  We really thought that we could make a sincere picture. We definitely feel like there’s a place for this kind of movie in the world and it’s great.  There’s other studios and they have made fun of classic storytelling.  Everybody loves those classic Disney films and we thought, ‘Is there a way to look back at what those films are and what makes them do great,” because Byron and I love our legacy.  We love our history here at Disney and we just thought, ‘Is there a way to look at those, take what’s so great about those and combine that with contemporary film?’  We also love contemporary films and that means we like pacing that’s a little bit quicker, we like big action sequences, we like hilarious characters and situations and we really believed there was a way to combine those things. We just wanted it all.  It had little to do with what other studios had done in the past.  We were looking to take a step forward for Disney animation and do something new, do something fresh, do something unexpected.


LMD:  Was there pressure in knowing this was the 50th Disney animated feature?

BH:  Oh yeah! It’s funny cos we were about six months into the project and somebody said, “You know, I think the last film that came out was number 49. That means we’re 50.”  So we were like, “Oh terrific, more pressure.”  But we do like that, because from the very beginning when Nathan and I sat down, we love the Disney classics like Cinderella, Dumbo and Sleeping Beauty and Pinocchio and you’ll see a lot of that influence visually in the film.  At the same time, we knew it was the 50th animation feature, we wanted to do something that could sit next to those films, those classics, but at the same time, we’re making a film for a 21st century audience.  So we’d also take our own influences from live action films and we’re also competing with films like Avatar and huge, huge films that are packed with action and have very smart dialog.  But even though we were trying to do that, we still wanted to hold on to that core, that heart, that Disney emotion that the studio’s famous for.  We love that people come out of this movie saying, “I was expecting to laugh, but I wasn’t expecting to cry.”  We love that because there’s that saying that Walt Disney had, “For every laugh, there should be a tear,” and we think that’s a great philosophy to follow, it makes for a really good movie.


LMD:  Is the film completely computer generated or is there any hand-drawn art in there?  What were the most difficult elements to animate?

NG:  It’s a completely computer-generated film, but one of things I think maybe you’re picking up on is that it feels different.  It feels different than any other CG film that has come out.  I think part of that had to do with our animation process.  We looked back at what really works well in 2D and we wanted to get some of the fundamentals of 2D into the CG film and in order to do that we had Glen Keane, who’s this legendary Disney animator.  He’s animated characters like Ariel {The Little Mermaid – 1989} and Beast {Beauty and the Beast - 1991} and Aladdin {1992}, he’s just this tremendous talent and he was there as a mentor working with this group of young, talented CG animators. So Glen Keane’s experience in 2D combined with these guys’ amazing passion for CG animation, it really turned out to be like merging worlds together and turned out to be something that feels very different.  Unlike anything, I think that we’ve done or other films have done before.  The whole process quite honestly was very challenging and that had to do with the schedule, but when that dam breaks, there’s 23 million gallons of water that are rushing through that canyon.  There’s a sequence where we have 50,000 lanterns flying through the sky and it’s beautiful, it’s breathtaking.  Every one of those scenes we tried to make special and we really tried to make unique.  It was a ton of work and we were always asking for more and more and pushing our crew as hard as we could, but at the end everybody came through.  Everyone was passionate about making a great film.


LMD:  Why wasn’t the film called Rapunzel? Was there fear that it would be too girl-oriented and is that why there’s so much action and boy stuff like the Pub Thugs in it?

BH:  We went through the title about six months into the project; we had kind of what you’re seeing onscreen now as far as our movie goes.  We kept making changes through the production, but Nathan and I started looking at the film and originally we’d started with Rapunzel as the center character and we thought it would be a movie like Cinderella where the main female character carries the whole movie and if there’s a prince, he’s kind of off to the side.  What happened was that Flynn became a bigger and bigger part of the story, and it became a story about the two of them and it became a duo movie.  So we started to ask ourselves, ‘Well, is this the right title for this film?’  If you think about Toy Story 3, you wouldn’t call it Buzz Lightyear because it’s a story about Buzz and Woody.  We took it very seriously and our crew came up with about 300 different options for titles and we took input from everywhere -- and a lot of them were terrible -- but we came back to this “Tangled” title and what we really liked about that is that’s the way the flavour of the film had grown into this very rich, contemporary, action-y, fun film and that had a lot of complexity to the relationships between the characters and the plot.  There’s the interesting dynamic between Goethel and Rapunzel and Flynn and the horse.  We liked that that title said that this film isn’t what you’re expecting.  I think when people see the film, they understand more so why we really wanted to change the title.  I think people were worrying that we were going to be cynical with the movie that we were trying to be boy-centric, but we really don’t want to make a movie for boys, we really don’t want to make a movie just for girls.  We really tried to spin our plates very carefully to make sure that it’s balanced and that every person who goes to see this film will enjoy it.


LMD:  One of the most famous Disney animal sidekicks is Sebastian the crab from The Little Mermaid and he talked a lot.  Was there ever a discussion that Maximus the horse and Pascal the chameleon would talk?

NG:  Actually, no.  It’s funny, I think one of the reasons was we wanted to do a bunch of things in this movie to flip expectations.  When you say it’s Disney bringing a classic story to life, instead of the prince that you’d expect in a story like this, we had a thief. And even Rapunzel, instead of her being this passive girl waiting to be rescued, we made a really, strong, smart confident girl who’s going to live her dreams.  She’s not going to wait around to be rescued.  And instead of a little bluebird or squirrel for Rapunzel to have as a sidekick, what if it was a lizard or a chameleon?  Same thing with the horse, he’s not a noble steed to the prince; he’s chasing this thief down the whole movie like some crazy supercop.  So we were always trying to do something different, do something fresh and new.  And I think by not having the animals speak, that’s different, probably you’d expect them to talk and we thought there’s another way to do something different.  What also fed into that is Byron and I have a great love for silent films, and we thought, ‘Well, what if we cast Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin in this movie?’  We love those guys and what if there’s a way to get them into the movies and we thought, the animal characters, that’d be great.  You can have all this fun, pantomime acting without any dialog.  And the animators love that, too, there’s a huge challenge for them and a very fun challenge is when you create characters that don’t have any dialog to deal with, everything comes down to the acting with those guys.


LMD:  Can you talk about Mandy Moore’s involvement?  How did she come on board and was it easier knowing she would be doing the film as both spoken and singing voice?

BG:  We looked at a lot of people for Mandy’s role and it’s a very small cast, so we were very thorough in doing a casting call for each character.  For Rapunzel, we saw over 300 actresses.  Each one of them came in and read from the script and they also sang for us.  So we sat through the auditions and some really big names came in to audition and we were very impressed with how much this project was drawing from Hollywood and New York.  No one could quite touch Mandy Moore and honestly, whether she was famous or not, we would’ve chosen her, because she is Rapunzel.  She is the perfect choice for what we wanted the character to be.  She’s very genuine; she’s got a great heart, she’s very intelligent and she’s also a little quirky, which we loved because we wanted this young woman to be different from other Disney heroines.  We didn’t want her to just be this noble character who’s got this royal background and is completely unrelatable.  We wanted her to be someone who you could relate to, maybe someone like yourself or a girlfriend or a sister.  It was important to us that she was a real, relatable girl.  The fact that she could sing was a real plus, we loved her voice, we loved what she did with the songs.  She was a consummate professional, great to work with.


LMD:  The music in a Disney feature is such a big deal and this is the first film you guys are doing that have the big show stopping numbers.  Can you talk about placing those and keeping the film’s momentum? How did you know when they were right?

BH:  That’s something that as we went.  Alan Menken and Glen Slater, our lyricist and composer, were working hand in hand with us trying to figure out exactly where the songs should go, and usually where it is is where the emotions get so big that the character has to sing.  Those moments have to be worthy of someone picking up and singing.  What we like to say about the movie is there are no gratuitous songs.  Think of it as less of Broadway musical and more of a film with songs.  Let’s look back at Jungle Book and Pinocchio and Cinderella, you wouldn’t call those movies musicals, really.


LMD:  What was the inspiration behind the frying pan? I think it deserves a credit in the film!

NG:  Flynn was climbing up into the tower; we were trying to figure out what was going to happen there, and we thought he had to be knocked out so Rapunzel could investigate this guy.  We wanted it to be funny, y'know?  We were always looking for ways to keep the humour up and we thought about what’s around the tower that she could hit him with?  I think in one of my early storyboards I had her just pick up the frying pan and smack him with it and it played really well in the screening and it got a laugh.  And you know you can also overdo these things, but we thought, ‘Okay, let’s push it.  Let’s see how many times she can belt the guy with the frying pan?’  And we just kept doing it and we have these internal screenings for the crew and it seemed like every time that frying pan came back, it just got a laugh.  Then we just started threading it through the whole movie and he’s like – (catches himself)—“he”, see?  It’s like it almost becomes another character.  We should have some kind of consumer products deal.


LMD:  I wanted to give a quick nod to another film you both worked on.  I think the pigeons in Bolt are the funniest fowl since Feathers McGraw in the Wallace and Gromit short, The Wrong Trousers {1993}.

BH:  Since you like the pigeons, we’ll tell you, they’re actually hidden in Tangled.


LMD:  No!

BH: Yes!  And you’re the only person in America who knows this!


LMD:  What do you guys want to audiences to take away from Tangled?

BH:  Always when we make these movies, we want these films to last forever.  We don’t want these films to be something that you go to see once and forget about.  We try to layer these movies and make them important to people and make them emotionally relevant to the audience.  Nathan and I are trying to make movies that make us laugh and make us cry and we hope it touches something real, something relatable to the audience.  That’s why I think the Disney classics did so well, having an emotion and something important under all the great entertainment and colour and magic.  They can go to this film, fall in love with the characters and their world and want to experience it again and again.  That’s our great hope is that it’ll live on forever.

NG:  I think Byron summed it up pretty well there.  It’s a movie we’re extremely proud of and that’s because of the way it turned out, it’s because of our crew and how hard they worked to really bring the film to life.  And the one thing that we hope that audiences will really go out and see is that this isn’t the film they’re expecting in the best possible way.  It’s not a soft story it’s not a small story; it’s a big, action-packed rollercoaster of a movie.  It’s hilarious, it has so much heart and we truly believe that audiences will be truly entertained by this film and they’re not going to see this one coming.  This is a really special one.



~ The Lady Miz Diva

Nov. 22nd, 2010



Click here for our Movie Review of Tangled




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