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Tangled – Nathan Greno and Byron Howard interview


Interview by Rob Carnevale

CO-DIRECTORS Nathan Greno and Byron Howard talk about some of the challenges of bringing Tangled to the big screen – Disney’s 50th animated family movie.

They also discuss their passion for Disney’s heritage and the inspirations behind some of the new characters…

Q. Why is it that Disney and fairytales are such a glorious fit?
Nathan Greno: I guess it’s just become a tradition at the studio and for Byron and I, we were very aware of that. When you say Snow White, when you say Beauty and the Beast or when you say Aladdin even, you always think of the Disney versions when you think of any of these things. So, when we were approaching this movie, taking the classic story of Rapunzel and bringing it to life, you realise that if you do a great job these films live on forever. And potentially become the definitive version of that. Disney seems to do it… they do it in a way that’s just so sincere and so emotional, the way they tell their stories. There’s been films lately, like Shrek for instance, and I’m not putting the film down, but it pokes fun at these classic stories and has kind of a snarky attitude about it. I love that our studio doesn’t do that. I mean we embrace what’s great about these classic stories.

Byron Howard: I think people actually were worried by the fact that, when we said we wanted to make a contemporary film, people automatically thought that contemporary and modern means cynical. When you watch this film, Tangled isn’t cynical at all, it’s a very heartfelt, genuine tale. And I think we do that, again like Nathan was saying, because we know these films will live on far beyond us. You want these films to not be too topical and too tied to the period that they’re made, so they can live on past the generations that first see them.

Q. Does the Flynn character owe his name to Errol Flynn, possibly?
Nathan Greno: When we were putting it together and trying to figure out who Flynn Rider was in this movie, we looked at a bunch of different sources. I think Byron and I were just trying to think like what kind of characters do we like. When you look back at some of the past Disney princes or something, a lot of them are kind of soft and they’re not like people we think are that cool, I guess. They’re good guys, so I guess we sort of took that to the other extreme. We like cocky, arrogant sort of characters, and I think there were people in our building that were a little worried because we were up in the story room and they were hearing these rumours of, well, it’s not a prince, it’s a thief, and he’s kind of a ladies’ man and he’s very arrogant. I think they were like: “What is going on in that story room?!”

But, I think the trick is when you’re creating a character like that, if you have this cocky character, you have to hit him over the head with a frying pan a dozen times or something, and he needs to kind of pay for being that way. Those characters, if they’re done right, can be so funny. On the flip side, if they’re not done right, they can be really off putting. So, we were looking at Han Solo, we think he’s great.

Byron Howard: There are bits of a lot of people, Gene Kelly is in there, a lot of influences went into it.

Q. Talking of influences and inspiration, is there something of Cher in Mother Gothel?
Byron Howard: Maybe it’s because Cher is very exotic and Gothic looking, and definitely she was one of the people we looked at visually, as far as what gives you a striking character. But also Donna Murphy, who is her voice in the English version, also really heavily influenced what Gothel looked like. She was a hard one to crack, I mean I think [animator] Glen [Keane] had explored that character for many years and tried to figure out what does a person need to be. In this final version of Tangled she’s not really a witch, she’s not really a sorceress. She’s got this one thing she can do with the hair but beyond that she doesn’t really have magic.

So, she has to be this very intelligent, compelling, manipulative character who’s very smart and can actually convince this poor girl that she’s actually her mother. So, in order to contrast her to what Rapunzel is like… Rapunzel is very petite and has that blonde hair, we needed to go in completely the opposite direction. So, Gothel is very tall and curvy, she’s very voluptuous, she’s got this very exotic look to her. Even down to that curly hair, we’re trying to say visually that this is not this girl’s mother. Whereas the Queen is designed almost precisely like Rapunzel, down to the little details in her eyes and her nose and mouth shape. We tried to do as much visually to tell you that this is where this girl belongs and that this woman is not her mother. But again many influences kind of go into these characters and we kind of soak it all in like a sponge and then we kind of put it down as the one single character.

Q. How was working with Mandy Moore as Rapunzel?
Nathan Greno: I think with a lot of these animated features at other studios they’ll just look for a big name or a celebrity or something like that, and Mandy definitely has that, but she also has this skill set, because you see other films and I think the acting can fall really flat. Like she has said, you’re in this room, you’re not on a set, you’re not acting with another actor and I don’t think everyone can do that as well as she can. It’s a lot of work to pull something off like that, and I’m not sure everybody always realises how much work that is.

Q. Tell us about the classic look to the film, which is cutting edge and modern while also reflecting that classic fairytale look?
Byron Howard: Definitely, we love classic Disney. Right across the street from us is the archive, and when we first got onto this film we went over there and looked at the Sleeping Beauty book that’s in the very beginning of Sleeping Beauty and opens up. It’s a beautiful jewelled book, it’s half the size of this table, enormous, and it’s filled with these incredible Eyvind Earle paintings – Eyvind is the guy who styled that film. When you look at the craft and the artistry and the precision and the care that they put into those films we knew we had to do as well as that or better.

We really care about this company and what people think about it, so we really tried to draw a lot of influences from films like Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. The colours that you see in the film are pulled right from that Cinderella era in the ‘50s with Disney that everybody loves because we knew that even though we were making a contemporary film with snappy dialogue and a sophisticated take on things and subtle acting, we wanted that nostalgia as well because people have high expectations for when they hear that Disney is doing one of these classic tales. They have something in their head that they want to have satisfied, but at the same time they don’t want to see the same stuff that we’ve done in the past 49 films. So, that’s where that challenge is coming from – how do you do something fresh while giving something to people that they’re already so familiar with?

Q. What challenges did you face animating Maximus, and what decision making process did you go through in having silent animal characters in the film?
Byron Howard: Sure, Nathan and I love classic silent films, we love Charlie Chaplin, we love Harold Lloyd, and we talked early on and said wouldn’t it be great to sort of stick to the Sleeping Beauty rules of animated animals, which is that animals don’t talk but are very expressive. They act and understand without words. We’ve gotten so many compliments about him and Pascal and so many people saying: “Thank you for not making them talk.”

Q. Will this end up as a stage production?
Byron Howard: You know what’s great about Disney, what’s great about working for this company, is you do see these films live on past the actual cinema experience. The first time that Nathan and I saw Flynn and Rapunzel in the theme parks was an amazing day for us, because there in front of us were these characters brought to life. And before the film had even come out there were lines of families waiting to meet these new characters. To see that emotional investment already, before the film was even familiar to audiences, was amazing to us.

And the fact that they talked to us about perhaps in one of the Disneylands building this tower, building part of her kingdom, and knowing that something we helped to create could live on far past us is an amazing thing. And that goes to the stage shows as well. It certainly has the potential, obviously, of becoming some sort of stage musical with the great music by Alan Menken and the lyrics by Glenn [Slater]. I’m sure they’d love to expand on that, but we’d definitely support any expansion of that world.

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