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Exclusive Interview with 'Tangled' Directors Byron Howard and Nathan Greno

By Melissa Molina

Byron Howard, Zachary Levi, and Nathan Greno Tangled Photo

Byron Howard, Zachary Levi, and Nathan Greno from 'Tangled.'

Photo by Eric Charbonneau ©Disney Enterprises, Inc.
November 21, 2010 - This November 24th Walt Disney Pictures is reaching one incredible and impressive milestone. They're just a couple of days shy from releasing the 50th addition to their animated collection with Nathan Greno and Byron Howard's Tangled. The fabled tale of the super long-haired maiden locked up in the tower has survived for decades and now finally gets a touch of Disney magic, crowning itself as their latest princess film.

Ever since Disney went through their wave in the late '80s and early '90s with their classic princess films, they've struggled to recapture that magic. Recently they took a swing with the Princess and the Frog and are continuing on with Tangled. Mandy Moore's voice brings the charm and spunk of the 70 foot long-haired blondie out. She headlines the wonderful voice cast which includes Zachary Levi, Ron Perlman and Donna Murphy.

The Story: Rapunzel (Moore) is a young woman locked up in a tower starving for adventure with her only connection to the outside world being the over dramatic Mother Gothel (Murphy). When the thief Flynn Ryder (Levi) climbs into the tower, Rapunzel embarks on an adventure that includes thugs, her pet chameleon Pascal and a horse super-cop named Maximus.

During a trip to one of the "happiest places on Earth," better known as Disneyland, I was granted the opportunity to sit down and chat with directors Byron Howard and Nathan Greno. They dive further into the initial choice to bring out the first CGI Disney princess, the 3D process, and creating a version of Rapunzel that many audience members will adore.

Interview with Directors Byron Howard and Nathan Greno:

This is a Disney princess film and when it comes to the Disney princess films they're 2D, hand-drawn animation although Princess and the Frog is kind of an exception because it was a bit digital. What was it about Tangled that made you want to transform her into the first CG-princess?

Nathan Greno: "The film itself, it's a pretty big story. It has such great scope. It's like a big roller-coaster of a film with all the action and drama and the emotion. One thing that CG does extremely well is that you can also go into the very subtle areas of the movie. The way you can animate facial expressions and everything, you can get very subtle, which is something that CG is great at. The other big reason that I think we did it is because Byron and I were always up for a challenge and hair has never been done this way in a film before. Up until now it's been impossible to animate the hair in these CG movies like the way we did it in Tangled."

"Usually CG hair is a bob, a ponytail or something, pretty short. And so we wanted to use CG to create something that audiences haven't seen before and that's really kind of - it's real cutting edge technology that we ended up developing."

Byron Howard: "Yeah, and creating that lantern sequence too. When we figured that out that was the moment we needed to really draw Rapunzel out of her tower. We thought that's perfect for CG. Because CG actually creates 50,000 lanterns that are floating around you and to take it a further step, 3D is a way to get into where Rapunzel is emotionally there. She's waited for 18 years and with the 3D it feels like you're in that boat with her."

Which Disney princess is your favorite?

Byron Howard: [Laughing] "I would say Rapunzel is mine right now. Yeah, aside from Rapunzel. One thing, one that had a big influence on me was the first time I saw The Little Mermaid I saw Ariel and that character, for the first time ever, was a Disney heroine that felt alive to me. It felt like someone I knew, and I fell in love with her because she felt like a real girl, right? The one thing about her, and don't get me wrong I love Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, but she's more alive and real. That's what we were trying to get with Rapunzel as well. She shouldn't be like this cartoon character or like this princess. She should feel like a real girl that you know."

I was talking about The Little Mermaid with a friend of mine the other day. She said, "Oh my God, I love her, she's my favorite Disney princess." So I asked, "Okay, why's that?" And she said, "Because she goes after her man!" And it's true!

Byron Howard: [Laughing] "Yeah, it's true. She knows what she wants. And I think that's part of the appeal for making this movie. When we were creating Rapunzel - in the original story in the Grimm Brothers tale that is hundreds of years old - it's a small story and Rapunzel's pretty passive in that she's kind of waiting around to be rescued. We knew we were making this movie for a contemporary audience and we wanted Rapunzel to be a real role model in a way. We wanted all this girl power and to really drive this story, so she doesn't wait around for anything. She has a limited world view and she's being manipulated by her mother but otherwise she's a smart girl, she has these hopes and dreams and she's going to get what she wants out of life."

When it comes to Mother Gothel, she's a villainess in the sense that she's obsessed with staying young. But the way that she's portrayed, you feel not exactly sympathetic but you can just see where she's coming from. She doesn't seem completely evil basically in comparison to the other Disney princess villains.

Byron Howard: "Yeah, you know she's a really subtle character. She's very, very smart and she's, like a lot of characters in films, she's made some bad choices. In order to stay young she stole a baby and went overboard. What's great about her is yeah, she's not much of a mustache-twisting villain, but she's got layers in her that are very hard to figure out sometimes. She had to be subtle enough with her relationship to Rapunzel that Rapunzel wasn't aware that she was a total villain. But we love that Donna [Murphy] brings that kind of charisma and intelligence to that character."

Nathan Greno: "Yeah, when we were creating her, it was interesting that you bring that up. We've heard this actually from women quite a bit that there's some sympathy once in awhile for Gothel that seems to come out. And when we're creating Mother Gothel, we invited a lot of the women from the studio to come up to a meeting room one day after work. We said, 'Okay, so just tell us your relationship with your mother. What is that and how did that work out when you were growing up?' People had some really crazy stories and at times we were like, 'Wow, that's a really intense story.' But then they always say, 'Oh! But I love my mother! I love her, I love her!'"

"Everything that we got out of that meeting we actually put into the character. In the movie, there's that one point where Gothel says in her song, 'Getting kind of chubby,' and that's something that came out of that meeting. So we wanted it to feel really real and relatable, and people really are starting to relate to the villain a bit, at least with that relationship."

You have mentioned that you've taken little bits of classic Disney films as a soft little layer for Tangled. What exactly did you mean by that?

Byron Howard: "Well we love classic Disney so we get a lot of that feel in this movie to the point of where we've hidden stuff from the classic films in the movie, if you're looking hard enough. It really was about this great nostalgia Nathan and I have for those films like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Peter Pan and Dumbo. They have great emotion, they're beautifully designed and beautiful color palette. So we wanted all of that great stuff that you want in a Disney film, but at the same time we wanted this new fresh take on the characters. We wanted the characters to feel real. We wanted the emotions you experience to be something that everyone could relate to, and that was really important to get all of that in one big package."

"This is the 50th animated feature from the Walt Disney Animation Studios. We love our roots, we love our legacy, but we knew from this one we had to do something different. We wanted to surprise audiences and that sort of adds into the decisions we made during the process."

It's been mentioned before that you two were the replacement directors, and you've talked about how there was a different vision. What one thing about Rapunzel, or Tangled as it's called now, stands out the most as yours?

Byron Howard: "Well, I guess the whole thing was..."

Nathan Greno: [Laughing] "We own that whole movie."

Byron Howard: "The thing is when we took the film over, we really started from a blank slate as much as possible. The core of that, even back to the Grimms' fairy tale version, was this great coming-of-age story. The potential was there, but it was sort of like what form do you want to present to the audience? We really feel like we've just been able to touch every part of this film and we've very proud of the whole thing."

Nathan Greno: "We had to, when we first got onto the movie, to bring our vision of the movie because the process in making these movies is a very intense one and you have to believe in everything you're doing and live with the decisions you're making. We couldn't just inherit something that had come before. We looked at all the development work that'd gone on and cherry-picked the best stuff that we liked. But at the end of the day we confidently can say we are the directors of this film. We feel that us, along with our crew, we own the movie."

* * * * *

Tangled descends into theaters everywhere this November 24th in 2D and Disney Digital 3D.

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