Chris Sonnenburg on Disney’s ‘Tangled: Before Ever After’ and ‘Tangled: The Series’
Set between the stories told in Walt Disney Animation Studios’ acclaimed film Tangled and the short “Tangled: Ever After,” the Disney Channel original movie Tangled: Before Ever After sees Rapunzel’s (voiced by Mandy Moore) natural curiosity about the world lead her to realize that there is so much more she wants to learn about and experience before she’s willing to step into her role as a princess. And when her long blonde hair suddenly grows back, she must learn to accept its magical qualities while embarking on this new life journey with Eugene Fitzherbert, FKA Flynn Rider (voiced by Zachary Levi), her new friend, Cassandra (voiced by Eden Espinosa), loyal chameleon sidekick, Pascal, and her dutiful horse, Maximus.
During this interview with Collider, Tangled: Before Ever After (premiering March 10th) executive producer and Tangled: The Series (premiering March 24th) showrunner Chris Sonnenburg talked about how they came to the story that they’re exploring with these characters, why it was so important to him to get the original voice cast on board, the challenge in casting new characters, appealing to a young audience, how Tangled: Before Ever After sets things up for Tangled: The Series, Rapunzel’s hair mythology, deciding on the animation style, and already being picked up for Season 2.
CHRIS SONNENBURG: Thank you! The word is getting out. We created this movie in a funny little footprint, and it’s been our little secret for quite awhile now. That people are starting to see it is very exciting!
When did the idea for Tangled: Before Ever After and Tangled: The Series come about, as opposed to just doing a feature sequel, and what did you want to explore with it?
SONNENBURG: At the end of Tangled, the movie, Flynn, or Eugene Fitzherbert says, “After years and years of asking and asking, I finally said yes.” It was a funny line, and you expect Flynn Ryder to have a fun little line like that, but we looked at that line and said, “Maybe there are a few years here that we can spend, getting to know this couple a little bit more.” That’s when the story opened up for us. We’re calling it “between the kisses,” with the kiss in the movie and the kiss at their wedding in Tangled: Ever After. We thought, what if there were some years in here, where these kids get to know each other a little bit more.
How important was it to get the original cast members back, and would this have ever happened, if you couldn’t get those original voices to return?
SONNENBURG: It’s very important for me, as the showrunner, to not have sound-alike voices. It’s very important for me to get the original cast back. So much of who Rapunzel and Flynn are is Zac [Levi] and Mandy [Moore], so it was very important for me to win them over with the mythology and how we were going to treat the characters. That’s why we planned on the entire mythology of the series, before going to them, so that they could be secure in what we were doing with the characters in the series.
At the same time, what do you look for and how challenging is it, in casting new characters, when you have such beloved characters that they have to interact with?
SONNENBURG: It is incredibly challenging. When we were casting Cassandra, Rapunzel’s best friend, it was a huge challenge to find somebody that could keep up with Zac and Mandy. I think we have two very established not only characters but amazing performers, and being able to find somebody who could run alongside them and not feel left behind or running ahead was very challenging. We heard Eden Espinosa speak as the character and sing as the character, and immediately we knew that she would fit right into the family, and she’s done an amazing job.
It seems like Rapunzel is going to face some interesting challenges in this series. How will you make those challenges accessible for younger audiences?
SONNENBURG: Hopefully, what we do is we put the character in the middle of all of those experiences. We never put Rapunzel in a situation that doesn’t necessarily have to do with what she’s going through, emotionally. If the characters can cue into what Rapunzel is going through, as a character, the situations will fit right into place. That’s often how we go into a story. We think about, what does Rapunzel, Eugene or Cassandra need at this time in their life, and then the situations tend to fall into place.
Tangled: Before Ever After sets up some things that you don’t full answer by the end of the movie. How does that set up things for Tangled: The Series?
SONNENBURG: Well, her hair is back, and we wanted to set up the idea that her hair is back for a reason. It is very much attached to who Rapunzel is right now and what she’s going through. She can’t run from her responsibilities, and that has to do with the idea that her hair can’t be cut. It’s not something that she can just run away from. She has to face that. And that is a big part of how we begin to tell our story, throughout the first season and going into the second season, as well.
I love that this story has hair mythology. That’s amazing!
SONNENBURG: The very first thing I asked, as we were going into the writing process, was, what does her hair coming back have to do with us telling these stories? All of those answers fuel exactly how we treat the hair and what it does and its purpose in the show. It was not an after-thought, by any means. It was very much the first thing that we tackled.
We see that Rapunzel clearly loves Eugene, but she just isn’t ready to become a settled down princess yet because she wants to more fully explore and live her life first. How does he feel about that?
SONNENBURG: Eugene is a pretty smart guy. He’s excited to be able to not only support this girl, who he knows that he’s in love with and has a stake in her life, but being able to see the world through her eyes is something that he is very much looking forward to. He’s been around the world, and we get the sense that he’s seen the world a couple of times, but he’s never seen it from her perspective. Being a part of that journey is really important to him, and I think that builds him out, as a character, as well.
How did you decide what animation style to go with for the series?
SONNENBURG: A huge question that we always ask in the writers’ room is, why does something exist? We typically don’t come up with a story idea, unless we can answer the question of why? The style of the show became, how would Rapunzel tell her story? We have this amazing art style that was created in the movie, by an artist named Claire Keane, in the murals in her tower, and I started thinking that, if Rapunzel were to tell her own story, she would paint it because she’s so creative and thinks like an artist. I really wanted viewers to be able to feel like an artist was involved in creating this series, so there are a lot of times that you can see brush strokes or a pencil line, or different aspects of a hand creating the show. I think Rapunzel would want that, and I think that very much dictates our storytelling and our art style.
It’s pretty amazing that Season 2 has already been ordered, before this even airs. How far into the planning of Season 2 are you, or are you already working on those episodes?
SONNENBURG: There’s a large story that we want to tell, and being able to have the freedom of a second season certainly helps that process, in allowing us the freedom and the space to be able to tell a very rich story.
Tangled: Before Ever After premieres on the Disney Channel on March 10th, while Tangled: The Series premieres on March 24th.