Chris Sonnenburg, executive producer and supervising director on Tangled: The Series, speaks with TV Kids about Disney Channel’s upcoming animated show based on the hit feature film.
Tangled: The Series takes place in between the events told in Disney’s 2010 animated movie Tangled and the subsequent 2012 short film Tangled Ever After. Leading up to the show’s premiere on Friday, March 24, will be the March 10 debut of the Disney Channel Original Movie Tangled Before Ever After, which sees Rapunzel adjusting to life with her parents, her royal duties and the people of Corona. Reprising their roles for both Disney Television Animation productions are Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi as Rapunzel and Eugene (previously known as Flynn Rider), respectively. Following their U.S. launches, Tangled Before Ever After and Tangled: The Series will roll out in 162 countries and 33 languages on Disney Channels around the globe.
TV KIDS: How did you come up with the story for the Tangled series?
SONNENBURG: First off, I am a huge fan of Disney and I’m a huge fan of the way that they tell stories and the way their characters are treated. I actually come from feature animation; I spent a lot of the ’90s at Disney Feature Animation working on movies like Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules and Mulan. So I have this kind of built-in DNA of Disney Feature Animation as well as being a huge fan as a kid—seeing The Jungle Book and The Little Mermaid and all of the wonderful Disney movies that have been such a huge part of me. And I think what worked really well for [me] coming to the series was having one foot firmly planted on the feature animation side of it. But I also have a background in television animation, working on Gravity Falls and Kick Buttowski: Suburban Daredevil and some other series. I have a love for television animation as well. And so when [Disney] first came to me with the idea of creating a series for Tangled, being such a huge fan of the feature itself I wanted to treat it with a huge amount of respect and really be true to the characters and where they would be in a series. It took me a little while to actually come up with an idea that would work on a series basis. I watched the film a few times—and there was a short called Tangled Ever After, where they get married—and at the end of the movie, there’s a line when Flynn Rider (Eugene) says, “After years and years of asking and asking, I finally said yes.” He was kind of joking this idea that there was some time between when they met in the movie and then ultimately get married. I was like, Well, that might be a little bit of a joke on Flynn/Eugene’s side, but I wonder if there really is some time in between there? So that was my first idea of, Hey, this is where we can plant this thing—tell their story of how they go from being in each other’s lives in the movie and being a huge part of each of their freedoms from their past and then becoming something larger in the short. And that’s where we really thought there was the most fun amount of entertainment, adventure, romance, comedy, music—everything that we know and love about the movie—that we could put [out] on a weekly basis.
TV KIDS: What gender and age demo does the series target?
SONNENBURG: I am telling a story for everybody. I’m trying to tell a great story for all ages. But ultimately, of course Rapunzel is a huge central force in story, so I think girls are going to get a lot out of her experiences and seeing how they relate to experiences in their own lives. Young girls, anywhere from 6- to 12-years-old, will get a lot out of it. And hopefully even all ages beyond that will get a lot out of the adventure and the comedy and the experiences that these characters go through. Relationships with parents, significant others, friends, and getting to know the world—these are all themes and experiences that all generations can get on board with and really find places to identify.
TV KIDS: How does Tangled’s Rapunzel differ from the original German fairytale character as well as from other Disney princesses?
SONNENBURG: I think some of the original versions of Rapunzel and even some of the princesses in the past have been fairly passive. I mean they’re definitely the drivers of their stories, but Rapunzel definitely takes the world by force and she’s telling her own story. What we always like to say in our show is that with the other princesses, you’re constantly being told from the very beginning, This is a story of… Then in our story, when her mother comes to her and gives her this diary, she starts to take record of her own story. She takes her diary and she is telling us her adventures. And I think that’s a huge part of what makes her independent; it’s a huge part of what makes her irrepressible. She’s incredibly creative. Her hair is an extension of who she is. [There’s] this warm glow to her that wants to run towards the world; she doesn’t run from anything, she’s constantly looking to the next adventure and toward ways to grow.
TV KIDS: What are some of the themes and lessons in the show and why do you think the story will resonate with kids around the world?
SONNENBURG: There’s certainly a huge lesson that her mother gives her in the TV movie, [a saying] which means, “there is more inside of you.” I think a huge thing that Rapunzel goes through, especially in the Disney Channel Original Movie, is she’s thrust upon with all these ideas of what a princess should be, what a daughter should be, when someone’s going to propose to her. There are things that are kind of happening to her, and her mom is very sensitive to that. Her mom sees this bright, strong young woman and says, Listen, everybody has this idea of who you should be, but I look at you and I know that there’s more inside of you. I think the fans will translate that as, there’s more magic inside of her. But I think what her mom really means is we all have more inside of us that we can dig to find out about. Ultimately, this show and the themes are really about that—finding out what our potential is and finding out what our destiny is beyond what we think [is in store] for ourselves.
Rapunzel has such an appeal, from the standpoints of strength and creativity and thinking outside the box, that transcends age and location. There’s something in our show for everybody. There’s drama, there’s comedy, there’s music, there is adventure—it really has a little bit of something for hopefully everyone.