Tangled Up With a Pop Star and Spy

When looking for a voice actor for their new film “Tangled,” directors Byron Howard and Nathan Greno picked out bubbly girl-next-door Mandy Moore — an appropriate choice, if you happen to live next to a 70-foot-tall tower.

The pop star lends her vocal chops to Rapunzel in the 3-D adaptation of the old Brothers Grimm fairy tale. Her love interest — and home invader, and the recipient of many a frying pan to the head — is the charming thief Flynn Rider, voiced by Zachary Levi. Together, along with sidekicks Pascal and Maximus, they journey across the kingdom in search of mysterious floating lights.

The rush of suddenly being a part of the 50th member of Disney’s pantheon of animated features is a heady one for these two long-time fans. Though Moore worked with Disney in 2006 when she provided the voice for Nita in the direct-to-video “Brother Bear 2”, becoming a full-blown (thought unofficial) Disney princess — complete with long-haired dolls and Halloween costumes — is something completely new. For co-vocal star Levi, both voice acting and feature films are a vast departure from his goofy spy thriller “Chuck,” now entering its fourth season.

A member of The Guardian, along with reporters from the Cal State San Marcos Pride, the Daily Aztec, and The Falconer, sat down with Moore and Levi to discuss their fairy tale rise to stardom.

Do you think the film will appeal to both boys and girls as a fairy tale?

Zachary Levi: I think it will absolutely appeal to both boys and girls. I think honestly that was one of the things Disney wanted to set out to accomplish. You know, they’ve had a lot of success in the princess world, and a lot of those princess movies also appeal to boys as well — I mean, I was a little boy and I watched all of them. I don’t know what that means (laughing). But specifically what I heard is they really wanted to have a movie that was really equilateral. Yes, you have this princess character of Rapunzel, but you kind of have this fresh take on it and it’s an adventure movie at its heart. It has a lot of romance and comedy and drama and all that stuff, but it’s also an adventure.

It also has a strong male lead.

ZL: (laughing) Yeah, incredibly strong. Brawny.

I thought Rapunzel’s nervousness about leaving her tower was similar to many teenagers’ anxiety about leaving home for the first time and going to college. What lessons do you think high school or college students could learn from Tangled?

Mandy Moore: Goodness, well, I like the idea of never really questioning that little voice inside of you. Not letting fear sort of win at the end of the day. And perhaps it’s cliché or obvious, but I like the idea that her entire life, Rapunzel’s been told that it’s her 70 ft of magical hair that makes her special when clearly it was something that was within her all along. I think that’s always an important message to get across. You come to expect that when you go to a Disney film — you’re going to be entertained. You’re going to laugh — probably cry if you’re a woman, ‘cause I know I do — and you’re also going to come out with a little life lesson, or morality lesson. So I think there are some important themes in the film that hopefully are obvious when people leave.

So I’m sure both of you are both big Disney fans — Zach, I know that you are.

ZL: Disnerd

Disnerd, Yes I’ve heard that. I am too.

ZL: Alright!

What’s it mean to be a part of Disney’s legacy now?

ZL: It’s mind melding. We’ve talked about this at length. Growing up watching all of the films, not just the ones that are considered our generation’s starting with ‘The Little Mermaid’ on, but I mean when I grew up the Disney Channel and cable television was just starting to be what it was, and the Disney Channel was one of those main staple channels, and there was no real original programming. There was no ‘Hannah Montana’ or anything like that. I’m sure at Disney they were sitting around thinking, ‘What do we put on? Let’s just play all the old stuff.’ And they had original programming too. So, I would sit there after school and would just go and watch all the old cartoons like ‘Pecos Bill’ and ‘Johnny Appleseed’ — I don’t know if you guys have seen any of these — and ‘Ferdinand the Bull’ and ‘Lambert the Sheepish Lion’, and all these other random ones. And what’s amazing is that even those, even though they were kind of featurettes, they weren’t full-length features, a lot of those were considered to be part of the 50 [movies]. We’re the 50th animated feature, which is unbelievable.

MM: It was so cool see all the ones before. I mean, we went to a screening a couple weeks ago, and we sat through and they literally showed from the first film all that came before up until Tangled. And it’s like, ‘Oh my God, “101 Dalmations”! Of course, I totally forgot. “Dumbo”!’ That is so above and beyond that we’re a part of it with this movie because you know, those movies, and ‘Little Mermaid’ and so on, were such huge parts of our childhood. They’re so ingrained in my memory, like singing every single word of ‘Beauty and the Beast’. And now, it’s like this movie could now potentially mean to kids nowadays what those movies meant to us. It doesn’t get much cooler than that.

When you were little did you want to be Ariel?

MM: I did, I did.

ZL: So did I, sister. (laughs) I wanted to be Sebastian, actually.

MM: Flounder?

ZL: No, I mean I liked Flounder, but Sebastian…

M: He’s the man.

ZL: Crab. Yeah, he’s the total man-crab.

I’d say you’re more like Aladdin.

ZL: I love Aladdin. I mean Aladdin was my — for little boys, that was more the movie because he was a guy.  There was also so much adventure going on. And the Genie was so good. Robin Williams as the Genie was maybe one of the most perfect Disney roles ever. And Abu is great, and the carpet is great, and Iago is great, I mean, everybody. But definitely it was more male driven. And Jasmine was hot.

You kind of look like Aladdin.

ZL: Yeah? Kind of. (Staring to sing) ‘One jump ahead of the breadline…Da da.’ Alright, I won’t get into it.

In animation, often times once a voice actor is cast, they’ll sort of go back and change the character a bit because that missing piece of the puzzle has been filled in. It completes the personality in a way. Did that happen when you guys were cast as Rapunzel and Flynn?

MM: I don’t think so

ZL: Not the look, I don’t think so. They had pretty much set the look of the characters before we were cast. But they have a camera in there the whole time recording your voiceover, so — we’ve talked about this before, I think [Mandy] noticed a few moments of yours where you did something.

MM: Yeah, I was like, ‘That’s me!’ Yes, gestures that she does, I was like, ‘Oh my Gosh, that’s so me.’ Even my husband turned to me and said ‘That’s so you’ in some parts. It’s pretty crazy. I think we thought the same thing [when we saw the camera] in the vocal booth — that it would be for behind the scenes DVD stuff.

ZL: Yeah, that’s what I thought it was.

MM: And it really was for the animators to get to sort of see how we move. [To Levi] I mean, are you super animated? ‘Cause I’m very gesture-y. I mean, she had to use the frying pan and I was [mimes swinging a frying pan with effort], like I was really holding the frying pan.

You guys were separate when you were recording?

ZL: We didn’t record dialogue together once.

MM: We only met when we did the duet.

ZL: We sang the duet together, but we didn’t get to do any of the dialogue together.

MM: Doing all the press, all of this, is the first time we —

ZL: The first time we’ve hung together.

MM: Yeah, the first time we hung out.

Is that [aspect of voice acting] difficult, when you’re imagining someone’s reactions?

ZL: Yeah.

MM: Yeah. I mean, I guess you get used to it as well, and it allows you or forces you to dig deep into your imagination and give every different variation on a line you can give. And at least the directors were there. And they were with Zach and they were with Donna [Murphy, who voiced Mother Gothel] for her sessions, so they know what they need to get from me to match what they love and they’ve already gotten from Zach. I don’t know. You have to just in there and throw caution to the wind and have fun.

Having had your own successful musical career, was it a little bit of a challenge not having total creative control over the musical parts?

MM: No, not really, because Alan Menken is Alan Menken and the songs were so incredible, even in the demo phase, that it was intimidating to go into the studio because it’s not like going in there and recording your own songs. I couldn’t approach these songs like, ‘Oh, I know what to do with this.’ There was a lot of thought into breaking these songs down — especially the first song in the film, because it was so challenging. You couldn’t just jump in. You know, the duet that we sing together is beautiful, but that was a song that you could sort of lose yourself in a little bit more. But I needed Alan to tell me, ‘OK, this is where you breathe on this line for “When Will My Life Begin”’ because there’s so much to get in and you had to be in character too. It’s the first time you really see the character on screen so that was really challenging initially. I was so frustrated with myself. I was like, ‘I know how to do this! Why isn’t happening the way I want it to?’ [laughing]. But again, Alan is such a pro and it’s so second nature to him that he knew exactly what he wanted and how to get it out of me.

[To Mandy] You’ve portrayed so many characters in this really wide variety of films, from heroes like Rapunzel to really sympathetic characters like Jaime in ‘A Walk to Remember’, to more villains like Lana in ‘The Princess Diaries’. In your opinion, is any one type of character more fun to play or easier to play than others?

MM: It’s always fun to play the villain. [to Levi] Right?

ZL: Yeah, it’s fun to play the villain. I think societally people are called upon to be nice people — as they should be. I think it’s good to have standards, for people to treat other people with kindness and respect. So, if that’s the standard, that’s what we’re called to do more often than not, so you don’t really have that outlet for those other parts that might be inside of you that’re just dying to yell at somebody. I don’t know. Not that it should be or whatever. But there are those things inside of us. I don’t know if it’s a matter of exorcizing your demons, but when you get to be a bad guy, you get to. And there’s no recourse, and you’re actually being paid to do that.

MM: It’s very cathartic.

ZL: Yes, exactly.

MM: It’s always more fun to play someone that’s so different than yourself.

There are so many beautiful scenes in ‘Tangled’. What scenes struck the two of you? Which ones were your favorites?

ZL: Well, I think we both think the lantern scene. I think that’s going to be one of the scenes that people walk out of the theater and find beautiful.

MM: It’s so — I mean, what a fantasy. It’s so beautiful. Not only the light from the lanterns, but just the way the whole scene is lit, and this world that they live in. It is so romantic, and it’s so easy to get carried away with that. You know.

ZL: It’s also such a bummer, because you go from that —

MM: — Like the highest of highs —

ZL: — yeah, and right after that is when everything falls apart. They’ve made it to the kingdom, they’ve fallen in love, he’s over the satchel, they’re ready to kiss, and she’s meters away from her parents, and then it all goes wrong. But it’s good storytelling, and you need that to kind of build the stakes. But yeah, it’s a beautiful scene. I think the whole movie, the entire artistic direction on this film is just spectacular. The whole world that we’re running around in is just gorgeous. And you know, it’s interesting, because I know that a lot of people were initially kind of up in arms that it’s not 2D — it’s CG and ‘Why are they doing that?’ and ‘Why don’t they stick with the classic Disney?’ But I don’t know if you could get the same world [in 2D], I don’t know if you could paint the same picture that they do in this movie. Not that they haven’t made fantastical forests and magical lands before — obviously they have, and they’ve done it very well. But to do it in the way that they’ve done it in this movie is just incredible.

MM: The detail.

ZL: And the light shining through the trees.

MM: Yeah, I kept watching the movie and thinking ‘I can see every layer of clothing that Mother Gothel is wearing, and the way that the fabric moves’. It’s all of those little tiny details. It is so mind-blowing to me.

ZL: Yeah, it’s such a beautiful movie anyway. My favorite scenes are —

MM: The ones you’re in? [laughing]

ZL: Why thank you. I loved all the stuff with Maximus, fighting with Maximus. Pascal and Maximus steal the movie to me. I hate saying it but…

MM: Yeah, they do.

ZL: And Mother Gothel. God, Donna Murphy is so freaking good. ‘Mother Knows Best’ is such a great song, and then the reprise.

MM: Seriously, I have been jamming to that in my car. Like, if I have to get out and pump gas or something, I quickly turn down it a little bit. How nerdy would that be? I don’t listen to my own stuff, but totally ‘Mother Knows Best’ and the reprise, I sing along.

Tying into the music section: Zach, you’ve been branching out with your music career lately, working with Katharine McPhee on ‘Terrified’. Was the opportunity to sing like a big draw?

ZL: Yeah, it was definitely part of the draw. I mean, there’s really only one draw, and that is when I heard that they were auditioning for a Disney animated musical and I said, ‘Yes please, whatever I have to do, I do it for free. I’ll fly wherever I have to, because it’s a dream come true.’ And the fact that it was musical, and it was animated… Look, I would’ve been stoked just to do an animated film. I remember years back when they were auditioning for Ratatouille, I was clawing at the door saying ‘please’, because I think Pixar is amazing as well. Definitely, huge added bonus for this to be a musical. I’ve grown up my whole life singing. I love singing and I guess you always kind of hope that someone hears you and goes ‘Oh, you can actually do that. I’ll hire you to do that.’ And they did, so it’s amazing. And the duet with Katharine and this are the only two things I’ve done. I’ve sang at some charity things, but nothing that’s ever been recorded, nothing that ever been a professional gig.

Is that something you want to pursue?

ZL: I’d love to, but only if somebody comes to me and says ‘I’d like for you to do this’, but I don’t even know how to force myself.

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