In an effort to give the Rapunzel story a more contemporary feel, Catmull and Lasseter pushed the reset button in 2008 and brought in a new directing duo who had both worked on Disney's animated movie "Bolt." The Rapunzel film underwent a "total restart," Catmull said: All the prior work was scrapped and the movie was reconceived as a musical with five songs by Disney's veteran, multiple-Oscar-winning composer Alan Menken.
The only surviving elements, Catmull said, were "the hair, the tower and Rapunzel."
Directors Nathan Greno and Byron Howard blended the hallmarks of the classic Disney tale — including sweeping musical numbers and a happily-ever-after ending — with fast-paced action and witty banter associated with more modern animated films.
"If we were told we would one day grow up and direct the 50th animated feature from Disney, it would blow our minds. It's such a great honor," Greno said. "At the same time, it comes with some challenges.... We love classic Disney, but we wanted to invent fresh, new and exciting ideas."
For example, instead of the requisite prince, the directors designed the romantic male lead as a wise-cracking thief who mixes it up with bandits and beer-swilling thugs. The villain, Mother Gothel, isn't the enchantress of the Grimm tale. She's an incarnation of "Mommie Dearest."
In one of the film's musical numbers, "Mother Knows Best," Mother Gothel tells Rapunzel she's "getting kind of chubby" — a line lifted directly from a real-life mother-daughter exchange recounted during a story brainstorming session.
Disney instructed Menken to depart from the heavy Broadway musical-type scoring he made famous in "The Little Mermaid" and "Beauty and the Beast." So the composer borrowed from leaner singer-songwriters of the late 1960s, including Joni Mitchell.
"It's more like handmade music rather than too over-produced," Howard said. "You'll hear a lot of guitar music, especially when Rapunzel is singing.... That was a nice way to break away from what [Menken] had done."
Catmull acknowledges that Disney has a lot riding on the success of "Tangled." The film faces several challenges, not the least of which is that it opens five days after what is expected to be the biggest family event movie of the season, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1." The stakes are particularly high for "Tangled," which by some estimates cost more than $260 million to produce, including six years of development costs.
"On an emotional and morale level," Catmull said. "We really want this to do well and really want the public to like it."