"Tangled: The Series" is the best show you're not watching — but really should be
Are you looking for a new show to watch that has complex, emotional characters, and stories that will make you laugh, cry, cheer, and hug your family members? Oh, and it stars Mandy Moore? Surprisingly, I’m not talking about This Is Us (come on, you’re already watching This Is Us). Rather, I’m talking about Disney Channel’s Tangled: The Series, the best show on television you’re not watching — but should be.
Tangled: The Series picks up after the end of Tangled the Movie, and before the Tangled short, Tangled Ever After. Think of it like a sequel-prequel. The show follows the story of what happens between Rapunzel’s short brown hair ‘do all the way to happily ever after. And friends, a lot happens. For starters, Rapunzel gets her long, blonde hair back (??!!) thanks to some mysterious growing rocks on the edge of the Kingdom of Corona. Also, Rapunzel seems to be able to interact with the rocks, but no one really knows how, or why, or if they’re dangerous or not (hint: They definitely are). That’s not all, as
Flynn Rider Eugene Fitzherbert (once again voiced by Zachary Levi) proposes to Rapunzel, and she says no (!!). She’s gotta figure herself out first before she can share her life with someone else, and like, same, Blondie. You do you.
There’s also Rapunzel exploring a new relationship with her parents (here voiced by Julie Bowen and Clancy Brown) — because, remember, she was locked away for 18 years — while also making new best friends along the way, like her lady-in-waiting, badass Cassandra (voiced by Eden Espinosa), and teen alchemist Varian (Jeremy Jordan).
If this seems like a lot for a Disney Channel cartoon, that’s where you’re wrong — because Tangled: The Series is so much more than a cartoon. While you might have grown up watching the movies-turned-TV-shows of the early 90s, like Aladdin and The Little Mermaid, Tangled: The Series is weaving a tight, compelling narrative that just happens to use animation to tell its story. Don’t let that deter you from maybe canceling all your plans this weekend to binge it.
HelloGiggles recently jumped on the phone with Tangled’s executive producer, Chris Sonnenburg, to talk through all things frying pans and beyond.
HelloGiggles: Mandy and Zach have been playing these roles for a very long time. Do they improvise things while they’re in the recording booth?
Chris Sonnenburg: They’re both very different. Mandy trusts me very much. She always looks to me for guidance in a performance. I’m there for all the records so I walk them through a lot of the things. So, she trusts me and she asks me where Rapunzel is, and she’s always trying to pull from the page. Zach is…a little different.
HG: That makes total sense.
CS: He’s very much, of course, Flynn Rider. You know, he always does that. It’s Eugene Fitzherbert, but it’s still Flynn Rider. He loves Flynn Rider, and he loves Eugene Fitzherbert, and he loves the heart that this character has and he’s very attached to that. And they’ll be lots of times when we’ll write a line, and I think reading it on the page and going through our story cycle, it sounds great in our heads, but then when we get in front of the microphone and Zach says it, all of a sudden it’s like a record scratches. It’s like, “Oh, that is not anything that Eugene would say.” And so a lot of times I’m like, “Zach, just make it your own. Just give me five different reads, and just mix it up.” And he’s always so much fun. As a matter of fact, we just recorded with him today, we had spent the whole morning with him, and he’s so much fun to just pal around with.
He’s a great friend, he’s so loyal, and he’s so warm. And then when we get into the room he’s always quick with an alternative line, or with an addition to a line, and he’ll put in a little head swagger or something. And a lot of those things we just put into the show. It’s so important to get their performances before we animate so that they can put those little nuances into the animation.
HG: You have some very impressive voice talent in the cast. I mean you just had Jane Krakowski, and Jonathan Banks. How do you go about approaching someone for a character?
CS: I was very adamant from the very beginning, almost to the point of being annoying, that I did not want to stunt cast this show. I wanted to be very sincere about it, I wanted it to sound very sophisticated, but I didn’t want a stunt cast. But what ended up happening is that the right people came to the show. Our casting director started bringing these names, and I had my squinty eyes of like, “I don’t know. I don’t know if I like that.” And then they read for the part and I was like, “That is perfect.”
I don’t really use a lot of standard animation voices, or cartoon voices, I usually like to pull from people that have been in dramas, or people on Broadway, or people that aren’t necessarily associated with animation because I think, first of all, that’s how they cast the movie with someone like Donna Murphy, who is such a legend on Broadway. And look at Ron Perlman, who’s never done an animation voice in his life, and then all of a sudden he comes in front of the mic and he just has this unique vibrato, a stature to him. I think a lot of the characters we have on the show, you know you’re talking about Jonathan Banks. Like, Jonathan’s never really done a lot of animation before, he does not look comfortable behind a microphone. He should be beating somebody up, he’s somebody that I feared from Beverly Hills Cop when I was a kid. And seeing him come and bring this heart to this character, and this performance to Quirin was very important in the production of all of our shows.
HG: All of these characters are so well rounded, and I enjoy little traits that they have. One of my favorite things that every time Eugene talks about the king and queen, he refers to them as his “future father-in-law,” his “future mother-in-law.” It’s just the sweetest, endearing thing.
CS: Well, I will tell you, Eugene’s relationship with the king is very much inspired by my relationship with my father-in-law. My father-in-law is very intimidating, and when I proposed to my wife, this was 21 years ago, but I remember asking for his hand and he told me “no.” And I remember very specifically being like, “I gotta respect this guy. I can’t just assume that he’s going to accept me on the face.” I remember my wife being very upset at him about that, but I remember wanting to win him over and it really meant a lot for me to have him on my side, and I think it very much means a lot to Eugene to have the king on his side. He wants to make them proud, and he wants to be respectful, and he wants to be honorable, and all the things that he thinks his future in-laws would want him to be. It’s kind of part of the growth of him as well.
It’s something that I don’t really see a lot of on the landscape in terms of television about kids being respectful and really honoring people that love them. The king is somebody that really wants to love Eugene, and he just wants what’s best for them. I think a lot of times that gets missed in how stern he is, and of course that’s as protective as he is of his daughter, but that comes out of love and that comes out of a place that’s very close to his heart. I think it’s important for Eugene to acknowledge that, and see that, and be honorable to that.
HG: I’d to talk about Cassandra, who is absolutely wonderful. Don’t tell Rapunzel, but she might actually be my favorite character on the series. Was your intention with her always to make her kind of like the two sides of a coin, like she’s strong and also feminine?
CS : Cassandra is somebody that Rapunzel looks up to in that way. I think she sees Cassandra as everything she would love to be. Adventurous, and free-willed, and knows her way around a sword, or at least knows her way around an adventure, and knows her way around the kingdom.
She’s street smart, and she’s quick, and I think Rapunzel really looks up to that, and I think she respects that part of her. You know, she’d love to be the friend that Cassandra shares everything with, but I think she’s learning about that, and I think the both of them are growing in learning through each other — and not to give too much away, but I think that Eugene is learning from that as well — and kind of understanding that Rapunzel has her friends. That’s one of the things that I know I had to understand with [my wife] is that she has her friends that she’s gonna share things with. I think it’s a really healthy, fun, little trifecta, the three of them running around. I don’t think Cassandra takes up any spot that Eugene holds in Rapunzel’s heart, but at the same time, I think that there are times when you just want to go out with your buddy and just do fun stuff. And with your girlfriends, and that’s something that is really special to Rapunzel and Cassandra between the two of them.
HG: Did you know you were creating such a strong female friendship for the two of them? Or did that just happen naturally as you were going along?
CS: Yeah, it kind of naturally happened. I looked at Rapunzel very early and thought, “What would she want?” I always say that nothing in the show exists in a vacuum, so everything has a purpose and that is to service where Rapunzel is going and what she’s learning. And I kind of looked at Cassandra’s character like, “What does Rapunzel need in her life? I think she needs a girlfriend, a buddy outside of Pascal, and outside of Eugene.” Because I know my wife has her friends and they’re very important to her, and I didn’t want Rapunzel to feel like these relationships she had before were the end of her long term relationships. So, I think kind of writing the two of them together naturally gave way to a really strong friendship, and I think their friendship has become very important to the fans as we go through the show for sure….I just feel like [Cassandra] fits in this universe, and she fits inside of this relationship so well.
HG: Okay, because diehard fans like me are obviously trying to figure this out, so just quickly, off the top of your head, what are the rocks?
CS: It wouldn’t be off the top of my head, I know exactly what the rocks are but I can’t tell you what they are! Obviously, that is what Rapunzel is trying to find out, and that is what I think all the major characters in the story are trying to figure out. I will say that they are a major part of what is happening in the show, and obviously they’re related to Rapunzel and what’s happening in her mythology, so I would just say stay tuned for more of those answers as we go through the rest of the season. As we get towards the season finale we’re gonna start rolling here pretty quick.
HG: We’re coming up to the middle of the season. What can you tease about the second half of the season?
CS: I will say the events of the storm have an effect on how Rapunzel thinks, and how she is making decisions. She now understands that sometimes making decisions isn’t as easy as she thought it was going to be, and carrying that theme into the second part of the season will be a little bit easier to see, and she’ll have some struggles with that. Other than that, I think there’s a lot of mysteries yet to be solved.
Tangled the Series airs 7 p.m. on Disney Channel, and you can catch up with all episodes right here.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.