Interview with Chris Sonnenburg, Creator of “Tangled: The Series”
By Shannon Fox, @shannonfox
Chris Sonnenburg is awesome.
No, this is important to know, because when someone is listed as the “creator/writer/supervising director” of the series/tv movie of your most favorite Disney movie ever, you WANT them to be awesome, you know?
But there’s no need to worry. Tangled is in good hands, my friends.
For example, Chris has been sharing his experiences with the cast and crew of “Tangled: The Series” while making the in-between-quel (yep, that’s a word) adventures of our favorite princess all over his Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram, and interacting with fans along the way. He’s also taking the responsibility of bringing beloved, pre-existing characters to television very seriously, and wants to do right by the fans and the story at every opportunity. What more could you ask for, really?
And just when I think I couldn’t like him any more, he begins our interview by ragging on Nerd 001.
Seriously. He’s awesome.
CS: So, can you do me a quick favor?
Can you talk to Zac and tell him to shut up next door? He’s being way too loud during my interviews.
Oh, I’ll totally yell at him for that.
He is being way too loud.
Isn’t he usually, though? I mean, let’s be honest.
Yeah, that’s true, I don’t know what they thought putting the two of us next door to each other. But it’s nice meeting you! Thanks so much for all of the support.
Actually, I was going to thank you because I love that you’ve been able to post stuff on social media and involve the fans behind the scenes. It’s been awesome to see the series come together.
It helped having two big fans at home. I have two daughters at home who are gigantic fans, and they’ve been very vocal about me posting and making sure all of their friends know all of the cool stuff that’s going on.
So how did we end up getting more Tangled adventures? How did the series come to be?
I think people just love these characters. Of course, Zac is so fun as Flynn and Eugene… when you have such wonderful characters that are so relatable and so fun to watch, it makes sense to want to tell more stories about them. Especially with these two characters, it makes sense to continue their story in a way that was fun and magical and musical. We’re having a lot of fun coming up with new stories and finding the depth with the characters, for sure.
Since you’ve worked on previous animated series with Disney, like “Gravity Falls”, do you find that there’s a difference between working on a completely original series versus working on a series that came from previous material?
Well, just from the standpoint that, you know, the fans are very vocal. They don’t want [us] to mess it up. We have a lot of pressure to make sure that we’re treating these characters with– not only from the fans, but obviously, working with Zac and Mandy, they were very protective of the characters because they’ve been established. With “Gravity”, they were able to kind of create the storyline, but because we have a storyline that already exists, there’s quite the expectation and quality bar for us to hit.
How long do the episodes take to fully produce, from start to finish?
About a year! About an entire year from starting to plan it, to being able to do a final layout. So that’s the writing process, the storyboard process, the design process, going all the way through animation and voice recording. The entire process from conceptualization all the way through final color is about a year. It’s a lot of process.
Wow. So you guys are working on season two already then, right?
Yeah. For sure.
So it seems like there’s a bunch of new characters in the series, can you tell us which one is your favorite, and why?
Well, I always wanted to know more about Eugene’s backstory. So we have a character named Lance Strongbow who is a character from Eugene’s past that shows up and gives us a little inkling into who Eugene and who Flynn Rider was before the movie. And he’s a great character, he’s voiced by a guy by the name of James Monroe Iglehart, who plays the Genie on Broadway, and he has just a great voice and a great personality. I know he and Zac are good friends, and it’s been so fun between the two of them– they actually recorded together and the chemistry between the two of them is just so much fun.
Speaking of Zac: I mean, it’s his company so I have to ask, can you give us any more hints about what to expect from Eugene in the movie or the series?
You know, we have a lot of story to tell. Early on in the show, a lot of it has to do with Rapunzel and kind of where her head is, but we do have a large story to tell with Eugene, as well. So if people are giant Eugene fans, there’s a lot of story to be told with him and what he has to do with Rapunzel’s story.
And are there going to be songs in every episode, or mainly in the movie?
Music to me is very special. I come from old Disney Feature Animation mentality of how songs are written and how they’re used in the story. We wanted the songs to stay special and have a very certain mechanical purpose in the story of these characters. So singing a song in every episode, it just became un-needed. We didn’t really need to have our characters to go through a large emotional moment in every episode. So we really kept the Alan Menken element of the show special. We have these tentpoles: the season premiere, the mid-season special, and the season finale of every season are really where these big emotional turns happen, and we feel the most use and most value out of the songs. And I think everybody else will be glad how we did it.
And will they be released, do you know?
Well, again, because the songs are so meaningful (laughs), they hold a lot of plot twists. So I think what we’re gonna do, what we plan on doing, is waiting until the episodes air to release them and then hopefully– I mean, I don’t know this for sure– but I would love to, at the end of the season, be able to put out a season’s worth of songs for people to be able to enjoy. They’re really amazing songs and people will be very happy with them, and they do tell a really specific story.
One of the things I wanted to ask you, especially due to “International Women’s Day”: Rapunzel has been a big part for Disney’s “Dream Big, Princess” initiative, and you talked about your daughters being really into Tangled. What do you hope that young girls can take from the series?
I think the entire fuel for the series is this French phrase: “Plus est en vous”, which means that “there’s more inside of you”. That’s something that I always try and tell my daughters– that there is more inside of you than you even think is possible. And I hope that people take away from the series the idea of digging deeper inside of themselves and going beyond people’s expectations of them and going beyond their own limits. I think Rapunzel does that on an episode basis and hopefully our audience will do the same thing.
(WHILE I DESPERATELY TRY TO NOT GET EMOTIONAL BECAUSE THAT WAS BEAUTIFUL, OKAY?) Is there anything else that you want to share with fans of Tangled?
We’re just excited! The movie was filled with action and romance and comedy and music and if the fans loved all of those elements, then they’re going to love the show, because it has all of those elements, as well.
“Tangled: Before Ever After” premieres on The Disney Channel this Friday, March 10th, at 8PM EST/PST. “Tangled: The Series” then kicks off on Friday, March 24th, at 7:30PM EST/PST. Don’t miss it!
HUGE, LIKE RIDICULOUSLY HUGE, THANKS to Chris Sonnenburg and the Disney press team for making this interview happen.