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ZACHARY LEVI on 'TANGLED'

Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for RadioFree.com
October 24, 2010

For its landmark 50th animated classic Tangled, Disney offers a contemporary take on the traditional fairy tale of Rapunzel for a modern audience. In this incarnation, Rapunzel (voice of Mandy Moore) is a feisty teen whose seventy feet of magical hair has the power to act as a perpetual fountain of youth. For this reason, she is coveted by the selfish Mother Gothel (voice of Donna Murphy), who kidnaps her as a baby and secretly raises her in a tower in the middle of the forest. Growing up in such isolation with a pet chameleon named Pascal as her only friend, Rapunzel spends the days painting, cleaning, and dreaming of life in the outside world. She also becomes increasingly fascinated with a symphony of floating lights that seems to fill the sky every year like clockwork. On the eve of her 18th birthday, Rapunzel's curiosity finally gets the best of her, and with the help of Flynn Rider (voice of Zachary Levi), a thief on the run from both his double-crossed partners and a law-enforcing horse named Maximus, she sneaks out of her tower to embark on a journey of self-discovery.

In addition to its lovable characters, heartwarming story, and family-friendly comedy, Tangled raises the bar in terms of technical proficiency. The CG-animated feature looks stunningly gorgeous, rendering textures, liquids, and lights (not to mention Rapunzel's lengthy, brilliant, golden locks) with deft beauty. Also notable is that this movie marks the first time computer animation has been able to successfully capture many of the nuances of traditional hand-drawn Disney animation. This is due in no small part to the contributions of supervising animator Glen Keane, the man responsible for bringing to life such beloved favorites as Ariel in The Little Mermaid and Beast in Beauty and the Beast. Visually, the film looks remarkably like a living, breathing painting, populated with characters who demonstrate great expressiveness.

Tangled also scores with its lead cast. Zachary Levi (TV's Chuck) brings a roguish, comedic charm to Flynn, while Donna Murphy's stage background delivers a perfect theatricality for Mother Gothel. Stealing the show, though, is Mandy Moore, whose voice innately sounds like a modern Disney princess--in interviews, she frequently speaks with a noticeable wide-eyed earnestness, and the dreamy lilt that naturally comes out gives Rapunzel an undeniable sweetness both in song and speech.

Admittedly, we love Rapunzel, and we're not the only one: Zachary Levi also fell under the spell of the one-two punch of a cute animated heroine and Mandy Moore's adorable voice. In this interview, he talks about working on this project and debates the sanity of crushing on a spunky cartoon girl.

Tangled is available on Blu-ray and DVD starting March 29!




MEDIA: This film has been in the works for quite some time. At what point did you get involved?

ZACHARY: I guess about a year and a half ago. I think...It's tough to remember. But over the course of a year is how long it took to record it. I had come in like every six weeks, for like six hours. And it was just me. I mean, [directors Nathan Greno and Byron Howard] were there, and we'd go over all the scenes together, and they'd have storyboards and stuff to look at. But, you know, never with Mandy, never with Donna. As far as I know, Mandy and Donna haven't even met.

Apparently they just met for the first time moments ago...

Oh they just met? Ooohhh...! Kodak moment, I missed it! But that's good. All right, checklist, done. [laughs] But it's amazing to go and then look at the movie and see [how it all comes together]. I mean, I was there doing the voice and Mandy wasn't there. And I'm looking at scenes between Flynn and Rapunzel, and they totally mesh, you know?

How did your background in music and singing help you in this role?

I feel like the type of music that you find in Disney movies is similar to that of the musicals that I grew up doing. Not all of them. I mean, Alan Menken music is not Rodgers and Hammerstein, or Sondheim, for that matter. But I think because so much of my life and so much of my opinion of singing and of music has been influenced by Disney movies, I kind of felt at home doing it, a little bit.

Is hearing your own voice in an animated film the ultimate version of hearing it on an answering machine?

Yeah, it is. Totally. A hundred percent. And Mandy and I have been doing press, and people were asking her, like, "How do you feel?" And she goes, "Oh, I heard it, and my voice sounds so shrill. But Zach's got this classic Disney hero voice." And I'm like, "What, are you, crazy?" I sound like I'm Seinfeld. I sound like I'm just nasally. And I don't feel like I sound good on the thing. And I think she sounds fantastic. And I'm in love with Rapunzel. And I feel like I should hate myself for that--like, she's a cartoon. Like I feel weird, you know? And she's seventeen/eighteen! But how do you get over the freckles and the giant green eyes? She's gorgeous! I don't know. It's true, right? It's almost like this cool "classic Disney meets anime" a little bit. But not crazy, over-the-top anime. Like the big eye thing really gets me. I don't know.

And it's all combined with Mandy's voice...

Well that's what I'm saying, though! I mean, she really brings that kind of...I don't know Mandy that well, but from what I've come to know about Mandy, she's a very classy girl. And I think that there's a real purity and wholesomeness and love and love of life that is in Rapunzel that all comes through her voice. And I think she does a fantastic job.

When did you meet her for the first time?

When we did the duet. Which was, like, halfway through already doing the movie. And then we never went back to record together after. [But] we got to sing together, which was incredibly beneficial, and, I think, integral. Because it's a very emotional thing, and you've got to harmonize together, and you're hoping that two people are in sync to do something like that. [laughs] So I was glad that we were able to work that out. But again, that was like two days.



Did you recognize any of your own mannerisms in the animation of Flynn?

I don't know...You know, Mandy was talking about how in one of the scenes where she's crying, she kind of put her hand up on her face when she was recording it, and then that actually made the movie. And I would imagine it's very trippy, because then it's like, "Wait, that was me, I did that! Why did I do that?" I can't really specifically look at any one thing. But maybe that's just because I consider myself to be a walking cartoon anyway, so I just assumed that whatever I did is probably what they were going to do anyway--you know, a lot of gesticulating. [jokes] Fighting Maximus. I did a lot of that. I brought in a horse. It was incredible.

What are some of your favorite Flynn moments in the film?

You know, I always respond a lot to the comedic stuff more than anything, I guess. I love all the fights with Max. You know, the whole interaction with Maximus is just great to me--struggling over the satchel and hiding from him and being tracked by him, and later on, our whole moment where he's there for me and I'm like, "We've just been misunderstanding each other this whole time..." And all the physical comedy that happens. That stuff is tough to record to the extent that it's not really specific. It's a lot of just efforts, you know? [makes a variety of cartoony sounds]. Ridiculous, but, again, that's kind of fun, too.

Did you get to improvise much in the Flynn/Maximus scenes? I'm thinking specifically of the moment where they're sword fighting and Flynn says, "You should know that this is the strangest thing I've ever done!"

I'm pretty sure it was scripted. Or it was very similar to that. So if anything, I might have strayed a little bit from it. I think it was probably scripted, though, because I remember reading that and thinking it was really, really funny.

What did you think of the big scene with the floating lanterns?

Epic, right?

...That's it?

[laughs] I'm a man of few words, can't you tell?

Have you gotten a chance to see the finished film yet?

I did, yeah. We didn't get to see the 3D, though. We saw the 2D...It was awesome. I mean, the 2D's great, so if the 2D holds up that well, I can only imagine the 3D's going to be even more spectacular. And knowing that they always intended on doing it in 3D...It works well for animation. It works better for animation than anything else because you can really go in there and tweak it and make it right. But I think they have to go in there knowing full on that they're going to do that. Otherwise, you end up with, like, Clash of the Titans. I mean, not to knock anybody, but it's a bummer. It's like, don't be selling something that's not really, truly there, that you just did in post later on. Because I'd rather go to a 2D version and actually appreciate it more than feel like I'm looking through this glazed fog the whole time. It's just not as great, you know? And I think it also hurts 3D as a medium in general. If Hollywood really wants people to jump on the 3D wagon, I think they really gotta do it right or don't do it at all. And I'm excited that Tangled was always envisioned to be that, and it's not just an afterthought.

Did you record more lines as Flynn for video games and other tie-in products?

Oh, yeah. In fact, that was an interesting story. There's all kinds of different video game versions of it, right? There's, like, the LeapFrog kid version and the VTech version...So we'd do a lot of those different things. But the big Xbox 360 version that they're going to do...I was in Europe. I was in Paris on vacation, and I get a call saying, "Hey, if you're going to do the voice for the video game and not have somebody stand in for you, you have to do it right now and you have to do it in Paris." So I went to a studio in Paris with two technicians that spoke as little English as I spoke French (and that's very little). And we plugged through the whole video game on like a delayed live telephone call to Chicago or wherever it was that we were talking to. [laughs] Very, very interesting and surreal. But it was super cool.

Thanks for your time.

Hey, thank you, guys! Good to see you all.


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