On the Songs in Tangled

My boy is 11, and his Dad writes musicals. So when, during an animated musical, my boy puts his head in his hands and groans “Another song!”, he doesn’t expect a sympathetic ear.

But he got one at Tangled. I leaned over and whispered, “I’m with you, mate. I don’t think they need the songs.”

We spent the rest of the film enjoying Maximus the horse and counting the number of unnecessary songs. He counted all of them (including reprises), and I counted all of them but the “flower glow and flower shine” healing song. Because that one was part of the plot.

Anyway, here’s why the film doesn’t need songs. Occasional spoilers, if you’re under eight:

1. The songs are in dull, obvious places.

Think about where a computer, raised on musicals, would put the songs in a Rapunzel musical, if it wasn’t trying too hard. An upbeat, hopeful “I want” song for a Princess in a tower? Check. A forbidding “you mustn’t leave” number for the witch/old lady? Check. A ballad for the Princess and her rescuer? Check. Oh, and if any rascally supporting characters are introduced, a comedic kind of “this is who we are” number? Check.

2. The first three songs are structurally identical.

Here’s how I think it went, in a Creative Meeting. Present: Dan Fogelman (screenplay), Glenn Slater (lyricist), Mickey (mouse). Absent: Alan Menken (composer).

Glenn: OK, guys, Alan left me a bunch of demos, and I think there could be some good numbers in here.

Mickey: Do we have to have songs? I mean, Pixar have been doing pretty well …

Glenn: But the soundtrack, Mickey -

Dan: The Oscar, Mickey! We could own that category!

Mickey: I know, I know, but Bambi had songs only by an off-screen chorus. It didn’t need songs, so we …

Dan:  Thanks, Mickey. Whaddya got there, Glenn?

Glenn: Ah, there’s an up-tempo Belle thing for the opening. I think it should be a list of the things Rapunzel does, to keep herself from going mad. Lotsa sight gags for the boys in the audience there, Dan. Then a forbidding, Ursula the sea-witch kind of thing for Gothel the old woman. I’m thinking it should be a list of the reasons Rapunzel shouldn’t step outside. Lotsa sight gags, Dan. Then, when they’re in the Snuggly Duckling tavern, all the thugs reveal their dreams. So I’m thinking a list, Dan, of all their dreams. With sight gags.

Mickey: Notice how none of these ideas move the plot forward? And how they’re all amply covered in Dan’s script?

Glenn: Plus the love ballad.

Dan: Plus the love ballad.

Alan (entering): Hi guys, what did I miss?

Dan: We’re about to break for lunch.

3. The additional songs suck blood out of the one song that matters.

The one song that does have a job to do is the one Rapunzel sings to make her hair glow. It’s a healing incantation, and it’s part of the plot. It’s referred to when Rapunzel admits to Flynn “My hair glows when I sing. Well, not every time. Not that song I sang standing on top of the bar earlier, but this one particular song, which you haven’t heard me sing yet, but you will in a minute.”

That’s what she should have said, for everything to make sense. Or we could cut all the other songs.

4. The songs themselves aren’t much chop.

This wouldn’t matter nearly so much if the songs had something to do, like introducing ideas and characters not already apparent from the dialogue. As is stands, they commit the one unforgivable sin for songs in a musical: they do less work than the script.

Defenders may point to the troubled production history of Tangled, and to all the various versions that were written, and to earlier Disney musicals which also had dud numbers, but you know what I say? Tough.

Check out Pinocchio for a Disney film in which the numbers contribute to the storytelling. It is, incidentally, 12 minutes shorter than Tangled. And you know what the writers did with the numbers they wrote that didn’t move the story along? They cut them.

One additional gripe: the thug with a hook sings about Mozart in the tavern number. In a story clearly set in a late medieval fairytale world: Mozart. Lazy, lazy, sloppy.

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About Peter J Casey

Writer of musical theatre, player of piano, producer of radio.

One response »

  1. On the subject of Medieval/Renaissance Mozart, the creators of Tangled claim the story is set in the late 1780s, leading fans to speculate (http://forum.fanfiction.net/topic/80879/34313314/1/) that Gothel dresses retro, that Rapunzel only has old-school clothing, that the soldiers have no gunpowder weapons because they can’t handle them etc etc etc.

    This is bullshit.

    You know what’s easier, quicker, and less cringing? Hire a careful lyricist.

    Reply

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