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Oscar-nominee Glenn Slater looks back on writing lyrics for Disney's "Tangled"

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Oscar-nominee Glenn Slater looks back on writing lyrics for Disney's "Tangled"

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All those days watching from the window
All those years outside looking in

You're going to have to forgive Glenn Slater if this couplet that he wrote from "Tangled" 's "I See The Light" kind of strikes close to home these days. Given that this talented lyricist has worked on a number of projects for The Walt Disney Company (EX: The Broadway version of "The Little Mermaid") which were then nominated for awards (i.e. The 2008 Tony for Best Score) only to then have these productions fall short once "And the award goes to ... " time rolled around.

Oh, sure. As you've undoubtedly hear dozens of times during awards season, "It's a honor just to be nominated." But when you work with someone like Disney Legend Alan Menken (who - over the course of his career - has won more Oscars than anyone else alive. Eight, to be exact) ... Well, it would be great if Glenn finally got to take one of these little golden men home.

Alan Menken (L) and Glenn Slater at the 83rd annual Academy Awards nominations
luncheon. Photo by Kevin Winter / Getty Images North America. All rights reserved

But all of that may change this coming Sunday night. When Slater first gets to stroll down the red carpet and then take a seat inside of Hollywood's Kodak Theatre. Which is where "I See The Light" will be one of the four tunes that are up for Best Song at this year's Academy Awards.

Mind you, if this tune from "Tangled" actually does win the Best Song Oscar, Glenn's not gonna have all that much time to savor the sensation. Given that the Broadway version of "Sister Act: The Musical" (which once again pairs Slater's words with Menken's music) begins previews at the Broadway Theatre on March 24th. And beyond that, if all goes according to plan, Glenn & Alan will have another show - "Leap of Faith" (which had its world premiere at LA's Ahmanson Theatre in October of last year) - opening in NYC in the Fall.

And did I mention the other musical that Slater is currently working on with Aaron Sorkin of "The Social Network " fame? Which will attempt to musicalize the life of Harry Houdini? Only - this time around - instead of crafting lyrics for Menken's music, Glenn will be working with Tim Burton's longtime musical collaborator Danny Elfman?

And given that this Houdini musical is supposed to open on Broadway for the 2012 - 2013 season ... Hmmn ... Maybe I used the wrong couplet from "I See The Light" to describe Slater's life these days. Maybe the more appropriate line from this "Tangled" tune would have been ...

All those years, living in a blur ...

Well, for someone who's obviously as busy as he is, Slater could not have been more generous with his time last year when the two of us chatted on the phone about "Tangled." More to the point, Glenn is a very humble guy. Quick to heap praise on his Mouse House collaborator, Mr. Menken.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"I remember seeing the animated version of 'The Little Mermaid' while I was in college, hearing 'Part of Your World' and then thinking 'Now that's how you write a ballad.' Alan and Howard (Ashman) brought such wit and tenderness to that material," Slater remembered. "So when Disney Theatrical asked me if I'd be interested in working with Alan to create some new songs for the stage version of 'Mermaid' ... Well, it was just kind of mind-blowing to be asked to write new songs for the show that initially inspired me to become a songwriter in the first place."

Of course, what's kind of ironic about all this is that the tune that made Glenn take notice of Alan & Howard's work was Ariel's "I Want" song, "Part of Your World." And then - some 20 years later - here's Slater and Menken working on Rapunzel's "I Want" song, "When Will My Life Begin."

"That was a very tricky song to nail. Initially, Alan and I tried to do something that would then play against the audience's expectations. Which was that Rapunzel desperately wanted to get out of that tower and begin her life. This is why we wrote 'What More Could I Ever Need,' which talked about the rich, busy and fulfilling life that Rapunzel was leading up there in her tower," Glenn explained. "Which was a really funny idea for a song but then didn't service the audience's emotional needs. They needed to care about Rapunzel and what she was going through. Or otherwise we didn't have a movie. So after a while we ditched 'What More Could I Ever Need' and - using basically the same piece of music - created 'When Will My Life Begin.' Which was a much better introduction to this character and her predicament."

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Which isn't to say that Slater and Menken didn't find other musical ways that they could upend  audience's expectations. Take - for example -  "Tangled" 's "I Have A Dream" number. Which is when all the thugs & ruffians who hang out at the Snuggly Duckling reveal - through song -- that they're not such bad guys after all.

"That was originally supposed to be a genuinely scary scene in the movie. The equivalent of Rapunzel & Ryder dropping in on a biker bar. But then Dan Fogelman (Editor's note: Fogelman is the screenwriter of "Tangled") did some research. And he discovered that biker bars often hold poetry slams. Where all these tough guys get to stand up and read the verses that they'd written about what it's like to be out on the open road. And that was such a funny story idea that the "Tangled' team just had to go with that," Glenn continued. "And to go from tough guys reading their poems aloud to tough guys singing wasn't really all that big a leap. So that's where the 'I Have A Dream' song came from."

In fact, to hear Slater tell the story, perhaps the things that he's proudest of when it comes to "Tangled" is ... Well, you know all of those thugs & ruffians who have unspoken desires at the Snuggly Duckling?

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Tor would like to quit and be a florist.
Gunther does interior design.
Ulf is into mime, Attila's cupcakes are sublime.
Bruiser knits, Killer sews, Fang does little puppet shows.
And Vladimir collects ceramic unicorns.

When Glenn was writing the lyrics for "I Have a Dream," he then got to name all of these rough-looking characters. Which why it was then kind of a thrill for him that these names stuck. That this was what all of these thugs & ruffians actually wound up being called in the finished version of "Tangled."

So, yes. Glenn Slater is a guy who (over the next two years) is about to have three brand-new musicals that he's written for open on Broadway. Which is a career high point that few lyricists working today can claim. But to hear Slater talk, it's clear that he  just loves working on animated features for Walt Disney Studios. And if another project like "Tangled" were to suddenly come along, Glenn would sign on in a heartbeat.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"The people at Walt Disney Animation Studios are so much fun to work with. Such great collaborators. Take - for example - the moment in 'Tangled' where 'I See The Light' occurs. They showed Alan and I a storyboard of that sequence. Rapunzel and Ryder out on a boat in the water, looking up at those lanterns," Slater recalled. "And so we went off and wrote that song. Which the artists at Disney then did this amazing set of storyboards for our song. And with each phase of production, as they added the finished animation and then the orchestral score, that scene just got better & better. Becoming this perfect showcase for our song. I mean, you can't ask for better collaborators than that. People who work hard to make your work look even better."

Well, here's hoping that all of that extra effort by the artists & animators at Walt Disney Animation Studios ultimately pays off on Sunday night. Which is when  Alan & Glenn will (hopefully) each get to go home with an Oscar.

FYI: If you're looking for an additional reason to watch ABC's coverage of the 83rd annual Academy Awards this Sunday night, please be aware that Mandy Moore (i.e. the singing & speaking voice of Rapunzel in "Tangled") and Zachary Levi (i.e. the singing & speaking voice of Ryder, Rapunzel's love interest) will be appearing live onstage at the Kodak Theatre during that broadcast. So that they can then perform Menken & Slater's Oscar-nominated song, "I See The Light."

(L to R) John Lasseter, Mandy Moore, Alan Menken, Zachary Levi, Grace Potter
& Glenn Slater at the after-party for "Tangled" 's world premiere.
Photo by Kevin Winter / Getty Images North America.
All rights reserved

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  • The music in Tangled was the one thing I hated about the film. The characters breaking out and singing in the middle of a scene seemed very forced and interfered with the progression.

  • Is that actually Mandy Moore in that last photo?

  • That's actually Grace Potter in that photo, not Mandy Moore. Looks like their dresses were similar that night, though.

  • I agree with Tribunal.  The songs were way forced.  The film would have worked fine without them (and I love musicals!).  To be honest, I wish Alan Menken would connect with Stephen Schwartz and Tim Rice more often for words.  Except for the late Howard Ashman, those other two are the only ones who have inspired the best of Mr. Menken.  Mr. Slater is okay, but the Menken's best collaborations have led to timeless tunes (include the recent songs for "Enchanted").

  • I completely agree.  The strength of Menken's music seems to be tied to the strength of his lyricist, most plainly apparent with Howard Ashman.  His work with Stephen Schwartz also stands out.  While Slater is perfectly adequate (although I doubt Home on the Range and even Tangled will be remembered for their scores) as a lyricist, he doesn't seem to inspire the level of craftsmanship in Menken the way other lyricists have.

  • thanx a billion for your lyrics & fabulous songs

  • I Am Making Tangled 2

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