Music plays an important role in films. Often music aids the setting of the tone for a film and grants the audience insight into the internal states of the main characters as well as clues towards the directionality of the plot in general. The Disney film Tangled (2010) directed by Nathan Greno and Byron Howard and with music composed by Alan Menken takes an interesting direction with its use of music. Although including some musical numbers, as is typical in Disney films, the soundtrack is much more limited in the number of diegetic songs it has than previous Disney films, relying more on an instrumental underscore. The musical numbers that are included are also of a different style than a traditional Disney “princess” film. Rather than following a “loud” Broadway style or a grand orchestral design, Menken takes the approach of incorporating contemporary pop trends such as the use of a steel string guitar. In an interview mentioned in the Los Angeles Times article “The Songwriters: From Tangled to Burlesque” by Todd Martens, Menken states that “‘marrying the contemporary tone of the book to a classic Disney fairy-tale score was a challenge’” (Martens). This is because films of this style (animated and as a musical), did not typically utilize the pop genre. However, this contemporary style is seen in the song, “When Will My Life Begin,” which is one of the focal points of the film Tangled (2010). The song was written by Glenn Slater and music director Alan Menken and is seen following the title screen for Tangled (2010) (dir. Nathan Greno, Byron Howard and music by Alan Menken). This song directs and amplifies the personal growth of Rapunzel by manipulating the structure of the song’s lyrics, the rhythmic patterns used, and by using this song as a leitmotif throughout the film; because of these musical choices, the audience can better connect with the film and become emotionally invested in the story.
The circular and repetitive nature of the lyrics in “When Will My Life Begin” establishes Rapunzel’s starting mindset at the beginning of the film. In the fourth stanza of the lyrics, Rapunzel sings that during the day she’ll “reread the books,” “paint the walls some more” and that she is “stuck in the same place [she’s] always been” (Menken and Slater). These words emphasize that Rapunzel’s options for daily activities are extremely limited. In fact, they are so limited that she must repeat the same activities she has already completed that very day. This reveals to the audience the environment in which Rapunzel lives, suggesting she must be bored with her current lifestyle. The song then continues on to address the fact that before Rapunzel finishes her day she must “brush and brush, and brush and brush [her] hair” while “stuck in the same place [she’s] always been” (Menken and Slater). This repetition paired with the latter phrase reveals Rapunzel’s frustration with her life. She feels trapped and is longing for more. A similar pattern of repetition and circular phrasing in the lyrics appears again when Rapunzel sings that she’ll keep “wonderin’ and wonderin’ and wonderin’ and wonderin’, when will [her] life begin” (Menken and Slater). This last section is also paired with specific imagery of circles as her hair falls about her in concentric circles. Paired with this imagery, the lyrics in this song indicate that Rapunzel is tired of her life as it is and feels she is getting nowhere in her life. This suggests that she will actively seek to change this and that this is what the film will follow. “When Will My Life Begin” also manipulates the rhythmic patterns of the verses to draw in the audience and give them insight into Rapunzel’s state of mind. The song starts with a very steady rhythm set by the strumming patterns of guitars and is eventually accompanied by another steady drum beat. This rhythm continues throughout the song all the way up to the last stanza of the song. The steadiness of the beat helps the audience see the monotony of Rapunzel’s life. Nothing in her life changes and every day feels the same. Again, the song despite its peppy nature, suggests a sense of boredom and lack of purpose. The lyrics Rapunzel sings also follow a steady rhythm although slightly quicker than the underlying beat and slightly more variant as well. Her voice is not as slow as the strumming or the drum and is not quite as steady. This suggests that although Rapunzel is stuck in this lifestyle, she is ready for more and is trying to make the most out of the opportunities she has within her tower. She is full of energy and youth that is being suffocated by this lifestyle. This aids the audience in empathizing with Rapunzel and also helps them become familiar with the character. The last stanza of the song lets go of the rhythm both in the underlying instrumentation and in her voice. Instead, the song transforms into a soft ballad style as Rapunzel sings about going to visit the lights she sees in the sky. By choosing to soften the song at this moment, Menken and Slater are able to create a release from the rest of the song. This represents Rapunzel’s release from her daily life by daydreaming about the lanterns. This also indicates that the solution to being trapped in her current lifestyle is to leave her tower. In this way, the rhythm of the song propagates the narrative of the story and helps the audience better understand Rapunzel and her journey.
“When Will My Life Begin” is also used as a leitmotif throughout the film, revealing Rapunzel’s personal transformation. Following the title screen, the song begins in its original form as the audience follows her through a typical day. By introducing the song in its full version at the beginning of the movie at the same time Rapunzel and her goals are introduced, extra significance is added as the audience learns what this song means, as it is linked to Rapunzel and her dreams. Because of this choice the audience may now notice Rapunzel’s growth when the tune reappears in any form throughout the film. The song reappears a second time in a “reprise.” This occurs when Rapunzel makes the decision to disobey her mother and leave the tower she has lived in her whole life. Although the lyrics of the song have changed and other slight changes are made to the rhythm and melody, the main idea of the song remains the same in structure and sound. This allows the audience to recognize this song and recognize the impact of Rapunzel’s decision and what this decision means for the characters and the storyline. Rapunzel has begun her journey by making an active decision to pursue her dreams rather than remaining in the tower as she always has. The use of the song here clues the audience into the fact that a main event for the theme of personal growth and transformation has occurred. The melody of this song also can be heard towards the end of the film when Rapunzel meets her parents with Eugene. Although there are no lyrics, the melody remains recognizable. The use of the melody emphasizes that Rapunzel has completed her journey and has found a solution to the problem outlined in the first version of the song, that she is stuck in a life of monotony. She has found love both in Eugene and her parents, and can now move onto another dream. By being placed in this section of the film, this melody helps the audience recognize that the conflict of the film has resolved and that Rapunzel has made a full transformation. The audience can see that Rapunzel has made a large shift in her lifestyle and personal perspective and has grown as a person. Conclusion: Music is vital to films and their narratives. Tangled (2010) is a film that relies heavily on music to keep the audience engaged and to carry the narrative. Although making nods to films of the traditional classical hollywood model by aiding in narrative cueing, continuity of scenes, and signifying emotion as described by Claudia Gorbman in her book “Classical Hollywood Practice: The Model of Max Steiner,” the music of Tangled (2010) is also contemporary and modern. As was popular at the time it was made, this film utilizes steel string guitars and a pop style of music to help make a traditional and classic fairytale more modern. This is just one of the ways in which music affects the film. The music of this film also sets the emotional tones of scenes and gives perspective into characters’ internal conflicts and struggles, helping the audience to understand why each character behaves in the way they do. As in Tangled (2010), music is used throughout the world of film to engage audiences. Whether a director or composer wishes to make an audience feel a specific emotion or whether to transform a setting or environment, music is the key to creating a cohesive work of art between a storyline, emotion, and the audience.