The Story Structure of Tangled: The Series
As some of you know, I worked as a story consultant on the Disney channel’s animated series Tangled: Before Ever After. The work involved listening to the various ideas for character, plot, and theme and converging them into singular storyforms for both the series and individual seasons. I explained the process in the article Outlining a Television Series with Dramatica
The season finale just aired this morning and the reaction from fans is incredible–most of it a reaction to the first season telling a complete story–a complete storyform:
Wow, a season-ending cliffhanger! i LOVE season-ending cliffhangers, but didn’t expect it from a children’s show! I’m pleasantly surprised and can’t wait to see what Rapunzel and Eugene’s adventures in season 2 will hold! I’m glad that finally Rapunzel is going to be able to…
The rest of this fan’s reaction is here, though I might wait if you haven’t seen the show yet.
The “cliffhanger” he mentions works because:
- the first season told a complete storyform–setting up the Audience’s expectation for more
- the start of the second season storyform actually begins in these final moments
- the storyform for the entire series ties both of the first two seasons together–they’re related to each other by virtue of the series’ first two Signposts
I will have more to say about it in the future, but I thought it might be fun to see if those who know and understand Dramatica might be able to identify the storyform for the first season.
That “I can’t wait to see the next installment” is a reaction to complete and as-yet-to-be completed storyforms. You hook them with the promise of meaning.
One fan already identified the actual Main Character Problem driving the entire series! (Instinctively–I’m sure they’ve never seen the Table of Story Elements).
The first season consists of 26 half-hour episodes. You don’t necessarily need to watch all of them, though I would strongly suggest it if you’re looking to see how a single storyform works within the context of a television series. The key episodes, the one’s pertaining specifically to the season’s central Throughline are:
- 1,2 (Pilot)
- 13,14 (“Queen for a Day”)
- 24,25 (Finale)
The channel let the creators combine these six episodes into three “Specials”, an idea that I think worked great considering the format and Audience expectation. Remember that this was planned out three years ago–years before binge-watching and multiple streaming services were a thing. The format and planning would likely change nowadays considering the appetite for serialized storytelling.
A Context for Storytelling
The television series Tangled is an interesting case study. I was there in the beginning and various stages of development along the way. I helped set the storyforms (without really calling them “storyforms”), then stepped away to allow the individual writers to do their thing. If I had been there day-in and day-out, I likely would have found ways to weave in Plot Sequences and additional sub-storyforms into the other twenty episodes. But if this series proves anything, it’s that you don’t need to over complicate a narrative or encode every last story point in order to connect with your Audience.
And really, that’s all that matters.
Give them a meaningful structure that says something, and they’ll respond with appreciation and gratitude. This first season of Tangled, and the seasons to come, showcase the kind of impact intentional storytelling (figuring out storyforms etc.) brings to the final work.
If you have any questions about how this all works, or how you can apply it to your own series (television or novel), I’d be happy to answer them.
Enjoy the show!