It’s been ten years since the terrific Enchanted arrived in UK cinemas, just under two months after it premiered at the London Film Festival. The film made a star of Amy Adams, brought back 2D animation from Disney to the big screen, and has a songbook that sits happily alongside the top end of Disney work. Plus, the film remains a flat out family treat.
“It has been a long time” Lima chuckled, apologising in advance if he couldn’t recall all the answers I was after. Turns out he didn’t do too badly. He spared me some time to look back over the film, the challenges of making it, and what happened next…
I’ve only just discovered that Enchanted actually had its premiere in the UK! Do you remember much about that night?
I don’t even know if I was there! Isn’t that awful?! I don’t recall being at a London premiere.
I’ve never gone through the release of a Disney movie from your side of the fence, obviously! Is it a blur, a bit of a whirlwind?
It absolutely is. It’s a blur from the moment you deliver your film to the moment it’s release. A lot of the time you’re in a country a day to be quite honest with you. I remember with Enchanted doing interviews one day, move that night, do interviews the next day in a different country. But not really having a sense of where you were. Really, all you’re seeing is the inside of hotel rooms. It’s a blank for me!
Images pop into my head. I remember being in Rome with Amy Adams, and there being a chorus of, I don’t know, 50 to 100 little kids. Singing a song that I had never heard before!
A song that was nothing to do with your film?
Did you get a sense in that whirlwind that you had something here? Do you ever get a point where you think ‘yeah, I’ve got something special here, it’s going to work’?
I got a sense of it, honestly, when we were filming.
It didn’t feel like anything I’d worked on before. The crew all felt energised I think by the material. Then we did two test screenings, and that’s when we knew, I think. What I kept getting from folks was ‘I didn’t expect to like this’. That they didn’t come in with the expectation that it was ‘Disney classic’ in any way. Across the board, and I heard this a lot from men, I was getting ‘I got dragged by my wife’ or ‘my girlfriend wanted to see this’. Almost to a person I heard ‘I loved it’.
And I think that comes from the uncynical attitude that the movie takes. Giselle [played by Amy Adams] as a character embraces purity and joy. The movie has a timbre that isn’t at all cynical. We felt that while we were making it.
I love Disney animation a lot, and always have. But coming into Enchanted, it felt like watching a film that Disney had forgotten how to make. The feel of the film watching it, I never saw it coming, to be honest.
Yeah. Well there was a battle in the making of the movie I have to say. Disney had been developing the movie for nine years before I got involved. And I think there was this feeling that in order to succeed in the current marketplace, there had to be this level of cynicism. It had to perform as Shrek performed in order to connect. When I came in, I said ‘let’s not do that, let’s not make fun of who we are. Let’s embrace who we are, and make it a love letter to Disney’.
There are hundreds of thousands of people who love this material. Let’s not wreck it for them. Let’s show them we love it as much as they do. That became the guidepost as we moved forward, to rewrite the movie.
If I’ve got this right, the directors who were attached before you were Rob Marshall (Into The Woods), Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure), and Adam Shankman (Hairspray). All accomplished in this area of movies to various degrees. Did you talk to any of them when you signed up?
No. I came to it fresh.
I think the thing that makes me a little different to each of them was that I grew up loving Disney animation. It was what I wanted to do since I remember first proclaiming a career choice!
I remember seeing The Jungle Book when I was five or six years old, and remember telling my mother that I was going to make that when I grew up. And then I did go to Disney, and I did make movies at Disney. So it’s in my bones in such a way that I don’t know if there are many directors out there who could have made Enchanted in quite the same way I did, and loved the material in that same manner.
Behind the scenes image (C) Kevin Lima
It went through so many directors, but ultimately, the same writer remained at the core of it?
There were a couple of writers in between. Bill Kelly [the original writer] had come back, and he had written another draft based on all the work that had been done over all those years. And we pulled together the version that made it to the screen.
I read one version, from one of the early re-writes, that was much more like an R-rated movie! It was strange. Giselle still came into the world as a Disney princess come to life, but she hooked up with strippers who were going to a bachelor party. Then she wouldn’t strip, so the guys were getting angry. It had that kind of darker tone, because I think they were afraid of the material.
Were they trying to edge towards the darker shades of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
I don’t know what their thinking was. But I do feel that it’s very very hard for Hollywood in general to embrace anything that has a sense of naivete. I find that very much. It makes it very difficult now to make films that have a pure heart. And oddly, those are the movies that connect.
They’re the ones that last, too.
I think with Enchanted it was only last year, on my umpteenth rewatch, that it struck me how progressive the film actually was and is.
There’s a divorce lawyer, Giselle sleeping on Robert’s couch, and then the ultimate choice of who Giselle ends up with at the end of the movie. Appreciating that Frozen got deserved credit for taking some strong story turns as it hit its final act, Enchanted arguably got there first. Did you get pushback on the story decisions you made?
Thank you for noticing! [Laughs] I’ve said often that Enchanted did it first! I’m married to Brenda Chapman, who directed Brave, and I used to tease her all the time that ‘I did it before you’!
You didn’t part the Red Sea before her, though.
I did not. But someone else did part the Red Sea before she did! [laughs]
I got absolutely no pushback.
None whatsoever. Really. Once the studio was on board with attacking the tone in the manner I was pushing for, they were honestly on board.
They were nervous. They had an eye on every decision I was making, but I think that they did cautiously believe. Dick Cook, who was head of the studio at that time, he was in full force. I did not have to convince him about anything.
Studio executives were nervous about hiring Amy Adams to play Giselle, because at the time she wasn’t a star. They thought the only way to make a movie successful was to hire a star. I said wait a minute, we have a chance to introduce a star into the world, in the same way that Mary Poppins introduced Julie Andrews. And they were nervous about that.
Dick Cook, I have to give him credit, saw her screen test and said yes, immediately. At the very top, there was someone who believed, someone who came from old-school Disney filmmaking. So there was minor nervousness, but there was nobody standing in the way of telling a progressive, contemporary story, with classic Disney characters.
Did it help that it was a transitional Disney behind the scenes at the time? That the Michael Eisner era of the studio was coming to an end, and a new ethos appeared to be sweeping through?
I honestly don’t know if there was anything happening at the top of the studio that allowed the movie to happen. I think what kept it on track was perseverance and perspiration. It took years and years of development, and finally someone taking a chance on me, to make it happen.
I covered an entire floor of a production building with artwork. I put together a beatboard of the entire movie. It was hallway’s worth of art. All the inspiration, drawings, storyboards for the animated segment of the movie. I walked the executives through that. On a tour of the movie. I think once they saw that they were convinced this could be something.
Not everyone. The marketing department was very hard to convince. They were not behind the movie from the beginning to the end. They didn’t understand how a movie about princesses could be successful in the marketplace. I think if you look at their marketing, you can see how it was angled towards boys. But I think the creatives were on-board once they saw that pitch.
Nina Jacobson, the head of production at that point, after that pitch she was absolutely convinced. She became a warrior for the movie, basically!
Behind the scenes image (C) Kevin Lima
Disney has only just come out of the phase on worrying about how to sell a princess movie. Tangled was the most notable example, where it wouldn’t call the film Rapunzel. And Frozen too, of course.
Frozen proved it to them in a giant way, but at the time they were nervous. The trailer for Enchanted said ‘from the filmmakers who brought you Toy Story and Tarzan’, and I’m scratching my head saying why isn’t the ad campaign embracing the fact that what we’re really bringing is Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty.
I did lots of interviews for The Princess & The Frog, that followed your film by a year or two, and remember that got a lot of credit for bringing hand-drawn animation back to Disney. And yet, again, you’d got there first. But you had to outsource the animation work to another company I understand. What was the story there?
It’s true, it’s true.
I don’t know if there’s a big story. It came down to cost, to be quite honest with you. On the budget we had, we couldn’t afford to re-staff 2D animation at Disney.
We went looking for the next best thing. Is there someone who has worked in Disney out in the world, do they have a studio, and can we trust them with this material? And we got so incredibly lucky that James Baxter had just started a studio, and he was one of the master animators. Not only at Disney, but in Hollywood. We really lucked out, to be quite honest with you.
I gather Eric Goldberg, who oversaw the 2D animation on Moana, had worked on Enchanted though, and was at the studio?
They’ve always carried a few 2D animators, and a few who could switch back and forth. Eric Goldberg being one. Mark Henn being another. There’s always 2D work to do, whether it’s for the parks, or a sequence in an animated movie. But they just didn’t have the warriors, the team together. I don’t regret the decision for a moment to have James Baxter lead the crusade and bring 2D animation back to Disney. It turned out beautiful.
How did balancing the animated and live action elements of Enchanted compare to directing Tarzan, where you had two crews in two different countries?
It was a back and forth the entire time. Because we were creating an animated world that had to become live action, the live action world had to start in animation. We knew that we couldn’t create the animated characters from ground zero, so we had to base everything on the live action world. We did all the work of designing the live action world first. Casting the actors, coming up with design principles, Amy plotted out her character arc from the beginning to end, and we used the beginning of her arc as the character’s mannerisms in the animated world.
I shot Amy doing all of the animated scenes to give the animators live action reference, so that we could create this link between the two worlds, and so that the characters were perceived as being one character, not done at completely different times by completely different people.
There was a lot put into communicating between the two. I invited James Baxter out to the set, so he could meet Amy, and see the work she was doing. That was really part of my job, creating this continuity between the two [parts of the movie]. Making sure there was no doubt that one was the other.
Were there points where you felt you were losing the film at any point?
No, I felt very good about where we were at, constantly. While we were shooting, James Baxter was sending me animated scenes. And Amy would see them, and then it’d influence her performance. There was a real sharing of the creative process between them, and I think Amy found that incredibly exciting as well. To see what she was creating being adjusted and filtered into an animated character. It gave her this lift, I think.
I shared the footage with everyone on the live action on the set as well. It created this excitement amongst everyone.
Whoever came up with your schedule, to allow all of this to overlap, surely deserved a bonus and a half?!
I also have an advantage too because I grew up in animation. I understand what those individuals do, what they need. That they are, after all, actors, they’re not just people who draw! I knew that they would somehow feed each other in a way that was bigger than them both individually.
It’s not the most comprehensive Blu-ray they gave you. It was an early release, so we still have to sit through all the promos for the Blu-ray format itself, even while I’m sat there watching a Blu-ray! But in the smattering of extra features, there’s something I didn’t know. The idea of giving a performer a physical object to hold when acting against CG character, or something that’s not there. I’d heard of getting people to look at ping pong balls for reference, but not to hold something.
I think I stole that from Roger Rabbit! I remember watching a making of special on that movie, and I was fascinated by the fact that they had made full sized puppets of the characters, and put them into the scene. That Bob Hoskins had to remember his eye focus. He had to hit a focus in depth half way between himself and a wall. And I thought that’s fascinating, and that’s what I started doing with the actors.
I’d take a puppet, or in the case of Pip a little stuffed chipmunk, and I would act out the scenes with the actors. I’d put Pip in the scene and I’d puppeteer him. I’d do his voice, for the actors, and then they would remember their eyelines and what they were looking at.
I absolutely believe that came from Roger Rabbit.
It’s a very physical film Enchanted, though. Disney, for instance, did its live action Beauty & The Beast movie this year, which I enjoyed, but 80% of that seemed like an animated movie to me. Enchanted, I never got that sense. There’s a sheer physicality at the heart of it. Was that where filmmaking was at that point, or was that a deliberate choice?
I think the movie is about a character who becomes real. At its core, it’s about discovering yourself under different circumstances. The circumstances happen to be the real world, and I felt like I had to give the actors as much tangible world as possible.
The real-world part of the movie is not fantastic until the end. Her journey, her discovery of who she is takes place in what I would consider the everyday. It didn’t make sense to me to create a digital world for her to exist in.
Pip is really the only character who is computer generated. There are some rats. If I couldn’t get the acting I wanted from a real world animal, I would substitute. But even those scenes, a lot of the animals are real. The birds flying in the rooms, the rats running around, they’re all real animals.
Is that where you directing 102 Dalmatians helped?
[Laughs] Maybe! Maybe I learned not to be afraid of working with animals, doing that movie.
Can we talk music? I’ve interviewed Alan Menken face to face a couple of times, and on each occasion I’ve got the sense of a man who absolutely knows what he’s doing. When he and Steven Schwartz first played the That’s How You Know song to you: what do you remember?
I don’t remember the very first moment. All of the songs were written into the script, so it was absolutely called out when we were doing our rewrite and adding songs to the movie. The drafts I was originally involved in didn’t have any songs at all. It had an opening song actually, and that was it. The characters gave up music as they came into the real world and I though that’s too bad. I thought there was an opportunity with a character who sings by the very nature of her existence. We should let her bring that into the world and see how people react to it in both positive and negative ways.
I remember the song coming fully formed. It was the entire number. Which was absolutely overwhelming. And I think this is why it endures: it wasn’t a song that we nitpicked every lyric or change the melody to or added and removed sections. It showed up, and that is what we made.
The difficult piece of making the song, as I remember, was actually the orchestration. The gathering of sounds as she moved through the park. That was always the idea: that she would gather as she moved, she would enchant, like the Pied Piper. This is the number where she enchants the world, so you layer in instruments one after the other after the other. That took a very long time to happen. It went through the hands of three orchestrators to get to where we get to at the end. But yeah, I remember it coming fully formed!
I’m pretty critical. I sit and really analyse, and when I heard that song I just said there’s nothing to do. It’s perfect.
How many times have you said that in your career?
The other time? I have to ask!
Maybe three times in fact! One of the other ones would be You’ll Be In My Heart [from Tarzan]. We talked about that number, and Phil [Collins] went away and wrote it. He sent it in, and it was as it is!
The other time would be on A Goofy Movie…
I’ve not seen that for a long time!
With the song Nobody Else But You, which is a song that Goofy and his son sing right before they go over a waterfall. It’s the reconciliation of their relationship in the movie’s arc. That was another song that happened very quickly.
Did you ever get an unusual reaction to the film from an audience? Something you just weren’t expecting?
I don’t think of myself as being a comedy director, and being actually that funny. To watch this movie with an audience that was laughing, and having such a good time, was honestly shocking to me. When I watch the movie, I honestly don’t see it being humorous. I don’t think it’s a drama by any means, but it’s not a laugh out loud comedy. When I watch with an audience, I’ve seen a very vocal reaction. I think that’s fun.
I take it all so seriously in the moment.
Behind the scenes image (C) Kevin Lima
But read Steve Martin’s book on stand-up comedy, and the serious nature of the work behind it. Yet at his peak, he was possibly the funniest man on the planet.
It’s interesting, because with Patrick Dempsey, everyone else was getting the laughs in the movie. And it made him, I think, incredibly insecure. He asked why aren’t I getting any laughs? I kept saying to him don’t worry about it: when we screen this movie, you will get all the laughs. It’s going to be your reactions to the situation that brings on the comedy.
He couldn’t wrap his head around it. But when he saw the movie, he came to me and said ‘I totally get it’. That was nice, and nice to hear. But he really struggled.
Not bad for someone who’s not a comedy director!
[Laughs] I don’t know. I have a tough perception of myself perhaps.
It’s taking Giselle seriously, right? She’s not playing for comedy. This is her world. It’s real for her. Same with Edward.
The only pushback I ever read against Enchanted was that we didn’t get enough villain in the film. I wonder what your reaction is to that: whether it’s a good thing that people wanted more, or if you feel you cut Susan Sarandon’s antagonist back to keep the running time under control?
I’ve never heard that criticism, that’s interesting! I’ve heard other criticisms, but I’ve never heard that one!
Personally I never thought that we needed more. There was a little bit more at one point. We tried multiple times to try and write a song for her when she came to New York City, but it just fell flat, every time we tried. Finding the moment, finding a musical voice for the character was difficult, but I do believe that it’s not a story that is ultimately driven by the villain. She has a purpose, but the story is driven by the character herself, and her realisation.
If you go back to Jungle Book again, the character of Shere Khan is in that for little time if you add it up. But it feels like he’s in it more than he is.
I think it’s the same if you go back to the old princess movies specifically. There’s very little wicked queen, there’s very little Maleficent. You want her to drive the plot more than the emotion of the piece. I never found that there was a need for more.
What happened post-Enchanted for you? When did you appreciate how much it’d soaked in, once you were past the release window?
I got the sense in the moment that it was liked, and people were surprised by it. I didn’t get the sense that it was any kind of classic really until the years went by. Any mention of the movie there seemed to be a flood of ‘my family and I watch it ever time it comes on’. But I didn’t get a sense of that until years and years afterwards.
It’s been… I wouldn’t say surprising, because when it was over, I thought it had the possibility of entering the Disney canon maybe more than anything I’d done before. It had a voice, and it felt like I’d accomplished making something in the mould of Mary Poppins. I felt a lot of pride.
Over the years, it’s been confirmed to me that it just continues on and on. When I tell someone I directed Enchanted, they seem to light up!
I talk to a lot of people about movies writing for the site I do, and there are two films I’ve come across that nobody seems to dislike. One is Enchanted, the other is In Bruges!
I am so honoured! I feel so honoured, you just made my day!
I should ask the sequel question. In the decade since the film came out, there’s been a lot of chat about a follow-up, but your name has never been attached to it.
In fact, sequels have been made to a couple of your earlier films by someone other than you. They made a Tarzan II without you.
In the case of Enchanted, do you have any temptation to revisit this world yourself, or is there just other stuff you want to do?
I always find that I’m heading off into the world looking for new adventures. The idea of making a sequel isn’t the most intriguing to me. At the same time, I haven’t been able to even suggest a sequel to them. Enchanted feels like a movie that’s complete in and of itself.
I’m sure if I was forced to stick my nose to the grindstone I could work something out. I don’t have a story that feels compelling, though. Nothing’s come to me. I tend not to dwell on it. I keep thinking what’s next? What other stories can I tell?
And they’re trying! They’ve been trying for ten years to pull together a story, and haven’t come up with anything satisfying.
DisEnchanted it’s up to at the minute, isn’t it?
That’s what they’ve called it. And I’ve read it over the years. [Lets out a sigh that words don’t do justice to]. The soul of that character is very difficult to hold onto. It’s very elusive.
When, then, do we see another film you’re directing?
It’s not for lack of trying! Enchanted is the last movie I’d had released, and I’ve developed many, many films over the years. None of which have made it to the screen. I’m hoping… my wife and I are on the verge of starting a production company, and we have set ourselves up at a big studio. I decided to take my own development into my own hands really, because I was so disappointed by Monkeys Of Mumbai that I’d invested so much into that movie, but had no power to take it with me and get it made.
Brenda and I wrote a script together, that we’ve also sold. We’re hoping that this happens, and I look at this new movie as a reverse Enchanted, a Roger Rabbit for a new generation. It’s a hybrid live action/animated movie. Fingers crossed this one happens!
Fingers crossed indeed! Kevin Lima, thank you very much.
Enchanted is available on DVD and Blu-ray.