'Enchanted' enchants with happily ever after romance

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Enchanting "Enchanted:" Just as we're thinking there's no movie this holiday season where anyone stands a chance of living happily ever after, there's Disney's "Enchanted" to prove us happily wrong.

Directed by Kevin Lima, "Enchanted" is an enchanting romantic comedy that uses both animation and live action to tell its story of a fairytale princess exiled by an evil queen from the storybook land of Andalasia to contemporary Manhattan where she's pursued by her prince charming and unexpectedly meets her true love, a handsome divorce attorney.

Produced by Barry Josephson ("Hide and Seek") and Barry Sonnenfeld (the "Men in Black" franchise), "Enchanted" was written by Bill Kelly ("Premonition") and features original songs from the reunited team of composer Alan Menken and lyricist Stephen Schwartz ("Pocahontas"). It was executive produced by Chris Chase, Sunil Perkash and Ezra Swerdlow.

Starring are Amy Adams as Princess Giselle (a best supporting actress Oscar nominee for "Junebug"), Patrick Dempsey ("Grey's Anatomy") as divorce lawyer Robert Phillip who befriends Giselle after she arrives through a manhole in Times Square, James Marsden ("Hairspray") as the human version of her animated fairytale Prince Edward from back home, Timothy Spall ("Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire") as Edward's servant Nathaniel, Idina Menzel ("Rent") as Robert's girlfriend Nancy and Susan Sarandon (a best actress Oscar winner for "Dead Man Walking") as the nasty Queen Narissa.

There's been an Oscar buzz building for Adams' performance as the princess and an early look at "Echanted," which opens Nov. 21, left me hoping that Academy members will discover and recognize her terrific work in this film. Of course, the odds are probably against this happening given the Academy's traditional reluctance to applaud comedy.

Moreover, the best actress category's already very crowded this year with dramatic performances that stand a better chance of being recognized by Oscar voters -- such as (alphabetically) Halle Berry for Paramount's "Things We Lost in the Fire," Cate Blanchett for Universal's "Elizabeth: The Golden Age," Julie Christie for Lionsgate's "Away From Her," Marion Cotillard for Picturehouse's "La Vie En Rose," Keira Knightley for Focus Features' "Atonement" and Ellen Page for Fox Searchlight's "Juno." Adams has a much better shot at getting a Golden Globe best actress in a musical or comedy nod since the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has for years made a point of honoring the hard work it takes to make terrific comedies.

In any event, "Enchanted" is a welcome change of pace from this year's doom and gloom movies involving the war in Iraq and other dark and depressing aspects of the world in which we live. Moviegoers who rejected the politically themed drama "Lions for Lambs" last weekend are likely to be embracing "Enchanted" next week as the perfect accompaniment to their Thanksgiving celebrations.

Cheered at the thought of happy moviegoers spending money at the boxoffice, I was glad to catch up recently with Kevin Lima to discuss the making of "Enchanted." Lima, whose career at Disney goes back to 1987, made his live action directorial debut in 2000 with "102 Dalmatians." He followed that by directing Julie Andrews in the 2003 television features "Eloise at the Plaza" and "Eloise at Christmastime" for ABC. Among his earlier animated directing credits were "Tarzan" and "A Goofy Movie." Before turning to directing, he created characters for "The Little Mermaid" and "Beauty and the Beast" and storyboarded sequences for "Aladdin."

"You know, every day was difficult, but I believed in it," he said about making "Enchanted." "I really believed in the idea of making a joyful Disney classic. From the beginning, my intention was to try to make a modern day 'Mary Poppins.' How do you make a Disney classic today for a contemporary audience? I really believed there was a place for this kind of movie in today's market. Especially when you're looking at the world and the way it is, to have there be some sense of hope in a film is rare. I think that's what kept me going and kept the crew going, too. We all knew we were embarking on something that was special."

How did he come to make the film? "I read a script in 2001 at Disney," Lima recalled. "I'd just finished '102 Dalmatians.' It just seemed perfect for me, being that it was part 2-D animated and part live action and those were two avenues I had gone down. It just seemed perfect and I begged for five years for the movie. It had been in development, I guess, for seven years before it got green lit with me. I think they were just trying to find the tone -- you know, how do you create a movie that's self-referential? How do you create a movie at Disney about Disney? I think at the moment I asked for it it was a much darker movie. Darker in tone -- nearer to darker comedy is probably what I should say.

"I had the idea to do it as more of a loving homage. One of the 'Shrek' movies had come out at that point and I said, 'You know, there's a different way to do this.' I spent five months trying to convince them of that till finally they realized it was an avenue they were willing to go down and explore. I filled the whole top floor of a production building with artwork that told the story of the movie. Coming from animation, it was the way I was used to doing it -- really exploring it from the visual side first. I took (Walt Disney Studios chairman) Dick Cook through the whole thing and within a half-hour I had a green light. That would have been two years ago (in) maybe February."

The timing was good for what Lima had in mind: "They were trying to figure out how to make classic Disney movies for the contemporary audience. I think this just struck a chord with Dick. It was exactly what he was looking to do. So a little bit of luck and here we are today!"

Filling in the gap from then until now, he continued, "It's a hugely complicated movie because it has so many elements and embraces so many different genres. It's a romantic comedy. It's a musical. It's got some action adventure. It's a 2-D animated movie. It has a lot of 3-D computer generated characters. So I just had to do as much preplanning as possible. Before I pitched (the idea) to Dick, I started doing previsualization on the film as I would do on an animated movie. For me, previsualization is discovering the movie or planning the movie visually. So that could involve anything from storyboards to visual development. In some cases I did full-fledged 3-D scene development, which meant planning out shot for shot how I was going to handle a sequence from the film.

"Coming from animation, I had learned over the years that I needed an extensive period to visualize the movie in drawing form. That was really, really important to me. I discover so much about the characters and about how I want to shoot a sequence or a scene (and) the pacing of a film by actually doing all of this previsualization work. It made it much easier for me to come to terms with the tone of this movie specifically because it's really tricky. It's a really tricky balancing act to walk that tightrope of a Disney self-parody. How sentimental can you be with the piece? How cynical can you be? I had to ride that line every day and it all started with the previsualization."

At that point, did he have any actors in mind? "I did not," Lima replied. "In fact, I was leaving it open. I wanted the animated characters to live as innocent creatures on the screen. I was thinking of movies like 'Splash' when you first saw Daryl Hannah as the Mermaid. It was really important to me that those characters live as naive creatures so I thought it was important to not go after a star. I was going to go on a journey to find an unknown (to play Giselle). I saw probably 300 girls looking for Giselle."

He knew Adams was the right actress to play the part, he explained, because, "First of all, she walked into the room and she looked like a Disney character. She's got those beautiful round eyes and fair skin. Boy, I just crossed my fingers and hoped that she understood how to play the character. What she brought (to it) and what I was looking for the whole time was someone who didn't judge the character's naivete, an actor who could disappear into the role and never wink at the role while they were playing it (and) never think that what they were doing was ridiculous. And she was a revelation.

"Truly, she was the only woman who came into the room with that quality. I knew in that moment that I could make this movie. In fact, earlier I had gone into the studio and said, 'You know, I'm not finding a girl.' I'd probably seen 250 girls at that point and I told them, 'I don't know if I can actually do this if I can't find (the right girl)' because I really felt like without a Giselle I didn't have a movie. They tried to calm me down. They'd invested quite a bit of money (in the project) at that point. They just said, 'Go out there and keep looking. She's out there.' And luckily she walked through the door."

Lima knew immediately that Adams was perfect for the part: "I had a 103 temperature that day and was really sick. I was doing 15-minute auditions. She walked in and for 45 minutes I forgot that I was ill -- and then crashed after she left! But it's those rare moments where someone walks in and they take on the role. They become the role for you. And that made it possible to surround her with the rest of the cast. I had made a deal of sorts with Disney that I would hire some stars in other roles if they would allow me to cast Giselle as an unknown."

Certainly, having Julie Andrews as the film's narrator put a well-known name in the cast. "I had done the 'Eloise' television movies with Julie Andrews playing Nanny," he said, "and basically I called her. I was looking for a narrator and I tried a lot of male voices just in temp track and it never quite felt right for some reason. I was looking for someone who could make you feel like you were stepping into a classic Disney film. One day I was thinking, 'Well, maybe there's a woman out there who could narrate this.' And Julie just popped into my mind as someone who could really set the tone."

Is doing a film that's part animated and part live action more difficult than doing one that only uses one of those genres? "It's just incredibly time consuming," Lima told me. "While I was shooting the movie, I was animating the movie at the same time. Not me personally animating, but I was directing the animation. I had to start designing the world of Andalasia before I even cast the actors who were going to play the characters. I started the process of designing and once I had cast (the actors) I did a pass of making (the animated characters) look like the actors. I had to design things like the world of the movie -- what it was going to look like visually, what the art direction for the piece was going to be. I had to do all the storyboarding. And then once I hired (the actors) I could do the final design because it's very important in this film that the animated characters look like their live action counterpoint because I'm trying to create one character between two mediums."

One of the key issues for Lima was, he explained, "that we create a single character (between the animated and live versions of the key players). I brought in my costume designer from the live action very early to design the costumes of the animated characters so we could make that transition between worlds. I shot a lot of live action reference of Amy specifically for the animators so that they could draw upon her performance to create the movement so the physicalization of the character would feel like it matched. And then the animators did some work. They did some test scenes pretty early on. I showed those to the actors so the actors could then feed off how their animated characters were going to move. So it was a nice back-and-forth, a back-and-forth that you don't typically ever get."

There are approximately 12 minutes of animation at the start and conclusion of "Enchanted," which runs around 104 minutes altogether. "There's eight minutes of animation at the beginning," he pointed out, "and that animation has to remind you of all the things you love about Disney movies. I call it 'a can of condensed Disney.' If you added water, the movie would expand to be 80 minutes long. I just tried to cram every single piece of Disney iconic imagery into that first eight minutes so then I could riff on it through the rest of the film."

Lima worked on the film for about two years and, he said, "It took us a little over a year to finish the animation. We started before I shot the live action and finished after I was in editorial. I shot the live action side of this movie for 72 days. The hardest thing was really balancing the acting styles because I had some characters that had to act like cartoon characters and have a theatricality to them. And then I had the real world characters who have to exist within the context of the real world for you to believe that there is this rub going on between the two worlds.

"It was very difficult for Patrick Dempsey because he has to play the straight guy (who's not a character from the animated world) and he wanted to play with all the other folk. They were having a grand old time and he had to play it straight. I think that was ultimately very frustrating for him and very confusing for him. I call him 'the real world Prince Charming.' He's the love interest from the real world. Most of the humor in the piece comes from his reactions to what is going on around him. It was very tough for him to grab a hold of that and to understand what that was. Every day I was monitoring the pitch of the performances, making sure that things weren't so big and so cartoony that they weren't believable and from the real world characters that there was some sort of truth from their reactions (while) interacting with these cartoon characters."

Looking back at the challenges of production, Lima noted, "The hardest thing in a practical sense to shoot was there's a huge song number in Central Park called 'That's How You Know.' It has 300 extras and 150 dancers. It was shot over seven days and it took us 17 days to get seven days of sun. So we were back and forth constantly. I started planning it on the first day of production with my choreographer John O'Connell, who was the choreographer on 'Moulin Rouge.' And I did the very last piece of it -- I had one sort of like hangover scene (to finish) -- in my last week of shooting. It was gigantic. We shot it all through Central Park and we had to move through the park like this military operation. I just watched the DVD 'making of' special that they put together and for the first time I got to really sit back and look at what it was -- and it was gigantic!

"The other thing we had to deal with was Patrick Dempsey's fans. He can't go anywhere in public without his fans just going crazy. There were a multitude of times where we had to ask them, 'Please, please be quiet. We're trying to shoot a movie here' because they were yelling, 'We love you, Dr. McDreamy' the whole time! He was really great about it because he would go up and talk to them and give them a moment of his time and say, 'I'll come back when I get a break.' So we had to really work the crowd."

Lima also pointed to the development of the chipmunk in the film, who's Giselle's best friend. "One piece that evolved tremendously during the making of the movie is the character Pip," he said. "He starts in the animated world as a 2-D creation and ends up in the real world as a 3-D computer generated creation. And because he wasn't there on the day (for shooting) we had to find ways to give him a presence. He was just a computer generated character added in later. I didn't have what they had on 'Lord of the Rings' (with Andy Serkis the actor playing Gollum) acting out the scenes for the actors first of all to get them familiar with the dynamics of a scene.

"I didn't have that so I had to find ways to do it and ultimately it fell upon my shoulders because I'm an animator and I would plan out exactly what was going to happen with Pip in every scene. I would describe it to them on the day. I had this little stuffed chipmunk that I would use and I would go through the scene for them. And as we were doing the scene, I would sit off camera and actually give them the action and try to give them a sense of the speed of the action. I started doing this thing where I was vocalizing a lot. I would do this (high-pitched voice) and have a little bit of language, but it's not totally understandable. That was a great help to them and then it kind of stuck. My editors heard me doing it. I had no intention of using the sound. They heard me doing it on the takes and they talked me into actually doing it for the scratch track for Pip and he evolved a lot as a character because of that."

Filmmaker flashbacks:  From March 7 & 8, 1990's column: "When we talk about boxoffice grosses we're generally focusing on the domestic marketplace. Of course, there's a lot more world out there beyond the United States and Canada and these days it's accounting for more Hollywood revenues than ever before ...

"'The international marketplace is no longer thought of as the second tier,' Paramount Motion Picture Group president Sidney Ganis emphasizes. 'Of course, at Paramount it's never been thought of as a second tier. We've been a company that's been thinking internationally for years, long before I ever got to the company. Frank (Mancuso, Paramount chairman and CEO) has always been an advocate of the international marketplace as a big, big part of our business. It's always been and now it's even more so.'

"And what of the recent debate during the American Film Market as to whether the majors will have an edge over independents given escalating international marketing costs? 'Very often the independents claim to have the inside track in the international marketplace because they're usually with distributors who they say have more of a personal involvement country by country,' Ganis notes. 'I don't necessarily ascribe to that. I think (that's) very much the way it is here in the United States. A good commercial picture country by country with the proper distribution and proper marketing strategy -- which includes spending, of course -- has the potential to do big business ... '

"Ganis, himself a former top movie marketing executive, rejects the notion that marketing money is all it takes to generate boxoffice success. 'I don't know that it's a matter of spending all the time. We find out, don't we, that overspending doesn't sell movies anywhere in the world. It just doesn't. Audiences are too smart.'

"The majors do, however, have the advantage of producing the A titles to which international audiences are increasingly gravitating. 'American A title films have always been attractive to foreign audiences,' he explains. 'What's happened is that because of, among other things, the quality of the films and the quality of presentation these days they're even more attractive. Good solid A movies make it around the world ... '"

Update: Sid Ganis is the very well-regarded president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences today and a producer whose credits include such hits as "Mr. Deeds" and "Big Daddy," both of which starred Adam Sandler. The international marketplace has also done very well over the years and is generally a bigger source of theatrical revenue for Hollywood now than the domestic marketplace is.

Martin Grove hosts movie coverage on the broadband television channel www.UpdateHollywood.com.
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