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November 16, 2007

'Enchanted' princess steps out of cartoon, into Manhattan

USA Today put out a nice spread on Enchanted...

"The masterminds behind the PG-rated Enchanted have set out to invent a new studio classic, one that not only recalls the cartoon wonders of Uncle Walt's golden age but also such later landmarks as 1964's Mary Poppins (that's Julie Andrews narrating at the start and finish) and 1988's Who Framed Roger Rabbit (a similar groundbreaker)."

By Susan Wloszczyna, USA TODAY
Making the leap from "once upon a time" to "happily ever after" is hardly a waltz in the park for the average Disney fairy-tale heroine.

Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty had to endure jealous crones, clingy animal sidekicks and gnarled little men in their quest for everlasting love.

WATCH: Check out a clip of 'Enchanted'

But Enchanted's Giselle has a few more pressing matters to overcome — including homelessness — as the strawberry-blond princess is rudely shoved out of her animated Eden and into the live-action chaos of modern-day Manhattan.

Cinderella never had to fret about tripping on her ballgown. The artists took care of that. But Amy Adams, the supporting-Oscar nominee from 2005's Junebug who brings Giselle to life in the romantic comedy opening Wednesday, wasn't as lucky. She wrestled with a wedding dress that enveloped her like a silk-and-organza nuclear explosion while negotiating the hustle and bustle of Times Square.

"It's definitely heavier than you think," says Adams, 33, who took more than a few tumbles in her 45-pound costume, causing her to half-jokingly refer to director Kevin Lima as "the Marquis de Sade." Giselle also has to bear the weight of both sending up and celebrating Disney's 2-D animation, a tradition that has been on the brink of extinction until recently.

The masterminds behind the PG-rated Enchanted have set out to invent a new studio classic, one that not only recalls the cartoon wonders of Uncle Walt's golden age but also such later landmarks as 1964's Mary Poppins (that's Julie Andrews narrating at the start and finish) and 1988's Who Framed Roger Rabbit (a similar groundbreaker).

Says Lima, who has done animation (1999's Tarzan) as well as live action (2000's 102 Dalmatians) for the studio: "Shrek tends to beat up on Disney, but this is just the opposite. The ideas behind the fairy-tale movies might be somewhat antiquated, but put into the real world, they don't have to be cynical. They can still have that same joy."

What follows is the story of the key talents behind the birth of a postmodern princess, one who might help the Magic Kingdom rediscover its old-fashioned knack for enchanting audiences.

Chapter 1: The storytellers three

Long ago (circa 1997) and far away (in Hollywood), Bill Kelly's script for Enchanted cast a spell over producer Barry Josephson (Men in Black, TV's Bones), and a deal was struck with Disney.

Hitches and delays followed, however. The project was an ambitious one, with 14 minutes of animated segments plus elaborate musical numbers. Several writers took a stab at polishing the screenplay, while directors Rob Marshall (Chicago) and Adam Shankman (Hairspray) came and went.

It wasn't until 2005 that everything fell into place — after Lima was recruited and Kelly refocused his fantasy on Giselle's journey instead of cynical lawyer Robert (Patrick "McDreamy" Dempsey), who rescues her and eventually falls for her smiling charms.

One of Lima's strengths: He understands the rules of a cartoon universe. "Kevin knows the world of Belle from Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas and Mulan," Josephson says. "He knows what princesses are like, what they want, how they sit down, how they talk, what their eyes look like. He knew exactly what Giselle should embody."

The filmmaker also realized what effect being fully dimensional would have on a make-believe creation whose destiny is centered on waiting for her prince to come.

"She is about 80% Snow White, with some traits borrowed from Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty," Lima says, "although her spunkiness comes from Ariel of The Little Mermaid. These characters expect things to happen to them, but being in the contemporary world forces Giselle to grow and become an active participant."

The magical if strangely romantic epiphany arrives for Giselle when she feels anger for the first time after arguing with Robert, and the sight of his chest hair peeping out from his robe awakens her sexuality as if from a deep slumber. AsLima explains, cartoon princes don't have hirsute bodies: "It's too difficult to draw."

Chapter 2: The pied piper

What's a Disney animated feature without snappy novelty tunes and swoony ballads? Enchanted boasts five such musical numbers, clever pastiches that borrow from fairy tales old and new.

Lending an air of authenticity is Alan Menken, who has made a career out of writing music for such films as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, collecting eight Oscars for his efforts.

Given that his previous cartoon score was for Disney's last 2-D feature, 2004's little-seen Home on the Range, Menken is all too happy to remind moviegoers why they used to relish such films.

"Spoofing what we do is the best way to win audiences back," says the music man, who re-teams with Stephen Schwartz (Broadway's Wicked), his partner on Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. "They appreciate it when you appeal to the smarter part of their brains. This is a new start."

The first song, True Love's Kiss, a throwback to such Walt-era songs as Someday My Prince Will Come, proved the most difficult. "Kevin had a strong idea of what he wanted and, at the end of the day, it was a very good thing," Menken says. "But, oh, my God, was he involved."

More fun was mining his own legacy with the impossibly catchy That's How You Know. "Think of it as Under the Sea, but paying tribute to the melting pot of New York," the songwriter says. "It starts with salsa, moves to steel drums, then reggae, an oompah band, even some Bollywood."

Chapter 3: A king of cartoons

With the studio's 2-D animation division shut down, James Baxter, a Disney and DreamWorks alum who runs his own boutique company, was drafted to oversee Enchanted's cartoon sequences.

"Kevin wanted the animation to feel nostalgic, to have it feel familiar to the audience," says James Baxter, the creator of Jessica Rabbit and Belle. "But he also wanted it to have a style of its own, a unity. We used art nouveau as a jumping-off point."

Much effort was made to tweak clichés of past films. "It's done with a lot of love," he assures. "Kevin would say, 'I want Prince Edward to pick up Nathaniel (his servant) and dance with him.' That's like what Prince Phillip does with King Hubert in Sleeping Beauty."

For Giselle's look, Baxter says, "She had to be a cross between Amy and a classic Disney princess. She is a forest nymph, barefoot with flowers in her hair." As for Prince Edward (played by James Marsden): "We worked hardest on him to make him look enough like James. The princes are usually so bland, it was exciting to see Jimmy's audition. This guy nailed it with complete conviction."

Chapter 4: The princess and her prince

Giselle and Prince Edward may be from Andalasia, not Venus and Mars. But the accidental tourists could not react more differently to their new environment.

"Ultimately, she survives because she has an instinctual ability to adapt," Lima says. "She can follow her dream no matter what stands in the way, whether it's a houseful of rats or learning how to make a new dress. She can survive. Unlike Edward. He's all about entitlement and bravado. He doesn't doubt himself very much. The world is too much for him."

That this less-than-passionate couple is supposedly destined to be each other's true love just lends to the comedy of the situation, he says. Not that both actors weren't perfect for their parts.

Says Adams, who last sang and danced at a Chanhassen, Minn., dinner theater in such shows as Brigadoon: "My boyfriend always says, 'You're a cartoon, Amy.' I felt I understood Giselle. I already knew the movies embarrassingly well."

As for Marsden, 34, who previously had a chance to showcase the musical talent he honed in high school as Corny Collins in Hairspray this past summer, "Enchanted let me go back to being a kid again and to pretend. It's very liberating. There is no one saying you can't be too big with it."

He gladly did his homework, too. "I revisited the classic films with my daughter Mary (2) and son Jack (6). The princes didn't have much personality. So I borrowed a little of Gaston from Beauty and the Beast, minus the evil intentions, and some Buzz Lightyear. Edward is always in love with being in love."

Adams enjoyed her time spent in Giselle's glass slippers.

"She is eternally optimistic and romantic, but she also is a little goofy. She gets herself in trouble in the tradition of Disney princesses. But she is very independent and true to her convictions. If I'm lucky, she rubbed off on me."

Chapter 5: The villainess

A princess is nothing without a nemesis. And Giselle has a doozy.

"Sexy and slinky." That's how Baxter describes Susan Sarandon's Queen Narissa, who wants to be rid of Giselle before the fair damsel has a chance to wed her stepson Edward and kick her off the throne.

"I felt like a drag queen marching across Times Square," says Sarandon, describing her heavily cleavaged schemer, who hunts down her girlish prey in the big city.

She knows she is as over the top as her blue eye shadow, which makes her appreciate Dempsey's grounded counterpoint: "It's great to have Patrick's character undercutting everything constantly, like a Cary Grant."

Sarandon, who also plays the toothless hag who is determined to persuade Giselle to bite a poisoned apple even if it's afloat in a martini glass, based her queen on the one in Snow White as well as Malelificent in Sleeping Beauty. But when the actress checked out the source material, she realized something about the animated wrongdoers.

"There is a lot of scary smiling and saying of horrible things. But no screaming," she says. "There is a whole tradition of relishing your power and evilness very softly, and not yelling all the time."

Chapter 6: A kick of a sidekick

Pip, the wisecracking chipmunk, is voiceless in the real world, forcing him to be the Marcel Marceau of the animal kingdom.

By the time the CG pipsqueak is reduced to doing a frantic mime to inform the clueless Edward of Narissa's plot, the furry fellow has earned a round of applause from the audience.

"My inside joke is that Pip is imitating Kevin just trying to direct the movie," says Josephson about Lima, who provides the chipmunk's nonsense chittering.

In the end, the rodent does what any animal sidekick does in a Disney fairy tale: steals scenes. "This is the first time I was upstaged by a character or actor who was never on set," Marsden says. "And I still have yet to meet Pip."

Chapter 7: Spellbound fans?

Ultimately, the ending to the story is up to moviegoers, who will decide whether Enchanted lives up to the promise of its title.

"We all want to believe in happily ever after in our souls," Lima says. "That is one of the hopes that Disney gives you. It has been a while since a movie this pure of heart has been attempted. That 20-year-old guys in their backward baseball caps and low-rise jeans are loving it at test screenings probably has something to do with the child that still lives in us all. "
-USA Today


Posted by dschnee at November 16, 2007 6:49 AM