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Disney's Enchanted History

USA Release date for Enchanted: 21 November 2007

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Enchanted's Long, Long Journey to the Big Screen - by Jim Hill

Disney Enchanted Movie PosterThis article was originally published on JimHillMedia.com. It is reproduced here with the author's permission."

November, 2005 [To read the main Enchanted page, go to disney-movies-enchanted.htm]

With this week's announcement that Amy Adams had officially been cast to play Princess Giselle in "Enchanted," it looks like this oft-postponed project (Disney's first feature-length film to combine live action and animation since 1988's "Who Framed Roger Rabbit") is finally getting ready to go into production.

And yet ... Even though "Enchanted" already has a director attached (I.E. Kevin Lima. The co-director of Disney's 1999 release, "Tarzan." Not to mention being the guy who helmed 2000's "102 Dalmatians"), there are still those in Hollywood that say: "I'll believe that the Mouse is actually making this movie when it finally turns up at my local multiplex."

Why do industry insiders have such a downbeat attitude about a project that's supposed to be a lightweight romantic fantasy? You don't understand, folks. Disney execs have been trying to get this film made since they first optioned Bill Kelly's screenplay back in September of 1997. But each time they've attempted to put "Enchanted" into production, the project has fallen apart.

I'm serious, people. This Kevin-Lima-directed version of "Enchanted"? If it actually makes it before the cameras,

this will be the fourth time that Walt Disney Studios has tried to get this motion picture made. Only to have the project stall out just as production is supposed to be getting underway.

"But -- if this is really such a troubled project -- then why does the Mouse keep trying to make this motion picture?," you ask. Well, it's because this movie has an absolutely killer premise. In which a Disney princess is magically banished from the animated world. Forced to make her way through the real world (I.E. modern day Manhattan) as a flesh-and-blood human being.

Mind you, Kelly's first pass at his "Enchanted" screenplay still had a few kinks in its tale. In that early version of this script, Bill sent his Disney Princess to Chicago. Where she wound up at a bachelor party and -- because of her royal get-up -- was mistaken for the party's entertainment (I.E. The stripper).

But even with these obvious story mis-steps, it was still clear that "Enchanted" had great potential. That -- with just a wee bit of tweaking -- Kelly's screenplay could be turned into a clever family-friendly comedy. Just the sort of thing that wouild go over big with moviegoers. Which is -- of course -- just the sort of movie that the Mouse likes to make.

Which is why the Walt Disney Company eventually wound up out-bidding Dreamworks and 20th Century Fox for the rights to produce "Enchanted." Paying $450,000 to acquire Bill Kelly's screenplay. Which was then supposed to be produced by Barry Sonnenfeld (I.E. The director of "Men in Black" and "The Addams Family") & Barry Josephson (I.E. Executive producer of "The Last Boy Scout" and "Wild Wild West").

After carefully reviewing Kelly's script, the two Barrys realized that -- in order for "Enchanted" to work -- the first 20 minutes (I.E. The portion of the picture that was supposed to be animated) had to come across as a legitimate animated feature. Which is why they wound up hiring "Pocahontas" co-director Eric Goldberg to supervise the movie's animation, while Academy Award winner Alan Menken was then recruited to write several songs for the film's score.

Then Sonnenfeld & Josephson hired Rita Hsaio (Best known as one of the writers on "Mulan" and "Toy Story 2") to do a polish on Bill's original screenplay. And then -- to helm the project -- the two Barrys grabbed the guy who'd just directed ABC's highly acclaimed remake of "Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella" : Broadway vet Rob Marshall.

With this much talent on its production team, "Enchanted" looked to be a sure-fire hit. And -- if all had gone according to plan -- this ambitious live action / animated fantasy would have actually gone into production in late 2000 / early 2001. With the idea that "Enchanted" would then have been Walt Disney Studios' big release for the 2001 holiday season.

But then in June of 2000, Disney execs (strictly as a cost-cutting move) decided not to renew the studio's production deal with the two Barrys. Which left "Enchanted" in a bit of the lurch ... at least temporarily.

Well, rather than wait around to see if this ambitious animated / live action feature would actually ever get produced, Rob Marshall decided to find himself another film to direct. Maybe you've heard of it? Miramax Pictures' "Chicago"?

Once the dust settled, Sonnenfeld & Josephson were still on board as "Enchanted" 's producers. But now the picture needed a new director. Someone who was really familiar with the Disney house style. Which is why -- in January of 2001 -- studio execs decided to recruit Jon Turteltaub.

Turteltaub (for those of you who don't know) is the helmer behind some of the Mouse Factory's bigger hits of the past decade. He's the guy who rode herd on "3 Ninjas," "Cool Running," "While You Were Sleeping," "Phenomenon," "The Kid" and -- most recently -- "National Treasure." Given his track record (More importantly, given Jon's commercial instincts), Disney execs thought that Turteltaub would be the perfect man to direct "Enchanted."

And at first, Jon did seem to be the right guy for the project. By that I mean: He certainly leaped in with both feet. Turteltaub quickly set Goldberg to work on the first 20 minutes of "Enchanted." Which Eric intended to have traditionally animated by the artists working at Disney Studios in Paris.

By April of 2001, Jon was already out there trying to hire actors to appear in "Enchanted." At Turteltaub's request, Disney offered the role of the film's villain (I.E. The evil queen) to Academy Award winner Susan Sarandon. And -- as for the picture's comic relief -- the Mouse attempted to recruit Emmy Award winner David Hyde Pierce to play the queen's valet. And as for "Enchanted" 's prince ... Would you believe John Travolta?

This project was virtually greenlit. Animation was already underway in Paris. But then -- on May 31, 2001 -- Disney's "Pearl Harbor" was released to theaters. And this $135 million production under-performed at the box office. To add insult to injury, "Atlantis: The Lost Empire" opened wide on June 15th and didn't do all that well either.

As a direct result of those two films' under-performing, then-Disney studio head Peter Schneider resigned on June 20th. And the remaining execs at the Walt Disney Company ... They suddenly got extremely cautious.

Which was why then-Disney Feature Animation head Thomas Schumacher -- rather than put another big budget project into production just then and risk the wrath of Michael Eisner -- opted to shut down "Enchanted" ... at least for a little while.

Schumacher reportedly shut down the project on July 17, 2001. Not-so-co-incidentally, Goldberg supposedly decided to exit Walt Disney Feature Animation on July 25. Allegedly because Eric was upset at the way that Thomas had shut down this particular production.

Mind you, in a weird sort of way, Disney deciding to put "Enchanted" into turnaround (at least for a little while) might have been the very best thing that could have happened to the project. to explain: In the wake of 9/11, it was going to be a couple of years before Manhattan would seem like a suitable setting for a new romantic comedy.

Of course, just like Rob Marshall, Jon Turteltaub wasn't willing to just sit around and wait to see if "Enchanted" was ever going to come out of turnaround. Which is why Jon moved on. Opting to tackle another project that Walt Disney Studios had been struggling to produce for quite a while now: "National Treasure."

Which meant -- when Disney execs finally decided to put "Enchanted" back on the production track in early 2003 -- they now had to find another director. Luckily, they already had a guy working for the studio -- Andy Shankman -- who had just helmed a hit, "Bringing Down the House."

Shankman got offered "Enchanted" in April of 2003. He immediately saw this project as a starring vehicle for someone like Reese Witherspoon or Kate Hudson. Which is why Andy reportedly pursued these two actresses for the role of Princess Giselle.

When both of these performers reportedly expressed their reservations about "Enchanted" 's script, Shankman had the screenplay rewritten. First by screenwriter Todd Alcott (Best known for his work on the script for "Antz"), and later by Bob Schooley and Mark McCorkle (I.E. The creators of "Kim Possible" as well as the writers of "Sky High")

But then in early 2004, Disney Studios execs suddenly decided to shut down production of "Enchanted" again. Reportedly because the first 20 minutes of the film (which were supposed to be traditionally animated in the style of "The Little Mermaid" and "Beauty & the Beast") would now be prohibitively expensive to produce. What with WDFA having shut down its traditional animation unit and all.

So -- once again -- a director that had been assigned to helm "Enchanted" suddenly found himself out of work. Luckily, Disney execs soon found Andy another in-house gig. They hired Shankman to ride herd on Vin Diesel's new comedy for the studio, "The Pacifier." Which eventually turned out one of the studio's biggest hits for 2005.

Which brings us up to the spring of this year. After viewing the test footage that Disney master animator Glen Keane had put together for "Rapunzel Unbraided," Mouse House executives suddenly realized that it was actually possible to produce a Disney Princess film using only CG. So -- once again -- "Enchanted" was pulled out of mothballs & put back into active development.

As to why Disney selected Kevin Lima to be the film's new director ... Well, Kevin's already got a proven track record with the studio. Given his work on "Tarzan" and "102 Dalmatians," Lima's obviously comfortable working with both animation as well as films that feature a lot of special effects. More to the point, given that Kevin's the guy who directed both of those "Eloise" TV movies (I.E. "Eloise at the Plaza" and "Eloise at Christmastime") for ABC's "Wonderful World of Disney" ... Lima's now knows what it takes to shoot on location in NYC.

So with this week's signing of Amy Adams to play Princess Giselle, does this actually mean that "Enchanted" is finally officially a "Go" project at Disney studios? Based on what company insiders told me yesterday, it would seem that this Kevin Lima film has been tentatively penciled in to be Disney's big holiday release for 2006. Reportedly rolling into theaters next year in virtually the same spot that "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" occupies this year. Meaning that this movie should hit the multiplexes during the first week of December.

But given that actresses have supposedly been signed for this film before (I'm told that Susan Sarandon had already inked her contract to appear in "Enchanted" when Disney officially pulled the plug on that version of the project back in July of 2001), I'm afraid that -- at least for the time being -- I'm going to have to side with the doubters. I'll believe that "Enchanted" is actually coming to a theater near me when this production officially completes principal photography. Which (hopefully) should be sometime in early 2006.

So what do you folks think? Does "Enchanted" sound like the sort of film that you'd like to see? Are you intrigued by the ideas that Princess Giselle will be the first Disney Princess to be done in CG, even beating Rapunzel to the big screen by at least three years?

THE FOLLOWING WEEK - Jim Hill posted this article:

Jim Hill
Which version of Disney's "Enchanted" would you have made?

In response to last week's "Enchanted" story, I got a number of e-mails from JHM readers which basically asked:

Why did it take Walt Disney Studios so long to put this particular picture into production? If this combination animated / live-action movie had been released to the multiplexes prior to May 2001 (I.E. Before Dreamworks' "Shrek" rolled into theaters), it might have been seen as an extremely clever romantic comedy. But now this whole real-live-Disney-Princess-on-the-loose-in-modern-Manhattan idea just sounds dated & tired.

Again, "Enchanted" sounds like it might have been a great premise for a motion picture back in the late 1990s. But not now in 2005. So why didn't the Mouse move faster to try & get this movie made?

Well, it's not that development of "Enchanted" was deliberately being stalled. I mean, this project was offered to no less than four of the top directors that worked for the Walt Disney Company over the past decade (I.E. Rob Marshall, Jon Turteltaub, Andy Shankman and Kevin Lima). And four different screenwriters -- Rita Hsiao, Todd Alcott, Bob Schooley & Mark McCorkle -- were hired to try & make improvements to Bill Kelly's original script. So it's clear that Mouse House officials really were trying to get this motion picture made.

But -- that said -- if I had to pick one area where "Enchanted" 's development actually did lag behind (a little), I'd have to say that it was the years of work that were devoted to getting the film's story just right. As in: Studio execs couldn't decide what sort of real-live-Disney-princess-loose-in-modern-Manhattan story they really wanted to tell.

Don't believe me? Then take a gander at all these variations-on-a-theme that Disney studio execs considered as possible storylines for "Enchanted" over the past eight years. The proposed premises for this motion picture included:

* A beautiful maiden from an enchanted kingdom has a chance encounter with a handsome prince. The fairyland's queen, fearing that her son was now in love with a commoner, magically banishes this girl to modern-day Chicago. The young woman winds up at a bachelor party where she is mistaken for a stripper. This beautiful maiden then falls in love with the groom-to-be, who is a computer programmer.

* A soon-to-be-crowned princess is extremely selfish and vain. In order to teach this spoiled young lady a lesson in humility, the court sorceress casts a spell which sends the princess flying out of her animated realm into real-life, modern day Manhattan. Where the now-real girl must use all of her wit, charm and ingenuity in order to survive in the big city.

* A young girl is coerced into marrying a prince that she doesn't love. The night before her wedding, the girl's godmother appears. She then grants the girl her wish to visit the real-life New York City for three days. The girl then has only the allotted time to find true love and avoid the obligation to marry the prince.

Eventually, Disney studio execs settled on a storyline for "Enchanted" that actually combined a number of pieces from these various premises. Where a young girl met and fell in love with a handsome prince. News of this romance upsets his mother, the evil queen. Who then uses her black magic to send the girl hurtling out of the animated world into the one place in the universe where there is no true love: modern day Manhattan.

The now-real girl now has to survive in the real New York City. But -- against all odds -- she does find true love in Manhattan. Only this time around, the girl winds up falling for a married man.

And -- if this situation weren't already complicated enough -- that handsome prince that the girl originally fell for? He uses his mother's black magic to also travel to Manhattan. But he's soon followed by the evil queen!

So now the young girl must decide. Should she opt for the fairy tale happy ending or stick with real love in the real world? Even though her relationship with a real-life married man would undoubtedly be much more complicated than the "happily ever after" that she's bound get if she sticks with her handsome prince.

But -- even then -- after all of "Enchanted" 's main story points had been finally been hammered out, Disney execs still couldn't decide what to do with the film's heroine. Should she be this beautiful young peasant girl, a princess-in-waiting or some sort of combo character? As in: a princess wanna-be.

More importantly, how do they make "Enchanted" 's main character palatable to today's politically correct audiences? Even though she was supposed to be a Disney princess, it just wouldn't seem very P.C. for this beautiful young lady to be rescued by a handsome prince. In order for "Enchanted" 's characters & storyline to really connect with today's movie-goers, the film's main character would have to find a way to rescue herself as well as find true love.

I know, I know. It must seem rather bizarre that the plotline of a proposed project would have to go through all of these permutations before Disney Studio execs would finally greenlight production of that particular motion picture. But -- to be honest -- this sort of thing happens all the time in Hollywood. Particularly at the Mouse Factory.

Mind you, many movie scripts lose a lot of their initial charm & focus as they go through this sort of lengthy development process. While some projects just get sharper and stronger with each rewrite they undergo.

Case in point: "Who Framed Roger Rabbit." For years, the proposed movie version of this Gary K. Wolf book was supposed to star this rabbit who would act like a complete fool whenever he was in front of a camera. But then -- once the klieg lights were off -- the film's title character quickly became an urbane sophisticate. Picture Roger Rabbit as played by screen legend Ronald Colman. With a silk smoking jacket and long cigarette holder to go with his bulbous red nose and long floppy ears.

And as the film's villain ... That character's identity kept shifting from draft to draft. In some early versions of the "Roger Rabbit" script, it was Jessica Rabbit (Who are then portrayed as a Tallulah Bankhead-type) who was trying to kill her hare husband. While in other versions of the screenplay, it was Baby Herman (with an off-camera voice that sounded a lot like Sydney Greenstreet) who was out to off his obnoxious co-star. While in still other drafts of the film's script, Jessica & Baby Herman had secretly teamed up in an effort to bump off Roger.

It wasn't until Robert Zemeckis officially came on board as the film's director and screenwriters Jeffrey Price & Peter S. Seaman were hired to go through all of the previous drafts of the "Roger Rabbit" script & cull out the very best bits ... that the live action / animated masterpiece that we all know & love today finally came into being. Where the film's title character took on Tex Avery-like tendencies and Judge Doom emerged as one of the screen's more memorable villains.

So -- granted -- eight years may seem like an awfully long time for "Enchanted" to slowly chug along Disney's development track. But if the end result is that this soon-to-begin-shooting Kevin Lima film winds up being half as entertaining as "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" was ... Well, I'm happy that Mouse House execs actually took the time they needed in order to get this movie's story just right.

But did Disney execs actually wind up picking the very best plotline for "Enchanted"? Given all of the possible permutations of the picture's premise that I've listed above, which storyline would you have chosen? Which premise do you think would have made for a more memorable motion picture?


For a newer story, Will "Enchanted" clean up at the box office this Thanksgiving? see http://jimhillmedia.com/blogs/jim_hill/archive/2007/03/07/enchanted-wednesday.aspx

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