Quint dreams about Disney princesses with ENCHANTED director Kevin Lima!!!
Published at: Dec. 14, 2007, 10:34 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. I know this is a bit late into the release of ENCHANTED, but early in the week after it’s opening weekend I was set up to talk to Kevin Lima, the director. It’s a bit bizarre to do an interview past the opening weekend, but I think it’s an interesting read because of that. In an age where even DVD commentaries are recorded before the film is actually released in theaters, I think it’s great to hear about the impact of a film and reaction to its initial release.
Plus Lima turned out to be a really fascinating guy, having had a hand in much traditional animation and seeing some of Disney’s last pre-Pixar heyday first hand… not just seeing it, but being a part of it.
There are spoilers below if you haven't seen the film yet, but it has been out a goodly time, so hopefully you've gotten the chance by now.
I hope you dig the chat!
Quint: Hey there, Kevin. How are you?
Kevin Lima: I’m good, how are you?
Quint: I bet you’re good after you saw the box office results last weekend.
Kevin Lima: (laughs) I’m happy.
Kevin Lima: Thanks a lot. You know what it takes to make these movies, it’s not easy.
Kevin Lima: And have them be successful is even harder.
Quint: It looks like Disney really put its weight behind the movie, so I think…
Kevin Lima: They believed in it, so it all worked out. For a moment there it didn’t look like it was going to, because the tracking numbers weren’t all that great, so everybody was worried, but it all worked out.
Quint: Well, if there wasn’t that pre-release stress, then this wouldn’t feel so good right now, I bet.
Kevin Lima: (laughs) You got it. I heard you liked the movie, so that’s good.
Quint: I did, I liked it quite a lot.
Kevin Lima: I live in fear of you guys.
Quint: We’re big softies, you don’t have to worry about us.
Kevin Lima: Harry blew my mind. I read his article and I thought “Fuck,” I’d never have imagined that in a million years.
Quint: No, Harry’s a big raving Disney Queen… You made a movie that played right up his alley.
Kevin Lima: Good. I don’t know if I like those two terms put together… “Raving queen” and “right up his alley…” So, what do you want to talk about?
Quint: How about we talk about one of the big talking points of the movie: the glimpse of the return to the traditional 2D animation at the beginning with the beautiful Disney cell animation. Do you think the success of the film this weekend will help bolster more support for it? I know that DISNEY has a couple in the works now, thanks to John Lassetter
Kevin Lima: They do! Thank God I don’t have to carry that on my shoulders. You know what I think it proved? I think it proved that… because the audience has been very very vocal about how much they love 2D animation and the critics have been very vocal and I think what it proved to them is that there is still an audience for hand drawn animation. That just because a specific type of animation has taken over as far as box office is concerned, doesn’t mean that the other one has to die away and I think that the success of the movie has actually proved that out.
Quint: It’s always been about story and even if you listen to any of the PIXAR guys talk, all they do is say that that’s the last thing in the world that they want, for 2D animation to go away.
Kevin Lima: Well, why should it? If you really think about it with all great art forms, one doesn’t disappear because a new one comes and takes its place. That typically doesn’t happen and it’s only because of the business aspects of making 2D animation versus 3D animation. I mean, quite bluntly, that 3D animation has been making so much money. Have they turned their backs on 2D animation? I think it’s about time it comes back and it will.
Quint: Yeah, definitely and plus there’s that… I don’t know if it’s nostalgia or if you can call it that now… the cell look is so rich.
Kevin Lima: You know the thing that I love about is that it isn’t perfect.
Kevin Lima: All of the mistakes somehow make for the beauty, I think, of the art form.
Quint: It definitely sets it apart from computer animation where everything is precise down to every millisecond.
Kevin Lima: It’s perfect and you know, at PIXAR, they work at making it not look perfect. They work really hard and I think that’s where the life comes from. People aren’t perfect when you look at them, there are all of these sideways glances and all of these tics and pieces of movement that feel like they don’t belong that really comes to life in 2D animation.
Quint: I interviewed Brad Bird back when THE INCREDIBLES was about to be released and I’m a huge Brad Bird fan. But he said the exact same thing, that when he was talking with PIXAR about doing INCREDIBLES, he said that the only appeal to him is to make it not look photorealistic and he kind of insisted going in that they were going to hold in the reigns a bit and keep it from being too real and he wanted it to look like a cartoon, so there’s definitely something to that.
Kevin Lima: Right, right. Yeah.
Quint: Now your work with DISNEY goes back to the 80’s, right?
Kevin Lima: It does.
Quint: How did you get in with the Mouse House?
Kevin Lima: Well it actually started when I was five years old. I saw JUNGLE BOOK and I turned to my mom after the showing and I told her I was going to be a Disney animator. I don’t remember that event personally, but she remembers it very clearly and from that moment… and I had always drawn before that, you know? I had always had a pencil in my hand and I just held on to that dream.
I went to Cal Arts, like most of the Disney guys. Unfortunately when I had graduated, they had just finished THE BLACK CAULDRON, so there was no animation opportunities going on at Disney, where most people had gone after Cal Arts and I went off into the world and went to Taiwan on THE BRAVE LITTLE TOASTER. I was there for about five or six months, then I did a little film called THE CHIPMUNK ADVENTURE and I met Glen Keane on that film. He had left the studio and was working on that film…
Quint: As in the Chipmunks’ CHIPMUNK ADVENTURE?
Kevin Lima: Yeah, as in ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS.
Quint: I remember it fondly. I’m a child of the eighties, so…
Kevin Lima: Well I animated on that.
Quint: Good, I love that one.
Kevin Lima: Then Glen Keane was like “You should be at Disney” and I applied and they said “where have you been?” Honestly, they said “wow, you’ve got a lot of talent, where have you been?” All I could do was laugh, because I had applied three years earlier and then got turned down.
So I knew the world and I started on OLIVER AND COMPANY, I animated Fagin with Glen Keane. I supervised the animator and then went on to LITTLE MERMAID where I was a Character designer. I designed most of the incidental fish in that movie… A little bit on Ursula and a lot on Flaunder. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, I was character designer and designed Lumiere, Cogsworth, and Mrs. Potts.
Kevin Lima: …and went into the story on ALADDIN… did a bunch of storyboards on that.
Quint: Pretty neat, you were hitting Disney right at their last big wave.
Kevin Lima: Again, it’s a certain amount of perseverance, but at the same time I was lucky to hit at that time and then I decided I wanted to direct and I told them that and they said “Sorry, there’s no room at the inn,” so I left and I went out and developed a lot of stuff at Hyperion. I don’t know if you would even remember that company, Hyperion Productions…
Quint: I’m not sure.
Kevin Lima: Well I did a bunch of stuff with them. They did some TV stuff like THE ITSY BITSY SPIDER. Do you remember BEBE’S KIDS?
Quint: I remember BEBE’S KIDS.
Kevin Lima: And well, nothing worked out there and then I got a call to come back to Disney and do A GOOFY MOVIE, so I went back and did that through the television department and Jeffrey Katzenberg was trying to convince me to do TARZAN at the TV department. I told him he was crazy. (laughs)
I said, “You know what? Right now the guys can’t even animate Goofy. I can’t imagine that they can animate a naked man…” It ended up that Jeffrey left and they moved TARZAN over to the feature division and I did TARZAN with them, so I directed that with Chris Buck and from there I decided I was going to do live action. I’m crazy like that, I just said “I’m going to do this. Thank you guys.” And I went off into the world to look for a live action job and it just so happened that Disney called me back again, because Glenn Close was in 102 DALMATIONS and they had just lost their director and Glenn had brought me up, because I had directed her in TARZAN; she was the voice of the mother ape, Kala, and she said to me “You know, you direct more like a live action director than you do like an animation director; have you ever thought about it?” That put the bug in my ear and I went off and did 102 DALMATIONS with her.
Quint: Nice bit of synchronicity there.
Kevin Lima: Again! It’s like perseverance and luck… It just keeps working out that way. So anyways, I directed that, which was a good way to get my… “to cut your teeth,” I guess it what they call it. I “cut my teeth” on that and then had a hard six years of trying to find a movie that I loved or a movie that anybody would give me.
I did a couple of TV movies with Julie Andrews, the ELOISE television movies, which were a great fun to work with her and then this movie came along. I had actually read this movie in 2000, I guess. It was a very different script then and I asked for it. I said “This is the perfect movie for me” and they said, “Well Kevin, we don’t think you’re funny enough to do this film.” I basically read it every year and begged them every year for it until they finally… I don’t know I just wore them down or if they were just worn out that they didn’t know what to do with it.
I did what I would do typically on an animated film. I developed it visually, which meant I basically took the script and explored the script visually and came up with a lot of new ideas and filled the whole floor the production building with artwork. All of the executives came through… Dick Cook finally came through and gave me a green light within a half hour of seeing it.
Quint: There’s nothing like having something visual for people. It makes it more tangible.
Kevin Lima: With a movie like this, that’s all based on tone, I think the studio was just having difficulty with it. It was in the works for, I think, seven years before it went into production. They just couldn’t understand the tone. They just couldn’t grab a hold of the film and just couldn’t see it. Nobody could make the jump from the page to the film in their heads, so I also had a little bit of a different idea. At first it was kind of dark when I had first read it. It was very, very dark and I had this idea, since SHREK had already been out, and I said “Let’s do it differently. Let’s do it as a loving homage to Disney and let’s not take Disney down at its knees. Let’s do it in a way that feels like a love letter.”
Kevin Lima: They weren’t sure of that approach also and going through it visually and showing them stuff like The Happy Working Song… convinced them that it could work out.
Quint: Yeah, I like that about it and I definitely know that that’s what Harry loved about it, that it was all sort of a giant Disney hug and honestly the timing is right. I don’t know if it would have worked, doing it the way that you did it, seven years ago when it was still on that rush of the big 2D animation, the cell animation.
Kevin Lima: I think you’re very right.
Quint: But I think now, people have missed it for so long…
Kevin Lima: Yeah, I know exactly what you mean and also there have been so many movies that are so cynical and so heavy. That’s all fine, but life needs some variation.
Quint: Definitely and the movie still got, I would say, a nice… It’s not just for kids. I like that there’s a nice grown up layer to it too, where there are a lot of more crasser jokes and lot’s of innuendo and stuff and so it’s not like it’s a happy go lucky for happy go lucky’s sake. There’s a lot of heart, but there’s also a little bit more edgy humor than I think a lot of people expect.
Kevin Lima: That’s the whole, I guess conceptually… What I was grappling with was “How do you make a classic Disney movie for today?” “How do you capture all of the audience, as opposed to just the kids?” That’s a tightrope walk. I’ll tell you, it could have gone bad in so many ways.
The casting of Amy Adams is such… I got so incredibly lucky that she’s around right now. I saw probably 300 girls for this role and I wanted her to be an unknown, like SPLASH, where you were introduced to Daryl Hannah, because of the movie and you know, if I hadn’t of found someone as talented or able to take on the role in the way that she did, I don’t think the movie would be half as good.
Quint: She’s definitely the center on which, I guess, the movie lies. If she doesn’t work, then everything else could be brilliant and nothing would work.
Kevin Lima: Yep, I think your absolutely right.
Quint: But that’s not to put down… like I have a whole list of people here that I want to talk to you about, because you got such a great cast, especially Timothy Spall and Susan Sarandon and James Marsden, it’s like everybody is so good in the movie, but I love all of the character actors coming out to play and I think one thing that Harry wrote in his review that when he wrote it I was like “Holy shit, that’s exactly right” was when he was talking about how he had always known there was something off about Spall to him, but he never realized what it was until your movie and that he was essentially a walking Disney character and that he had never realized that before, but it’s so true. He’s sort of the classic kind hearted bumbling guy archetype, or he’s the evil henchman, which is what you got him as so it’s awesome.
Kevin Lima: Well casting… I’d be stealing the quote, but casting is everything. Casting is 98% of your job and if you get that correct, then pieces just fall into place. Not that the last 2% is easy, by no means, but with a brilliant cast, you end up with the right collaborators, you end up with brilliant collaborators.
Quint: Susan Sarandon seemed to be really into playing the wicked stepmother. Was she attracted to the project immediately?
Kevin Lima: She was actually attracted to the project before even I was involved, because I think there was a point in time when the movie was moving forward and she had read it and she was very interested in playing the role, so she had already had excitement about it and they didn’t push Susan on me. They said “Susan was interested once upon a time. Would you be interested in her?” and I said “Sure, of course! Who wouldn’t be?” and I went out and met with her to make sure we were both on the same page about what to do with the role and it all moved forward from there. Susan unfortunately only worked with us for about two weeks, because her on screen role is rather small and it would have been great fun to have spent for time with her, especially in that hag makeup.
Quint: It’s like you are looking at my questions list. When I saw in the credits that you had Rick Baker working on the Old Hag makeup, I’m like “Well that explains why it’s so disturbingly perfect.”
Kevin Lima: I always grab for the stars, so I thought “Why not? I’ll ask him” and it happened that one Halloween with his family, he dressed up as the evil Hag from SNOW WHITE and his daughter was Snow White and I figured a couple other family members were characters from the movie, so he already had an attraction to it, so I brought him in. I said “come on in and look at what I’m doing” and took him through all of the halls to sort of convince him to do it, because I knew he wasn’t working much and was very selective about what he did and he said after I showed him everything, he said “Kevin, you had me when you called me,” because he has a connection to that character, an emotional connection, so he was great about it.
Quint: I think it’s the teeth that make it work, or the lack of teeth.
Kevin Lima: We did a really interesting thing in designing the animated characters, I had to have the live action characters first, so it had to go back and forth in that way, so I had to cast the film and specifically with Rick Baker. I had to have his makeup before we could design the character, so that went back and forth that way as well.
Quint: Going back to what you were saying about the movie being a big loving look back at Disney… I noticed that there were a couple of different things that I think really drive that home, that you incorporate a lot of Disney shots. The big one that I noticed was the chandelier shot from BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and you also incorporated a lot of Disney music, but you didn’t use the Disney music, like the classic stuff, in a super big way, but just to underline scenes. I love that stuff, so can you talk a little bit about the decision to shoot the movie like that with those specific shots and the Disney music?
Kevin Lima: What I had wanted to do was create touchstones for the audience, so you always felt like you were in a classic Disney film and there are so many of those… boy where do I start? You know, I really started with Happy Working Song to be quite honest with you. That song was written very early and we storyboarded the whole thing as you would storyboard an animated film. We came up with the idea of having her wash the bathroom floor and have there be bubbles and then on top of that I thought, well “why don’t we put a reflection in all of the bubbles, like CINDERELLA?” and it took off to be quite honest with you.
As we started thinking about other sections of the movie, we started incorporating imagery from the film and it goes as deep as… oh boy, you named a couple of them like the Chandelier scene from BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. That whole number is a homage to BEAUTY AND THE BEAST in a sense, that classic “So this is love” from CINDERELLA, that classic prince and princess coming together. There are other things like the roaches singing on her finger is homage to MARY POPPINS with the little bird singing on Mary’s finger. There’s even something down to the shooting and the rhythms of the scene, like when she bites the apple. The rhythms of that scene reflect exactly the rhythms of SNOW WHITE.
Kevin Lima: Cutting between the Old Hag and Snow White deciding to eat the apple at the exact same rhythm, down to the shot of her hand hitting the floor and the apple rolling out. All of that was just about, as I had said, continually creating a touchstone back to the classic films. When we thought about the music in the movie, the first thing we talked about was… well I spoke with Alan [Menken] and Stephen [Schwartz], “how do the songs relate back to older Disney song moments?”
Of course “True Love’s Kiss” goes back to all of the classic “I Want” songs from Disney films… “I’m Wishing Someday My Prince Will Come…” “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes,” from CINDERELLA… What’s the one from SLEEPING BEAUTY? “Once Upon a Dream…” It’s definitely all of those things put together. “Happy Working Song” was “Whistle While You Work” without any dialogue or “That’s How You Know” reflects back to “Under the Sea” and “Be Our Guest” a big sort of pied piper collection number in a sense and even that has little homages throughout it from her running up the hill, that many people call out as being THE SOUND OF MUSIC, but was actually meant to be from BEAUTY AND THE BEAST… maybe it was even an homage to SOUND OF MUSIC, but it goes on and on and on, but there’s a scene where they’re on a row boat together on the pond, which is something I didn’t do necessarily on purpose, but has been called out to be THE LITTLE MERMAID and you go to “So Close” which is BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, which we called out that great chandelier shot, moving down from the chandelier to the floor and then “Ever Ever After,” which I thought of the songs as a reflection of how Giselle grows into a real woman, that they would start in her voice in a very classic Disney way and as you move through the film, not only would the songs reflect more modern Disney films, but they would leave her voice.
When she became human, during the song “So Close,” the song is now sung by the orchestra leader on stage, so it’s still in the movie, but it’s no longer coming from her throat. Finally the last song is a very contemporary use of the song in a film, which is total voiceover, so those are all of the things we were thinking about. I mean, we could talk about the homages for… I mean really. They go pretty deep.
Kevin Lima: They go really really deep, down to and I think I’ve named this one a lot, but the name of the law firm is Churchill, Harline and Smith who are the three songwriters from SNOW WHITE.
Quint: That’s awesome.
Kevin Lima: That gets kind of obsessive.
Quint: Sometimes that kind of stuff can get distracting, but I think it’s a big compliment to your movie that it’s not, especially the music stuff. I just love the musical touches from past Disney movies throughout.
Kevin Lima: Do you mean like when she would be looking at a fish and you would hear “Part of Your World?” That sort of thing?
Kevin Lima: We were a little afraid of that at first.
Quint: It’s dangerous, because it could come off as really kitchy, but the fact that you had it so low that it was like it had been going on for maybe five seconds before I noticed it at all and I had only noticed that since I had seen THE LITTLE MERMAID in the theater probably like eight times as a kid. That and ALADDIN, two of the movies you worked on, were the biggest Disney movies of my childhood.
Kevin Lima: Right.
Quint: It’s like those were the event releases and of course I saw the re-releases of CINDERELLA and all that stuff, but actually my first movie in the theater was… well it was PETE’S DRAGON, so that was a Disney movie, and my first movie that I remember going to see was the re-release of SONG OF THE SOUTH, so Disney has played a big part of my childhood, but those two movies that I had mentioned were the big new releases… the big experience of seeing new Disney.
Kevin Lima: Right. We’re all really Disney babies in some way, it’s just a matter of if we hold on to it or not. You either embrace it or you resent it.
I don’t know if you noticed that during the soap opera that Tim Spall watches and affects him in some way. It forces him to think about himself in the real world. First of all that’s Paige O’Hara as the soap opera queen. She’s Belle, from BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and in that section too, you can hear a really minor [Lima hums the BEAUTY AND THE BEAST THEME] in the background…
Quint: That’s awesome. So is it like a soap opera version of that or is it…
Kevin Lima: It is.
Quint: That’s so awesome. It’s great, but no I didn’t pick up on that one.
Kevin Lima: Although it’s kind of hard to see, the room was very much like the bandaging room from BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and set up like that with it snowing outside, so you can really go to it. Here’s a little thing that nobody has figured out yet and I haven’t told anybody, so if you want it I’ll give it to you.
Quint: I will definitely take it.
Kevin Lima: The Troll… I don’t think anybody has found this yet… The Troll actually wears… his loin cloth is made up of all of the dresses of all of the princesses.
Quint: Oh really?
Kevin Lima: So you have got Snow White, you’ve got Belle… they’re all there. He’s got like four dresses and then his earrings are Ariel’s purple shells.
Quint: What is that supposed to insinuate?
Kevin Lima: Well the idea is that he has eaten all of the princesses and now he’s after Giselle.
Quint: I don’t know. I think you’ll some more colorful interpretations of why he’s wearing all of the dresses of all of the Disney princesses on his loins…
Kevin Lima: Oh man… (laughs)
Quint: So when you shot the big Central Park number… I don’t know of anything that I can think of that you have done in live action that would have been as big and as rousing as that. Was it difficult to manage? It really reminded me of OLIVER.
Kevin Lima: Right, right. It was probably the hardest thing I have ever done to be quite honest with you just because it is so large. It was like a military undertaking and the idea was to of course do something like “Consider Yourself” from OLIVER and from day one it was difficult, because we had to break down each piece into its components.
I had walked through the park probably ten times with my choreographer, John O’Connell, who is the guy from MOULIN ROUGE, and we just talked about who would be in the number, how do we collect them, and then we’d break down the number into it’s little sections and sort of build the structure for the piece. But then shooting it was huge. I think it took us seven days to shoot the whole thing, constantly fighting with the studio, with them wanting to cut days out of it and me holding on for dear life to the piece, because I could just tell in my heart from hearing the song and what we were putting together that it was going to be something. It was going to be a real accomplishment for me as a director to have gone through that experience, so I held it together. It was hard. It’s got 300 extras, 150 dancers… boy… screaming crowds of people wanting to get at Dr. McDreamy the whole time we were shooting…
Quint: Extra security then…
Kevin Lima: Truly.
Quint: On the next one it will be the guys trying to get at Amy Adams.
Kevin Lima: Yeah, we will have made her a star. We would have made her life impossible to deal with. So on every turn it was just difficult. It rained a lot that month so we were back and forth to the studio to cover sets and trying to figure it out. It was tough chasing the sun, which piece are we going to shoot in which location and in which direction based on what the sun was doing, because I wanted the whole thing to be happy.
Kevin Lima: I wanted the whole thing to be bright and alive, so it was tough and you know what’s great about it is that it feels effortless in the end. It just feels like it happens and that’s great for me as a director, because I know what it took to get there.
Quint: If you look at those numbers, the ones that you remember, none of them come off where you can see the work that went into it. It just feels like it’s a natural extension of that universe.
Kevin Lima: Right. It’s hard to do. You talk to a lot of people and so you know how tough these things are, especially a musical is to pull off. Boy I feel it, although I’d do it again in a second. (laughs)
Quint: So what’s next for you? Are you going to do more live action or are you thinking of returning to animation?
Kevin Lima: You know I really like doing this sort of combo thing. If there’s a way for me to continue using both mediums to create something new… What I’ve been talking to the studio about is doing, and your probably know what this is, but most people don’t… Do you know LITTLE NEMO IN SLUMBERLAND?
Quint: Of course.
Kevin Lima: I’ve been talking to them about doing something with that material as an inspiration.
Quint: And you think maybe the Slumberland would be...
Kevin Lima: I think so.
Quint: … more animation and then…
Kevin Lima: I’ve been trying to think about how to do it. Perhaps you would take a real person and do sort of the reversal of what I’ve done like take a real person and put them into an animated world where all of the other characters are animated and they stay real…
Kevin Lima: That might be a way to conquer this, but I’m still trying to figure out what’s the right story to tell. Like “how do you interpret this material for a contemporary audience also?” That’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about.
And that’s it. Thanks for giving it a read and thanks again to Annie Jeeves for setting this up and Kevin Lima for taking the time to speak to me after the film was released. Hope you guys enjoyed the interview! I’ve got a couple more in the works, including one Hans Gruber (no shit) and David Cronenberg, both of which are in the can and will be posted shortly, definitely before this weekend is up. So, keep an eye out for those!