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Disney Enterprises Inc.
Kevin Lima directs Amy Adams on the set of "Enchanted."

Kevin Lima is no stranger to cartoons, having worked at Disney as an animator on such films as "The Little Mermaid" and "Oliver & Company." He later graduated to directing, with "The Goofy Movie" and "Tarzan" among his Disney credits. In addition he has directed some live-action features for the Mouse House, including "102 Dalmatians" and a pair of "Eloise" movies for the Disney Channel.

In his mind, this makes Lima the perfect person to direct Disney's "Enchanted," a romantic comedy/fantasy that features both animated and live-action elements. But Disney executives weren't nearly as convinced when he came to them with a proposal after wrapping up "102 Dalmatians."

"It was pretty clear that everyone thought I was crazy, though they said I was pretty passionate about it," Lima said, adding with a laugh. "Of course, they never did find anyone better or with nearly as much passion for the project."

In fact, the movie remained stalled for years, going through various script rewrites. Eventually, however, he won over the Disney higher-ups by animating sequences to show them his "vision" of what the movie should be. "If I'd known it was going to be that easy, I would have done that in the first place."

The 45-year-old filmmaker said by phone from his San Francisco home office that one thing he did was change the tone of the movie. "Enchanted" was initially envisioned as something that would spoof or parody the early Disney "princess movies" — "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," "Cinderella" and "Sleeping Beauty."

However, to Lima, that would have made it too much like DreamWorks' "Shrek" movies. "What I wanted to do was more affectionate, more of an homage. I mean, there are things here that are tongue-in-cheek, but it's certainly not mean-spirited about it."

Instead, his version of the movie became a "winking appreciation of classic Disney." That includes a few original songs from Oscar-winners Stephen Schwartz and Alan Menken, who teamed up for Disney's animated versions of "Pocahontas" and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame."

"You really can't have this kind of movie without some memorable musical numbers," Lima said.

And for his princess, he cast actress Amy Adams. "She looks just like a Disney princess come to life. She stars as Giselle, a fairy-tale character who's transported to the real world — New York City."

According to Lima, Adams was a revelation. "I don't think anyone still knows how many things she can really do. I didn't even know she had such a great singing voice when I cast her, but she's amazing."

Getting Adams was the first of a series of what Lima terms "lucky mistakes." He also cast Patrick Dempsey, before Dempsey gained his "McDreamy" reputation on TV's "Grey's Anatomy." And James Marsden in a singing-and-dancing role similar to Adams' — before "Hairspray" revealed he could actually pull it off. "It's another one of the coincidences, proving that all the right people were involved."

But the project wasn't without its share of headaches. "Enchanted" began at a time when Disney was trying to phase out its traditional, 2-D form of animation. "That would have been really bad, disastrous even. This is supposed to look and feel like the earlier movies, and as great as digital animation is, it can't reproduce that look."

Fortunately, he did have a few patrons at Disney supporting his cause, including Pixar chief John Lasseter, who restored 2-D animation production when he became a Disney executive. (Lima's wife, Brenda Chapman, is currently working on an as-yet-unannounced Pixar project, which she'll direct. "It runs in the family," Lima joked.)

As far as follow-up projects to "Enchanted" are concerned, Lima would prefer work in live action, since there is such a long production time for animation, limiting the number of films he would be able to make during his career.

Still, if he could, Lima would love to make "five or six great animated films during my lifetime — I'd consider that to be a pretty terrific little legacy."

One project that remains near-and-dear is a film adaptation of "Little Nemo in Slumberland," Winsor McCay's beloved comic strip, which featured cartoon characters in realistic backgrounds. "That sounds pretty similar to what I just did, doesn't it?"

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