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"Enchanted" 's long, long journey to the big screen

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"Enchanted" 's long, long journey to the big screen

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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? What are your thoughts on this project?

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