Barry Wetcher
September 06, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

Millions of women have imagined what they might say to Patrick Dempsey if they ever got their arms around him. Shooting a scene on the Brooklyn-soundstage set of Disney’s musical comedy Enchanted, Amy Adams has her chance. So what does she proclaim to the Grey’s Anatomy heartthrob?

”Patrick, you hurt my tit!”

Ah,movie romance — not remotely as sexy in the making as it is on screen. Dempsey has somehow managed to give Adams’ chest an awful smack while trying to play a slapstick scene in which he stumbles upon her towel-clad character stepping out of his shower — and, in a sense, out of a dream. In Enchanted, Adams plays a cartoon princess named Giselle who has literally come to life, hurled suddenly from a make-believe animated world into the all-too-real streets of Manhattan. After crawling up through a manhole, she meets Dempsey’s character, a single-dad divorce lawyer named Robert, who takes her home. Astounded by water taps, which she’s never seen before, Giselle bolts out of Robert’s bathroom, accidentally knocks him down, and lands astride him like a cowgirl on a bronco.

It’s a nice position to be in, and not just because of the McDreamy factor. As the lead of a lavish, PG-rated Disney movie, Adams isn’t just headlining a potential blockbuster. She’s creating a character specifically engineered to become a ”Disney Princess” superstar, up there with previous royals like Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), Belle (Beauty and the Beast), Ariel (The Little Mermaid), and Jasmine (Aladdin). Showcased in Enchanted like a product in an infomercial, Giselle’s voice, looks, mannerisms, and personality will be endlessly replicated by performers at Disney theme parks across the globe. Her likeness will also grace an avalanche of Disney Princess tie-in products — everything from pocketbooks to sippy cups to dress-up costumes. As any parent of a young girl can tell you, the marketing pull of these female Disney characters is a cultural force against which resistance is basically futile. ”I think they’re actually very good role models for girls,” says Adams. ”Even going back to Snow White and Cinderella…they’ve always been independent and spunky and well-spoken.”

Of course, Enchanted is a very different sort of Disney-princess film, and not just because only 11 minutes of it are animated. When the cartoon Giselle runs afoul of evil Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon), who doesn’t want the girl marrying her handsome stepson, Prince Edward (James Marsden), the unsuspecting lass winds up tricked into a human-world exile. Adrift in live-action New York City, Giselle has to grow up in ways Snow White couldn’t even conceive. As she falls for the highly imperfect Robert, Giselle ultimately discovers how fragile and bumpy love and marriage really are. ”I like the fact that they’ve taken all these iconic fairy-tale romantic images and put a little spin on them,” says Sarandon. ”And they have the heroine solving her own problems.” So much for the handsome prince riding in on a white horse to save the day. ”I’m basically just the straight man in this movie,” says Dempsey.

So who’s behind the revamp of the princess-movie tradition? His name is Bill Kelly, screenwriter of the bomb-shelter farce Blast From the Past and the Sandra Bullock vehicle Premonition. Kelly sold an initial draft of Enchanted to Disney’s Touchstone Pictures label in September 1997, reportedly for the sum of $450,000. (In that more adult iteration, Giselle apparently landed in Chicago at a bachelor party and wound up mistaken for a stripper.) But the studio soon yanked it out of the inexperienced writer’s hands and went on to tap a succession of other scribes — about a half dozen all told. ”I was so frustrated,” says Kelly. ”I put it in the past. I just moved on.” Rob Marshall planned to direct a reworked script a few years later, but he bailed out to make 2002’s Chicago instead. In 2001, trades announced that Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure) would helm, but nothing came of it. And in 2003, Disney considered luring Kate Hudson or Reese Witherspoon to play Giselle for Adam Shankman (Hairspray), working from a script by the executive producers of Disney’s Kim Possible TV show.

Then, incredibly, Kelly got another chance. By 2005, the studio had come to recognize the Enchanted premise as a smart fit with its tradition of yearning heroines, and commissioned Kelly to write a new draft. Execs also assigned an in-house director, Kevin Lima, to get things under way. Lima had come up in the animation division, codirecting 1999’s Tarzan before branching into live action as the director of 102 Dalmatians and a couple of made-for-TV Eloise movies. One of his first orders of business on Enchanted was reworking the script yet again with Kelly. Among Lima’s ideas: setting Giselle’s arrival in Times Square.

NEXT PAGE: Amy Adams’ Enchanted audition

But who could play the new Giselle as, like, the nicest, most innocent girl ever? Around the middle of 2005, Adams joined a throng of 200 or so actresses who auditioned for the role. Although she was enjoying acclaim at the time for playing a ditsy yet soulful Southerner in the indie drama Junebug (which earned her an Oscar nomination for Supporting Actress), she was hardly a box office name. Still, she managed to project a quality almost none of the other candidates had: complete sincerity. ”She’s filled with joy,” says Lima. ”I didn’t have to do any work to direct her.”

Dempsey, newly hot from Grey’s Anatomy (a hugely profitable show for Disney-owned ABC), signed on by January ’06 and agreed to film Enchanted while on hiatus between seasons 2 and 3. He had little time to rehearse, but since he barely had to sing in Enchanted, that wasn’t a major problem. Adams, however, undertook intensive voice lessons for the movie’s two big musical numbers, written by longtime Disney vets Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz (Pocahontas). She was determined not to let Lima hire a professional singer to dub in Giselle’s songs, as animated-musical directors have sometimes done in the past.

Adams succeeded, although at a cost: The actress suspects she’ll never get the movie’s key tunes out of her head — and neither will audiences. ”I apologize now,” she jokes, citing a catchy Central Park sing-along about true love called ”That’s How You Know” and a spoofy, gross-out ditty titled ”Happy Working Song,” in which Giselle does the Snow White cleanup thing at Robert’s messy apartment, aided by rats, pigeons, and Joe’s Apartment-like roaches. Audiences at early sneak peeks have been groaning on cue at one shot of bugs pouring out of a drain to scour the bathtub, and that was the plan. Says visual-effects producer Blondel Aidoo, ”It’s something for the kids to say, Ewwwwww!”

If anyone can make a scene like that charming instead of revolting, it’s probably Adams. Clips of her in action suggest she’s well cast, and her chemistry with Dempsey is hard to deny. Of course, if it clicks too well, Adams could be stuck playing naive-ingenue parts for years and hearing kids yell the name Giselle for the rest of her life. But the actress isn’t worried. ”I think when I’m not in the dress and the wig, people won’t recognize me,” she says. Sarandon, meanwhile, would embrace the fame, at least on her character’s behalf. ”What I really want,” she says, ”is to see lots of drag queens show up as Narissa in [New York City’s] Halloween Parade. Always a good indication that something has entered the psyche of the culture.” Cue the chorus of Giselle’s song ”That’s How You Know.”

Additional reporting by Lindsay Soll

type
Movie
Genre
mpaa
PG
runtime
107 minutes
director
Kevin Lima
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