In Disney’s musical comedy Enchanted, Amy 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 a single-dad divorce lawyer named Robert (Grey’s Anatomy heartthrob Patrick Dempsey), who takes her home. 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.
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. So much for the handsome prince riding in on a white horse to save the day.
Bill Kelly, screenwriter of the bomb-shelter farce Blast From the Past and the Sandra Bullock vehicle Premonition, sold an initial draft of Enchanted to Disney’s Touchstone Pictures label in September 1997. (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.”
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. 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.
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.”
Adams 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. 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!”
Additional reporting by Lindsay Soll
This is an online-only excerpt from the EW Fall Movie Preview issue. Click to read the full feature on Enchanted.