'It's really where the movie gets its title from,' director Kevin Lima says of the signature song

By Maureen Lee Lenker
November 21, 2017 at 03:00 PM EST

That’s how you know you love her …

Ten years ago, Enchanted burst onto the scene with a unique blend of animation and live-action storytelling to share the tale of Giselle (Amy Adams), a classic animated Disney princess from the land of Andalasia who must contend with reality when a magic spell sends her plummeting into New York City.

While Giselle has much to learn about how “true love” functions outside her cartoon fairy-tale, she brings a delightful blend of innocence, earnestness, and joy to the New Yorkers she encounters — and nowhere is this more on display than in the ebullient musical number “That’s How You Know,” which serves as a centerpiece to the film.

EW called up director Kevin Lima and choreographer John O’Connell to get the rundown how the Oscar-nominated number came together.

When Kevin Lima first signed on to direct the film, there was only one musical number, and it was relegated to the animated world that opens the film.

KEVIN LIMA (director): The movie originally only had one song in it, and that was the opening number. It was the only song called out in the script, and I came in and said, “This is our chance to do a full Disney musical, an animated musical come to life. So let’s grab hold of that opportunity and let’s have the songs support her as a character, because as an animated character she’s allowed to bring song into the real world.

JOHN O’CONNELL (choreographer): Kevin Lima, the director, asked me to do it because of Moulin Rouge [which O’Connell choreographed]because there was some large numbers in it, he wanted someone who had worked with big numbers.

LIMA: I wanted there to be an arc to the songs that followed Giselle’s growth in becoming a “real” person. So it falls really at the center of her journey. If you look at the songs, the first song is sung in the cartoon world and it’s a pure Disney classic “I want” song, and Giselle then moves into the real world, where she’s still singing. She’s singing in isolation, but she’s singing a classic song that she would sing in any Disney film. It’s called “Happy Working Song,” and it is secluded. She is alone when she sings that song. The next song, which is “That’s How You Know,” is her enchanting the world. It’s really where the movie gets its title from, is that she enchants the world she steps into and the song is, basically, at its heart, her giving music to the world, giving her gift to the world.

Once the song was a part of the script and storytelling, the filmmakers decided pretty quickly they wanted the number to take place in Central Park, and began scouting locations and more.

LIMA: It was a general sense of she needed to enchant New Yorkers, and as we were going through the movie and looking at locations, we figured, well, maybe we could create this contained area of New York, and Central Park already feels like it has a little bit of a magical feeling to it. It feels like it’s a little bit out of time, so we decided to place it there.

O’CONNELL: There was certain things they wanted to include. They knew they wanted to include where the fountain is. That’s where they wanted the number to end, so there was that sort of structure to it, but the detail of what was going to happen was sort of a creative process that happened.

RELATED: Enchanted director on why Giselle doesn’t belong with Edward: ‘She had to evolve’

LIMA: I had actually storyboarded most of the movie because that’s part of my process as a film director. Storyboarding in animation is a very important piece of figuring out the intricacies of the story individually. So I storyboarded the entire movie, including “That’s How You Know,” and then when I got together with John O’Connell, the choreographer, we kind of used it as a basis, but put it aside and went into the park and started looking around.

O’CONNELL: Kevin and I went for a walk around Central Park to talk about it when I first went to New York. He said, “I’ve taken a few notes for you,” and he handed me what was like a small phone book. … I took it home and I sort of put it aside for a bit and just went and did what I normally do, which is I listen to the music over and over and over, and then I dissect it and images come to me and I try to react organically to the music. And then I went and walked around Central Park.

From their scouting of Central Park, Lima and O’Connell came up with the diverse array of moving parts and locations featured in the number, including elderly dancers on park benches, a mariachi band in a rowboat, and acrobats and stilt walkers.

O’CONNELL: Central Park is such a fabulous place, it’s pretty easy to find beautiful bridges and a lot of lovely gardens and it’s easy to create scenarios from it. … Also you’re on a journey, so you’re connecting. So you think, “Okay, if Amy [Adams] goes through here and meets these people and they all then follow her, what’s going to happen, where do we go next, what are the other elements that come into it?”

LIMA: We spent a couple of weekends together in the park, just collecting ideas, so you’d see a wedding party getting their pictures taken and you’d see some buskers on the side playing music for money, you’d see breakdancers and skateboarders. We just collected, over a series of weekends, these little set pieces and then started mapping out which pieces felt like they could marry with the lyric content. And we built the extravaganza it became.

O’CONNELL: In Central Park, in the middle of the park there’s this big castle that looks like Disney’s Bavarian castle, and I looked at it and I thought, “This is just sort of bizarre to have this in the middle of Central Park, this German castle.” And then I got the idea of, “Well we should include that,” and then I found myself a week later out in New Jersey at the Bavarian slap-dancing festival where there were something like 200 people all doing these mad German dances in lederhosen.

LIMA: Every piece of it was difficult, to be quite honest with you, because we’re also shooting in a public space so you also have to control crowds. It’s one thing nobody thinks about. There are hundreds, thousands of people who visit Central Park every day, so how do you control that? When they found out Patrick Dempsey was on set they would go nuts, and actually Patrick was very nice to go up to them at one point and say, “I need you to be quiet, we’re shooting some stuff over here.”

O’CONNELL: We shot it about over 10 days. And so one day you do just beyond the park, the next day you’d be at the Bavarian castle, so we moved around the park sort of almost doing a scene a day all over it. … Some of the challenges were that some of the people were actually real street people, like some of the roller-bladers and stuff, and they didn’t kind of totally get the “You turn up to rehearsal at this time and you shoot it at this time.”

LIMA: Of course, things like working on water and getting [the] timing of rowboats all moving with camera was pretty difficult. It rained, so there were a couple of days where it was actually lightly sprinkling, and luckily you can’t see any of that in the film.

O’CONNELL: One of the highlights for me was what I call the gentle folk: The older people at the beginning of the park, they are all old hoofers. Some of those guys were in West Side Story, the film. Some danced with Bob Fosse. They’d worked with Fred Astaire. They were old-school, like the real thing, and they were an absolute dream to work with.

Everett Collection

One of the delights of Enchanted is the references it makes to other classic films, especially Disney films. There are nods to several films in ways both big and small in this number.

O’CONNELL: One of the reasons I became a dancer and a choreographer is because of my love of old MGM musicals. I saw a lot of them growing up, so subliminally it was there. … It harkened back to old-school musicals, the old MGM musicals, which you don’t get to do numbers like that much nowadays. It just doesn’t happen on that scale, anyway.

LIMA: For me, it was about capturing the joy of Mary Poppins, to be quite honest with you, because Mary Poppins feels very much to me like an animated movie came to life. So the goal of “That’s How You Know” for me became emulating that type of film and putting that kind of joy onscreen.

O’CONNELL: We did want that Sound of Music moment where Amy’s coming up over the hill like the Sound of Music, so we found the spot for that. You could pinpoint and say, “Well this is like when Julie Andrews was coming over the hill.” … I don’t know if you remember [in] the film when Julie Andrews is running under the arches and she’s skipping through Salzburg; we tried to find a spot where we could recreate that and couldn’t really find one that was adequate, so that’s where I got the idea, from my memories of childhood dances where you cut a hoop in half and put flowers on it and make your own arch, which is sort of what we did. So we created that space ourselves just from imagination and from those hoops.

Buena Vista Pictures

Both director and choreographer also included little Easter eggs for themselves and their families in the number.

LIMA: My daughter is in part of it. She plays Rapunzel in the tower. She was 6 at the time. She’d done some theater, she came out to stay with me for a little bit, and we planned it so she could have a little experience on set.

O’CONNELL: I’m also in it. It’s pretty easy to pick because there’s a moment in it when they’re in a show, Rapunzel, and everybody raises their hand: Well, I’m standing next to Patrick [Dempsey] in the bright yellow-and-red shirt. So I thought that will be the way to get noticed — you stop the number, stand next to the star, and wear a bright shirt.

Buena Vista Pictures

Part of what makes the number work is that Dempsey’s character, Robert, plays straight man to Adams’ starry-eyed Giselle and all the others in the musical number, questioning what’s happening every step of the way.

LIMA: We always knew that Robert also had to be the voice of the audience during the song. Because [Giselle] enchants the average park-goers to join her, so we needed there to be a voice of reason that would tell the audience, “It’s okay, we know what we’re doing. We know that we’re actually putting a magic spell over all of Central Park and she’s enchanting them.” So he became that cynical voice in the piece that was saying, “What is going on here? This is crazy,” as a way of the audience being able to accept the number. … Patrick always felt left out. Everyone else was in big costumes, portraying over-the-top Disney characters come to life, and he had to be the straight guy. I think that was difficult for him to spend the whole movie in a suit and not be able to have the same kinds of fun. And I attempted day to day to tell him, “You don’t understand, you’re going to get all the laughs.” … And I think that proves itself out — you watch the movie and most of the laughs come from his reactions to what’s going on around him, as the audience feels the same way. Our joy is being put in the center of the event and watching the lunacy spiral around us.

Everett Collection

The number concludes on the iconic Bethesda Terrace in front of the fountain, with all the park-goers joining Giselle in song and dance as she climbs into a horse-drawn carriage.

LIMA: When we did our scouting of the park, when John and I spent that time, we felt like this is not only a pivotal point within Central Park, where everyone tends to [go], it becomes your destination. We thought this is where everyone has to ultimately come together.

O’CONNELL: I love the horse-and-carriages in Central Park, so it had to be there, it was sort of like a no-brainer. And also the image is quite beautiful and it finishes it off, so the thing I love about the number is how it starts so gently, just Amy and a couple of people, and by the time you’re at the end it’s what looks like a vast crowd.

LIMA: John was great — everybody was so incredibly rehearsed and ready for every little piece of what was expected, and we were able to break it down into little bite-size chunks leading up to that big piece where everybody comes together at the end.

O’CONNELL: We did that over a couple of days. I don’t think that was like a one-day thing. It was sort of complicated but we planned it all out, it wasn’t like we got there and just made it up. We had rehearsed it, and obviously when you rehearse something in a studio, it can change often when you get onto a location, particularly if it’s a real one when you can see, “Actually those trees in the rows, that’s not going to work, so we’ll cut this,” or “That lift is too far back; we’ll either change the lift or move them forward.” You make a few adjustments, sort of like that. It was just heaven, walking around all those fabulous people in those fabulous costumes doing craziness. It couldn’t have been better.

LIMA: We had a pretty good map of what we wanted to do, and everything had been choreographed beforehand. There were lots of folks. I think ultimately in the big shots at the end, as they dance around the Bethesda Fountain, I think there were 400 people in that number.

O’CONNELL: It’s one of my very favorite things I’ve worked on ever. It was pretty much a joyful experience from beginning to end. I loved working with the director. I loved working with the cast.

LIMA: The day-to-day of shooting this number, more than anything else on the film, was joyous for me. I had to hold back tears every single time we approached a new component of this song. The ending was overwhelming for us all — 400 dancers and actors choreographed to create this explosion of joy. This is the gift she’s giving the world, which is that you can live a life joyfully. [It] was overwhelming for me and for many of the people working on it. How often do you get to work on a number with this number of artists collaborating to pull together the last 30 seconds of a piece of work? It just doesn’t really happen very often, so to have to bring together music and dance and placing the actors in the moment being totally enraptured by Giselle was a beautiful moment in my career.