He may be a Hollywood veteran, but director Kevin Lima is still a kid at heart—a kid who has known that he wanted to make movies for Disney since the tender age of five and has been doing so successfully for 20 years. As he sits atop the box office, with more than $50 million in receipts over the Thanksgiving holiday for Enchanted, Lima talks shop with MM.
Jennifer Wood (MM): You’re certainly no stranger to the world of animation, having worked with Disney for 20 years now. Is it true that you’ve wanted to be a Disney animator since you were five?
Kevin Lima (KL): It is true. I’ve drawn all of my life. In fact, I can’t remember a time without drawing. When I was five, I went to see The Jungle Book with my mom. As she tells it, as we walked from the movie theater to the car, I proclaimed that I was going to draw Disney movies. She says that my conviction was so intense that she knew, somehow, that it would happen one day.
MM: How did you go about making that dream a reality?
KL: Perseverance. I had a couple of sidetracks along the way, puppetry and a year at Emerson College in the theater department, but the dream had grabbed ahold tight and I always ended up back on the road to becoming an animator. I applied to the Cal Arts animation program, luckily got accepted and flew directly from Rhode Island to California without ever having visited the campus. I was just that determined. After four years of art school, I ventured out into the big world looking for work. My first animation job took me to Taiwan on The Brave Little Toaster, and from there to a position at Disney, where I took on many different responsibilities on every film from Oliver & Company through Aladdin.
MM: Though it’s one of the oldest art forms, animation is going through a bit of a renaissance nowadays–with movies like Beowulf and, of course, Enchanted, playing around with the technique. How does mixing mediums make the creative process harder?
KL: I believe, in many ways, creating art is becoming harder and harder as the audiences are inundated with media. Everyone is looking for the new visual or storytelling technique that will grab attention. With Enchanted, I decided to return to Disney’s classic past as a way of reexamining the present.
MM: What about the technical process?
KL: Honestly, the only thing that is harder about mixing the techniques of live-action and animation is that you are essentially making two films at the same time. So, the personal time commitment is doubled.
MM: Let’s face it: You couldn’t ask for a more perfect actress for this film than Amy Adams–who works just as well as an animated character as a live action one. There must have been some interesting casting conversations?
KL: My first conversations with the studio had to do with the esthetic of casting a star verses an unknown, or in Amy’s case (she hadn’t been nominated for Best Supporting Actress for Junebug when I first met her) a relative newcomer. My thought was that I wanted the audience to experience Giselle’s purity of heart unhampered by the personal life of the actress playing her. I felt that the character should live first.
I had seen probably 250 girls by the time Amy walked into her audition. I was sick as a dog, with a high fever, on that day, [but] Amy walked into the room and for the next 45 minutes, I forgot I was ill. From the moment I first laid eyes on her, I was struck by how much she looks like a Disney princess, her round eyes and fair skin. But looking like a princess was but a scratch on the surface of what she brought into the room that day. Her commitment to the character, her ability to escape into the character’s being without ever judging the character was overwhelming. Honestly, I knew in that moment that I could make the film I was envisioning.
The discussions with the studio after that audition were quite easy: Amy’s audition tape was all that was needed to convince them that Giselle had arrived.
Enchanted, starring Amy Adams, James Marsden, Patrick Dempsey and Susan Sarandon, is in theaters now.