10 Things We Learned from Kevin Lima and Brenda Chapman During WDFM’s Happily Ever After Hours

The Walt Disney Family Museum’s third Happily Ever After Hours event featured a Q&A with a Disney power couple, husband and wife – Kevin Lima and Brenda Chapman. Kevin was an animator, character designer, and writer on films that include The Brave Little Toaster, Oliver & Company, The Little Mermaid, and Aladdin before becoming a director on A Goofy Movie, Tarzan, Eloise at the Plaza, and Enchanted. Brenda is a writer who worked on Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame before becoming a director on Dreamworks’ The Prince of Egypt and Pixar’s Brave. Here are ten things we learned during their Q&A.

1. Their Favorite Scenes They Worked On

As a Junior Story Artist on The Rescuers Down Under, Brenda Chapman watched as the team tried to tackle a scene where Kody wakes up in the nest of Marahute, the golden eagle. Other writers had the eagle talking and the moment was clunky, but Brenda recalled a Disney Sunday Night Movie that Roy E. Disney made about a Native American boy who talked to his eagle and she approached it in a similar way after discussing it with Glen Keane. Her pass on the scene is the one that was chosen and from that point on, Marahute didn’t talk.

Kevin Lima reminisced about trying to crack the opening of Tarzan where they were trying to tell a lot of story without any dialogue. They developed the scene without any music before showing it to Phil Collins, who wrote “Two Worlds” to match the work they had done.

2. The Growing Success of A Goofy Movie

“I think it speaks to a contemporary sensibility,” Kevin Lima explained. He didn’t realize the film had grown such a cult following until he was invited to a 20th anniversary screening at Disney’s El Capitan Theatre and saw Guests in cosplay and doing the “Perfect Cast” dance in the aisles. He says the film played into what it was like to be a kid in the 90’s, completed with baggy pants, backwards caps, and pop music. “It spoke to what was going on at the time directly.” He’s thrilled with the success his directorial debut has enjoyed in recent years.

3. Disney Artists Who Influenced their Style

Kevin Lima shared that he went through a John Lounsberry phase because all the artists were obsessed with Milt Kahl and he felt like nobody was studying Lounsberry’s work. Outside of Disney, Jim Henson had a big influence on Kevin’s style and he’s often told that his characters look like Muppets. He was also a puppeteer from middle school through college and still has a collection of puppets he’s made in the basement.

Roger Allers, Co-Director of The Lion King, had a big influence on Brenda Chapman’s style. “I loved his artwork and I loved his storyboards and I did my best to try to emulate,” Brenda shared. She also drew inspiration from fellow story artists including Chris Sanders.

4. Difference Between Directing Animation and Live-Action

“The goal is exactly the same, to tell an interesting story with great characters,” Kevin Lima shared. The biggest difference is the way you achieve the shots and the environment. “In live action, you’re dealing with the elements,” he said, talking about the need for a particular type of weather in a scene. In animation, you create the environment by hand or in a computer.

“The other thing for me was in animation you pre-edit the movie,” Brenda Chapman added. “You do storyboards and that’s your footage… In live action, you just have to hope that you’ve got all the footage you need by the time you get to the editing bay.” Brenda Chapman recently premiered a film at the Sundance Film Festival called Come Away starring Angelina Jolie, David Oyelowo, Michael Caine, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw that draws inspiration from Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland.

5. Enchanted Would’ve Been Very Different Without Kevin Lima

“When I first read the piece, it was a little snarky,” Kevin shared. “I said if you want me to take on this movie, I want to make it a love letter to Disney.” Shrek was a parody of fairy tales and Kevin chose to embrace the medium. It was his idea for Giselle to mirror Snow White by cleaning the apartment and calling the animals to come and help, only to find that rats, pigeons, and cockroaches were the only ones available and making the best of a bad situation. “I just tried at every single turn to look back in some way.”

6. The Enchanted Cameos Kevin Lima Couldn’t Get

Jodi Benson (Ariel), Judy Kuhn (Pocahontas), and Paige O’Hara (Belle) all appear in on-screen cameos in the film. “It was great to get them, as many as I could,” Kevin explained. “They were happy to be there and most of them were there for just a day or a half-a-day on their role.” However, there were two princess voices that Kevin Lima really wanted that turned down the offer. At the ball, there are two older women that comment on the spectacle, roles that were intended for Ilene Woods (Cinderella) and Mary Costa (Aurora). Both actresses were retired and didn’t feel up to taking the parts, brief as they were.

7. The Origins of Brave

“I went through looking for a fairy tale that I could adapt through Grimms, trying to find a good mother/daughter story that I could adapt and I just couldn’t find one,” Brenda Chapman shared after finding that most fairy tales either have a mother who’s deceased or wicked. “Along the way, I sort of collected different pieces and one of them is Snow White and Rose Red, which is not Snow White. There’s a bear in there and of course it’s a prince, but I love the idea that there’s a bear. There’s a bit where the two sisters get to snuggle with this bear… I liked that idea and also Merida having a skill that was unusual for a princess. It’s not just singing and dancing and twirling or talking to animals. I really wanted to find these different things that made a good fairytale and I love bears so it all worked.” She also commented on the title, which was changed beyond her control. “It was frustrating for a while because anything with a female name or connotation had it removed.” Originally called “The Bear and the Bow,” the title was changed because executives feared people would think the “Bow” was an accessory and not a weapon. This was around the same time that Rapunzel was retitled Tangled and The Snow Queen became Frozen.

8. The Difference in Writing for 2D Vs. CG

“To me, the story is the same,” Brenda Chapman shared. “It doesn’t matter what medium it’s in as long as the story is a good story.” There is one exception, however. On a 2D film, you can see the artwork being produced in real time and know more or less what the final film will look like. In CG, everything has to be created in the computer and animators work with less refined looking characters until it goes to the final render, which was difficult for Brenda o Brave. “And in the end, I was happy.”

9. What It’s Like To Have Your Own Company

Kevin Lima and Brenda Chapman recently united in their own business venture with 'Twas Entertainment, currently with a production deal with 20th Century Studios. “I’m kind of sad that it took us this long to do it,” Kevin Lima shared, reflecting on the similar paths the couple have been on since first meeting at CalArts. “For me, it was about not having control over your own work. I worked on many many projects that didn’t work since Enchanted for reasons that had nothing to do with me.” After a string of cancelled projects, Kevin and Brenda decided to write a script together and realized they make a great professional team.

“What I miss is being in a community of people and working with them and collaborating with a lot of talented people,” Brenda shared about being a small production company. “I miss that team. There’s an energy in the room when you have six to fourteen story people and you’re kicking around ideas and then you walk into a room of visual artists to determine what the film would look like.” She’s hoping their company will get to that point someday, but for now she’s happy with the way things are. “I’m tired of giving my ideas away and letting people just take them away.”

10. Their Dream Project

They’ve been working on an ambitious project that would probably be too expensive for a studio to back, but they couldn’t give too much away in hopes that the project finds a backer. “It involves a lot of different types of animation and it would be very expensive,” Brenda Chapman shared. Kevin expanded that the goal would be to include every possible animation medium from hand-drawn to CG, claymation, puppets, and more.

The Walt Disney Family Museum just announced new Happily Ever After Hours events and more ways to bring a piece of the museum home. Click here for more information, including how to register to participate in future events.