‘Disenchanted’ Director Adam Shankman on the Struggle of Sequels: Fans Want Characters to ‘Be the Same’ as Before

The director tells TheWrap that that makes things a bit complicated

Jonathan Hession/Disney+

It’s perhaps a Herculean task to take on the challenge of making a sequel to a movie an entire generation came up on. So, Adam Shankman decided to do it twice in one year. And, according to the filmmaker, the real challenge of making a sequel is realizing that fans don’t always want too much growth in their characters.

First, he executive produced “Hocus Pocus 2” for Disney+, and now, he’s celebrating the release of “Disenchanted,” which he directed. Of course, he celebrated very far away from social media for the first few days on the latter, so he can avoid seeing too many reactions, good or bad. He’s happy with what he made, and he simply hopes the people who came up on “Enchanted” are happy too.

“The reality is — and this is kind of, this strangely feathers into the movie — a lot of what I deal about this whole part of the process now, is you know, I made something. It is what it is because of a million reasons,” Shankman explained to TheWrap. “And then it’s done, and I can’t control what happens out in the world after that. And so it is not in my best interest to try to control it, to try to control the narrative.”

He continued, “Because I can’t. And that’s actually literally like, what the movie’s about. With this, Giselle is like, ‘I can’t control something, so I can try to control it. And if I try to control it, I’ll just make things worse,’ you know? And so, my feeling is, step away.”

In the case of “Disenchanted” though, it was more of a scenario where Shankman stepped back up to something he parted with more than 10 years ago. Because, he reveals, he was being looked at to direct “Enchanted” back when it first came up at Disney. But back then, it wasn’t quite what ended up on screen.

According to Shankman, the original “Enchanted” had more of a PG-13 feel to it. No cast was attached yet, and the script was nowhere near finalized. He was just coming off “Bringing Down the House” with Queen Latifah and Steve Martin, and notes that “I was kind of psychologically moving in that direction” at the time. So, when “Enchanted” got a bit more family-oriented, he stepped away — and still beats himself up about it.

“And, you know, big mistake. Congratulations Kevin Lima. Everybody,” Shankman said. “I saw it, and then I saw what Amy was and did, the cast, and [James Marsden] who right after he made ‘Enchanted,’ came to me to do ‘Hairspray!’ It was wild.”

You can check out TheWrap’s full conversation with Adam Shankman below.

Obviously, “Enchanted” is a huge movie and important to many people. So does that mean when “Disenchanted” came around, you jumped on it?

Well, that was because, by now, I’ve now become friends with everybody. Like I’m, I directed [James Marsden], I’m friends with Jimmy. I’ve known Patrick for many years. Amy is a very close friend of mine, who, we are truly bonded through our sort of our nerdy love of musical theater. In fact, we met at a benefit where she had, actually right after she had done ‘Enchanted!’ And her and Jimmy performed a duet at a benefit I was directing. So I staged a number for them. And that’s how we met. And our bonding was truly rooted in our profound, almost obscene love of musical theater.

And so now I’m friends with Amy, and Idina [Menzel] for years. And I, when I went into Disney, I was just always curious what was up with the project. And, you know, Barry Josephson [the producer of “Enchanted”] had been trying to get it move forward through — I think through, like, two administrations at that point that we had gone through. From Dick Cook to Oren Aviv, to Rich Ross, to, you know, to Sean [Bailey], where we are now. And he’d been trying to push the boulder up the hill for so long. It’s really hard to get projects moving through administration flips.

So when I went in there, I knew that it was kind of in this nowhere land, but I asked Sean about it. And he said, ‘Well, it’s something that we’re still kicking the tires on.’ And he pitched me the story, and there was elements of it that I was like, ‘Oh!,’ and then I was like, ‘Oh’. Like, there are other elements where that didn’t seem didn’t seem right or fair to the characters. I said, ‘Can you give me the script that you currently have?’ And I just want to read it. And he said, sure, why not, and so he gave it to me. And I read it.

To my mind, I was like, well, I don’t think it should be this direction that they had gone in. But I was like, what everybody seems to be just missing was, with Morgan being a teenager and all that, I was like — does everybody not see that Giselle is Morgan’s stepmother? And for Giselle, those words would resonate differently. Or, she would hold the idea of what a stepmother is in a very different place than what it is in the real world.

And there’s even a moment in the first movie where younger Morgan makes the distinction of mother vs. stepmother, and Giselle says “I’ve heard they’re not all bad.”

Exactly. But again, it depends on how it would be said, and the context, and the moment. Really, the emotional moment that it would come to be. So really, I just went from there and created a pitch and I hit Sean. And then, Sean actually went to Barry and Amy, and you know, and did the whole thing, and cut to where we are!


And here we are! I know Amy Adams was a producer on this, so I’m curious what your conversations with her looked like once you got the story through. Because obviously, this character is very important to her and her career.

Well, here’s the thing. And I can frame this in a very specific way. In Hocus Pocus, it’s not hard to stay with the math and the formula of the first one for a very crowd-pleasing experience. Because all you need to do is resurrect the witches who died in a very specific place. And so when they’d come back, they would be just as they were. So that’s going to be very crowd pleasing for fans. Because even though, in my experience, fans who are always ravenous or rabid for sequels, they want more, but they want everybody to kind of be the same as they were, which is very complicated.

The problem with Giselle in “Enchanted” — and this was the conversation with Amy, and it’s very important — is that Giselle is no longer a fish out of water. It would have been a decade later, she’s not going to be playing just the traditional ingenue anymore, she would have progressed. And she would just no longer be that same, totally naive person that she was. And it was really important. Because at the end of the first “Enchanted” she is on her way to integrating into the real world in a very meaningful way. She has a relationship, she’s taken on work, you know what I mean? She’s in it.

So now, what would that look like all these years later? Because you no longer have that element of her personality or personhood to work with anymore. So, where do you go from there, because it was very important to [Amy] that she had evolved. She’s like, ‘If I’ve been living in the world for all this time, I would be different.’ And I said yes. And so, finding the balance of keeping her as her optimist self while having progressed her was the challenge.

And that seems to have come into play with Giselle learning what sarcasm is, which was a really funny touch, for me.

Well it’s — because Morgan is growing up and [Giselle] doesn’t know how to deal with it. Because a young child turning into a teenager would be a much bigger change than watching Robert just evolve in this world, you know what I mean? So this is the most dramatic change in a person that she’s seeing. And Morgan has a little speech in the movie where she was like, ‘You know, I was just this young girl who saw a princess. Of course I believed in magic.’ And then she kind of, you know, grew up and out of it a little bit and probably as most teenagers do, get like, embarrassed by their parents, you know? And she says it, imagine if your mother was made a magic and sang the drive thru. I mean, it’s almost like nightmarish for a teenager.

Well, I have to say, Gabriella Baldacchino, who played Morgan in “Disenchanted,” was a standout for me. I loved her, and legitimately had to look it up to see if she played Morgan in the first movie.

I’m glad that you appreciated her and liked her! I think Gabby was a true — it was a real find. And for me, it was a very easy and quick decision. I mean, I saw a lot of ladies, and I just — you know, it’s sort of like when I saw Nikki Blonsky for the first time [for Hairspray]. I was like, ‘Oh, I think I found her.’ You know, my mind and my heart put a pin right there, and I never really moved away.

She was amazing. And before we go, on behalf of the fans, I have to thank you, because Idina Menzel got to sing in this one! Everyone was so sad when the first one came around and Idina didn’t get a song, so was it important to you guys to make sure that she got a musical number this time?

One of the first things that was out of my mouth, and Amy’s mouth. It wasn’t a question. And, my first conversation with Alan [Menken] and Stephen [Schwartz], it was like ‘Is Idina–‘ and I was like, ‘Yep, let’s write her a song.’

And, it was in May of 2020, we were deeply, deeply, in the height of quarantine. The world was very in civil unrest. We were locked down. And everybody was terrified of coming near each other, and everything was closed. And so Amy and Idina recorded those vocals — like, a completely hazmat-covered person would come in with a briefcase, with a kit, and they would drop it at their house. Masked completely, like, shielded everything.

And then, Amy, and Idina would take that, and there was a computer in there and a microphone and stuff like that. And they would have to go into the smallest closet, they could have, and they had to record in their closets, in their homes.

And those are the vocals that are in the movie. Amy’s “Fairytale Life,” the emotional one, is that, and I would say 95% of “Love Power.”

“Disenchanted” is now streaming on Disney+