by Michelle Houle

From Pawtucket to Hollywood!

The first time Joanne Stanley spotted twelve-year-old Kevin Lima performing a puppet show for his sixth-grade class at Potter-Burns School, she knew he would be a star.

"It was enterprising for him to do those puppet shows way back when. Few sixth graders do that," said Stanley.

Joanne Stanley, currently an art teacher at William E. Tolman Senior High School, knew Lima as a young boy. She was the arts and crafts coordinator for a summer camp at Potter-Burns, and Lima was one of her best students.

Kevin Lima, a Pawtucket native, didn't always have a fascination with puppets. His first love was animation. One of the first movies he saw as a young boy was The Jungle Book at the Leroy Theatre in Pawtucket. Watching all of the fantastic characters come to life, Lima realized what his dream job would be. He wanted to be an animator, but more specifically, a Disney animator. On his fifth birthday, he received a book called Animation by Preston Blair. From a young age, Kevin Lima spent his free time drawing and imagining characters he would one day animate.

As Lima began to mature, his love of art and animation only increased. Although he had a troubled home life, he still took advantage of all the opportunities that came his way. It was his art teacher at Potter-Burns, Miss McHale, who first turned him on to puppets. Guidance and support from his grandmother led him to a job with Marc Kohler's professional puppet theater, The Puppet Workshop in Providence.

In looking back on his years with Kevin, Kohler said, "Did I know he was that talented? Did I think he was going to be successful? Yes."

Not only did Lima hand-make the puppets he used in his schoolyard performances, but he also wrote the stories that went with them. Under Kohler's mentorship, his creativity flourished and he had exposure to larger audiences.

Stanley said, "Working with puppets and Marc Kohler really helped his career."

While attending Tolman High School, Lima was able to hone his artistic skills. His art teacher, Bob Venditto, realized the potential of his student.

"I recognized his superior talent at a very young age," said Venditto.

Lima graduated from Tolman in 1980. Besides his interest in the visual arts, he had been a member of the drama club, newspaper, yearbook, and student council.

In Lima's yearbook, Bob Venditto wrote, "In all my twenty-seven years of teaching, I have never met anyone as talented as you. I wish you every success. See you in Hollywood!"

The summer before going to Emerson College, Lima worked for Eve Brooks Costumes in New York City. There, he created costumes for the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus.

At Emerson, Kevin Lima studied acting and theater design. He later transferred to California Institute of the Arts, where he studied character animation.

Before long, the job offers began to pour in. His first position was as animator/character designer for the independently produced feature The Brave Little Toaster. He even had the opportunity to live in Taiwan for six months while working on this project. Later on, he helped develop a project called Samurai Cat and animated The Chipmunk Adventure.

Finally, in 1987, Kevin Lima achieved his dream by joining Walt Disney animation. He animated the character of Fagin for Oliver and Company and Ursula and Flounder for The Little Mermaid. For the 1991 animated feature Beauty and the Beast, he created the characters of Lumiere, Mrs. Potts, and Cogsworth. He also storyboarded sequences for Aladdin. During this period, Kevin Lima pursued his passion of theater by directing a community theater production of Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods.

Lima's directing debut was in 1992 with A Goofy Movie. This film was a critical and commercial success. He also directed Tarzan, the live-action 102 Dalmatians, Eloise at the Plaza, and Eloise at Christmastime. This latter film won him a Director's Guild of America award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Children's Programs.

Kevin Lima is not the only talent in his family. His wife, Brenda Chapman, is also an artist, director, and alumna of Cal Arts. She became the first woman to direct an animated film, The Prince of Egypt, which garnered her an award for Outstanding Individual Achievement for Directing in an Animated Feature Production. Chapman also worked on The Lion King, for which she won an award for Best Individual Achievement for Story Contribution in the Field of Animation. She is currently [as of early 2009] directing a film at Pixar Animation.

Enchanted, Lima's greatest directorial accomplishment to date, is a Disney fairytale that is a mixture of traditionally hand-drawn animation, computer-generated characters, romantic comedy, music, song, and action adventure. It has already made over $340 million at the box office and won the Critics Choice Award for Best Family Film. Enchanted has been nominated for many other awards since its release in 2007.

Lima believes that the success of Enchanted was largely due to the charm of the main character, played by Amy Adams.

"After auditioning over two hundred actresses for the leading role, Adams walked in. I had found my princess. I sure as hell hoped she could sing," said Lima.

Shortly before the release of Enchanted, Kevin Lima was honored by the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council with the Excellence in the Arts Award for a lifetime of work in his field. He was greeted that night by more than 200 guests, including Joanne Stanley, Marc Kohler, Bob Venditto, and many former classmates from Tolman.

"I thought everyone in Pawtucket had forgotten me," said Lima as he accepted the award. There were tears in his eyes when the audience gave him a standing ovation.

Kevin Lima now lives with his wife Brenda Chapman and their daughter Emma Rose in Marin County, California. He is working on a new movie called The Spook's Apprentice.

Although that was his first visit to Pawtucket in almost twenty years, he promised to come back "to see my family and friends, or on second thought, to get a burger and Coke from Kip's Diner!"

Follow Kevin Lima's career since 2009 on Wikipedia or IMDB.

Michelle Houle is a senior at Tolman High School where she is editor of the school newspaper, the Tolman Highlight, captain of the tennis team, and an active member of the Drama Club. Michelle will be entering college in September 2009 and hopes to pursue a degree in Literary Arts. She was pleased to have the opportunity to meet Kevin Lima in September 2008.

This article last edited June 19, 2015

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