This real-life romance has a fairy-tale ending.
Filmmaker Lee Loechler, who grew up in Brookline, went above and beyond last month when proposing to his high school sweetheart by recreating a classic scene from the Disney animated film “Sleeping Beauty” — and then playing the revised version at the Coolidge Corner Theatre during a screening packed with friends, family, and strangers recruited on the internet.
Video of the meticulously crafted proposal was shared online Thursday, and has already been viewed by millions.
Loechler said it took a lot of careful plotting and the help of many people before he could finally execute his plan on Dec. 30, and ask his girlfriend, Sthuthi David, to spend the rest of her life with him.
For the last six months Loechler has been working with Australian illustrator Kayla Coombs, who he met on Instagram, to alter a key scene from “Sleeping Beauty” — David’s favorite movie — so that the characters looked exactly like the couple.
“She did a pretty damn good job of drawing in that [Disney] style,” he said.
Once the logistics were ironed out, Loechler then began thinking about the best place to get down on one knee.
His original idea was to play the movie while the couple, who rekindled their love in 2016 after some time apart, watched it at one of their apartments. (Loechler currently lives in Los Angeles and David is finishing her medical residency in Virginia).
But after discussing the notion with a close friend, he was convinced to take it a step further — way further.
“He was like, ‘That’s a horrible idea,' " Loechler said, “'Have you never met a woman? This is their engagement, they want to be some place spectacular ... they want to have this moment for the rest of their lives.'”
“Going off of that, we sort of put our heads together," said Loechler, a self-described “hopeless bromantic" and director of content at Friends At Work, a management and entertainment company.
Loechler decided to pop the question at Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, the town where the couple grew up and first started dating while in high school. Doing it around the holidays was the perfect opportunity, he said, because they’d both be returning to the area to see family.
Loechler’s next step was connecting with employees from the theater to find out how he could reserve a private screening room where the movie could be played. This required the help of both the theater’s projectionist as well as its programming manager, Mark E. Anastasio.
“They were great partners,” he said, and went as far as putting up their names on the marquee to celebrate the proposal.
After nailing down every tiny detail that he could think of to make the experience seem entirely authentic — this included making fake tickets and asking strangers on Reddit, an online forum, to help fill some extra seats in the theater — the big day finally came.
When the couple arrived at the small theater, they settled down in the front row for what Loechler described as the 75 most excruciating minutes of his life. As the movie came to its emotional crescendo, the characters suddenly changed.
In the video of the proposal that Loechler shared online Thursday, a look of confusion sweeps across David’s face as she realizes that there’s something slightly off about her favorite Disney flick.
Suddenly, after the prince leans in to kiss the sleeping princess, he produces a cartoon ring on screen. The prince then tosses it into the air. That’s when Loechler quickly stands up in the theater and seems to catch it — a moment he said he was particularly proud of because it took a lot of practice runs and a bit of video and sound editing ahead of the actual proposal.
Loechler then gets down on one knee and pops the question in front of a cheering crowd of theatergoers.
“It’s not everyday you get to propose to your high school sweetheart,” he says in the video. “So I just want to take my time, savor this moment.”
As he speaks, the cartoon characters on the screen seem to watch the proposal, and even interact with Loechler, who turns to the screen and says, “Excuse me, do you mind? This is kind of a big moment.”
A shocked David looks around the theater before she realizes that it’s speckled with friends and family who’d filled in behind her, as well as the people Loechler plucked from the internet.
“Oh my God,” she exclaims. “I don’t even know what to say.”
And then, after Loechler gives a little speech expressing his love, she does: “Yes!"
At that point, the movie resumes playing as the crowd cheers and a clearly overwhelmed David embraces her fiancee.
On Thursday, Loechler shared edited video of the entire proposal online, including updating the Reddit community on how it went. In less than 24 hours, the clip had been viewed more than 2 million times. The unique and skillfully executed proposal was also picked up by news outlets across the country.
He even posted about the experience on Instagram, where he wrote, “The only thing better than seeing the smartest person I know completely dumbfounded was knowing we’d get to live happily ever after together.”
To be clear, Loechler said he would never have gone to such extremes if he didn’t have a strong feeling that David would accept his proposal.
“It’s really important to know your partner,” he said, adding that they’ve had previous discussions about their future together. “And to know what they like and what they dislike.”
Loechler has been so inundated with interview requests since revealing the touching moment online, and detailing how he pulled it off, that he had to enlist the help of a public relations expert and create a separate “dummy” Gmail account — he called it “PlzDontSueMeDisney” — to handle the swell of inquiries.
“It’s been very surreal and very crazy,” he said.
But he’s thrilled that it’s resonating with people, for the most part. And he’s even more pleased that everything went off without a hitch, considering there were so many moving parts that needed to fall in line in order to make this monthslong dream come true. (The only real hiccup came when some strangers had to bail on being in the theater that day because the flu hit — but he figured it out).
“That’s the craziest part to me. Everything went according to plan," he said in a telephone interview. “Somehow, I don’t know, through divine intervention ...it all fell into place.”
For now, Loechler and David haven’t set a wedding date, a question he has been getting a lot. But after this stunt, he knows the expectations for some people will be high.
“We’re wrestling with that,” he joked.
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It’s not every day you get to propose to your High School sweetheart. For the past six months I’ve been working with @kaylacoombs to animate @stutzd4 and myself into her favorite movie, Sleeping Beauty. The only thing better than seeing the smartest person I know completely dumbfounded was knowing we’d get to live happily ever after together. ❤️ Enjoy!