Encanto is in theaters now, and it’s the perfect family movie for the holiday season. Disney Animation’s latest follows Mirabel Madrigal, a young girl still trying to find herself among the rest of her gifted family. The magic of the Encanto has blessed every child in the family with a unique gift- every child except Mirabel. However, she soon may be the Madrigals last hope when she discovers that the magic surrounding the Encanto is now in danger.
We had the chance to sit down with the directors of Encanto, Jared Bush, Byron Howard, and Charise Castro Smith, for an exclusive interview. The filmmakers discussed their research trips to Colombia and what it was like to work with the cast and crew of the film.
How did Encanto come about and what was it like, no pun intended, bringing the magic to life?
Byron Howard: Five years ago, we had our first conversations with Lin-Manuel Miranda about doing this musical. Jared and I had worked together, of course, on Zootopia, we loved working together. We wanted to do a musical, definitely. And Jared and Lin had just completed Moana. So we started talking about this project. And Lin had been wanting for years to do the definitive Latin American Disney musical. And we were very much into that, but we had no idea where to set it in Latin America. We did know that this movie was going to be about a family, an extended family, and the complexities and challenges of that. And then the question was, ‘well, where is it in the world?’ And so we really started looking at Latin America and all the signs started to point toward Colombia because Colombia is this incredible crossroads of culture, music, dance, families. In Colombia it’s beautifully mixed and embraced. And we thought, what a wonderful way to show diversity in our own film and represent this family of twelve people. A dozen main characters all in this house, which is also a character, and it just organically kind of formed from there. And it just took off. And now it’s done. It’s just insanity.
What kind of research went into the film? I heard that you took a trip to Columbia, what was that like? Did you see any capybaras?
Jared Bush: So here’s the great thing about this movie is it’s been basically like five years of research nonstop. We took this amazing trip to Colombia about three and a half years ago. And one of the really nice things about the research trips is it’s not tourist spots. For this movie, knowing that we wanted to tell a story about family, we actually spent a lot of time with families. We sat at their dinner table, we talked to them about those dynamics. We saw different generations and how they interacted with each other. And we really got to get a sense of the vibe and the vibe was this amazing, colorful, vibrant, joyous place that we hadn’t seen before. That we realized we didn’t know as much about as we needed to.
It’s a third the size of the United States. It has like the most biodiversity on the planet. The music of the entire continent of South America is in Colombia. All of these things, on top of the architecture and the history and dance. And then of course it’s the birthplace of magical realism. So, you know, it’s, it’s like all of these amazing things, like a hundred percent, we wanted to set our movie there, knowing that we can only honestly represent just a small fraction because you know, there should be a thousand movies made about Colombia.
I will say, I’m going to answer your question about the capybara. It’s going to make you sad though. So yes, we did get to see capybara in a way, in that we had a meal where we got to eat one.
Oh, well that’s one way of seeing them in Columbia, I suppose. Was not prepared for that, but all right. Going off of what you were saying about the biodiversity, I believe that 20% of all species of butterflies are in Colombia. Did they end up playing a bigger role upon seeing them on your trip?
Byron Howard: They are everywhere. One of the things that we really felt when we were in Colombia- Colombia being one of the birthplaces of magical realism, such as with Gabriel García Márquez’ ‘One Hundred Years Of Solitude, and many other works. He wrote that magic runs in the streets in Colombia, and you really feel it, like everything down there. There’s just more birds, more mist in the mountains. The palm trees in the valley near Salento are 200 feet, tall, taller than any other poem in the world. So everything feels heightened and more emotional and more beautiful. Even the light in Cartagena. When you fly in there it’s so warm and beautiful, the buildings are intense. It’s just has this beautiful, wonderful, warmth and intensity that we really found to be true. And then the butterflies, again, as a motif for the Madrigals themselves. For a sense of connection with the core of who that family is, it really was important to us to represent that in the film, as well as a nod to magical realism.
Was it important to include dark-skinned Latinx characters, not just in the background, but as main characters, as part of the family, such as with Felix and Antonio?
Charise Castro Smith: One hundred percent. It’s such a multi-racial society within the same family. And it was really important for us to represent that in the film and just sort of have it be a normal part of their lives. And it’s a part of my life, like I’m Cuban-American. My family is all different shades, all mixed together. And I think it’s an experience that lots of people have in this country and around the world. And I’m glad that we’re actually representing that in this film.
When it came down to casting Mirabel, was there a big casting search? How did you end up deciding upon Stephanie Beatriz?
Charise Castro Smith: It was a big, big search and Stephanie actually originally read for a different role, but as soon as we heard her, we were like, ‘This is it. She’s the one.’ Because she just has so much personality, vulnerability. She’s funny, she has an amazing singing voice. And Mirabel was always intended to be just a really complex and nuanced and incredibly human character. And she carries the entire film. This is not a buddy movie. It’s her journey going through this family, going through the house, solving this mystery. So she really had to carry the film. And as soon as we heard Stephanie, we just knew that it was a perfect match. And she has just brought so much to this role, it’s incredible.
What it was like working with Lin-Manuel Miranda? I loved the music. It was so vibrant and high-spirited, so what was that collaboration like?
Byron Howard: Oh, yeah, it’s so good. Honestly, it was a a dream, again, Jared and Lin had worked together on Moana and had a great relationship already, but I hadn’t met Lin before we started this project together. And I think he is a terrific collaborator because he has a lot of respect for who all of us are and how much we care about this project. We also have a lot of respect for him, obviously, he’s done so much for so many people and what he’s brought to the stage and screen. And the fact that Lin was excited and not daunted, when we first mentioned to him that we wanted a dozen characters in this house, he wasn’t thrown by that all. He actually loved that idea.
There was a breakfast we had like five years ago and he said what he loves is getting in there and solving those puzzles. I won’t spoil it, but he did a magnificent job at the end of the film, weaving all of these musical themes together from all of these, various people through the film. He also commented that he loved, back in the day, writing for strong ensembles and strong female characters. And I would say Encanto has that to the nines. We have so many strong women in this family. So much of the core of the story does revolve around Alma, and Mirabel herself, and her sisters, and mom and aunts. So he really outdid himself. Just having a collaborator like that with us for the entire time was a really unique experience and we owe him a lot.