Encanto, the latest animated movie from Disney, tells the story of the magical Madrigal family and their fantastical home in Colombia. With a talented cast, adorable script, and music from Tony award-winning composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, the highly anticipated family movie is now finally out in cinemas. To celebrate the release of the new Disney movie we spoke to writers and co-directors of Encanto, Jared Bush and Charise Castro Smith, about the making of and inspiration behind the film.
Encanto, written by Bush and Castro Smith, follows 12 extraordinary characters from the Madrigal family. Every member of the huge family has been gifted with a special ability, such as super strength or the power to talk to animals. However, there is one Madrigal with no superpowers, young Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz). The film champions love, understanding and community at its forefront – making it the perfect addition to Disney’s animated portfolio. Bush is no stranger to making touching animations – having written Zootopia and Moana. While Castro Smith is new to animation, she has a strong background in magic realism, making her the perfect addition to the fantasy movie.
In our interview with Bush and Castro Smith, we discuss where the idea for Encanto initially came from, how their families helped them create the movie, and discuss if we can potentially see an Encanto Disney Plus series any time soon.
The Digital Fix: Congrats on Encanto. I feel like this is going to be an important film for a lot of different families. Where did this idea come from? What made you pitch a film set in Columbia with elements of magic realism?
Jared Bush: Yeah, so literally five years this month is when this project began. It is a really fun but long process. So Byron Howard and I were working on Zootopia, and we are both musicians, we love musicals, and we were like, ‘the next thing we do together must, must be a musical.’
I had just finished working on Moana with Lin-Manuel Miranda, and he was like, ‘I want to do another musical, but I want it to be set in Latin America’. And we went, ‘well, all these things make sense to work together.’ And then the big question was: what is this story going to be about? Where is it going to be set? We all had something in common, which was a large extended family. Families that are wonderful and a little challenging, and we were like, ‘that’s what we want the story to be about.’ And then the question came up, OK, what do we want to say about family?
We really started to research our families first, and very quickly, we realised that we didn’t know our families as well as we thought we did, and they didn’t know us as well as we thought they did either. So this notion of perspective became very important. And when we started to think about where in Latin America to set it, Colombia kept on coming up as this place where naturally there are many different perspectives.
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It is really this amazing crossroads of Latin America where you get all types of different art and music, dance, and food. And there are many cultures in Colombia as well. You definitely have an Afro-Colombian influence, you have an indigenous influence, and you have a European influence. So to have that all in one place, naturally or organically, it became the perfect place to set this.
And as we started to dive in, even more, we found out that it is one of the most bio-diverse places on the planet, and it is the home of magical realism that really informed how Charise and I wrote the script. It was just like all the things you love in one place – we had to do it.
Speaking about large families, you were a three-person team, which you know, is quite a big team for directors.
What was it like? Obviously, Jared, you and Byron had worked together before, but Charise what was it like working together on Encanto, being in this three-person dynamic?
Charise Castro Smith: It was fabulous. I joined the film as a writer a little bit over three years ago and was working with Jared on the script, and then about nine months later – something like that – they asked me to come on to co-direct! Which was incredible because my whole background was in theatre and live-action, so this was my first time working in animation. What I learned is that it is a vast, vast, undertaking to create an animated movie.
There is about 800 people who worked on this film from start to finish, so there are so many things to do. I didn’t quite appreciate it the same way until I worked on this film. Every single thing and every single frame is made by human hands, and someone has designed it. So, it’s a vast, vast undertaking. So I’d say we divided and conquered.
JB: Yeah, I’d say Byron and I were desperate for help, and we begged Charise, and she said yes. That’s how that went down.
Well, it turned out to be a really good collaboration.
Getting back to families, when you watch Encanto, I feel like you can recognise each of the characters in your own family. I was like yeah, I have an uncle Bruno too, you know? What characters do you find were the most relatable personally after you watched back the film?
JB: Oh wow, haha. You know it is funny when we began; Charise and I talked a lot about family archetypes. Our first research was actually talking to our own families. And we definitely found that in a lot of families, you had the responsible rock of the family, or you had the golden child of the family, or you had the black sheep of the family. So really we began there with members of our own family, that definitely felt right for us, but as we talked to more people, we realised they were universal.
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So when I watch this movie, I can definitely see my family in it. I think that Antonio (Ravi Cabot-Conyers), who is this little five-year-old innocent kid who’s quiet and shy and he is more comfortable talking to animals instead of people – my youngest son is exactly that.
So I think that as you are working on these films, you definitely want to bring in your own experiences and this was a real joy because, like you were saying, there are a lot of different family members to play with. So I’m hoping that when my whole family gets to see it, they can pick themselves out. I’m hoping that my uncle Bruno isn’t too offended.
CCS: Your mom is a little more like Mirabel (voiced by Stephanie Beatriz). She has got a little more of a pep thing going on.
I have to do my due diligence Jared and ask you about Zootopia. I’m sure you get it quite a lot, but Zootopia Plus is coming out. You know the Madrigals, this huge family in Encanto – will we get to see a series with them in the future too?
JB: I think it is the right thing to do, you know. I think we should all start writing our letters to Disney now and saying that’s important. You know, I think one of the really exciting things honestly about Disney Plus is that there is a lot of stories to tell through Disney Plus. I think with this movie especially we fell in love with every single character, and I think that we try to design them in a way that you want to know more about them. So I would very, very happily see a show about any member of that family.
CCS: I can tell you that Lin-Manuel Miranda really wants a show about Dolores [the family member who has super hearing voiced by Adassa].
JB: That is true
Let’s talk more about Lin-Manuel and the music of Encanto, which I thought was really vibrant. But it also felt very different from any other Disney movie I have seen before. You both said you are a fan of theatre. All the numbers felt very theatrical and set piecey. What was your reason in art direction when you approached Encanto’s score?
CSS: I think because each of the songs have such a distinct musical style, we were really sort of re-inventing things for each song. I mean, there was ‘Surface Pressure’, which was this imaginative and crazy departure into Luisa’s ( Jessica Darrow) fears and insecurities and vulnerabilities. And you know, ‘ We Don’t Talk about Bruno’, which is this amazing ensemble number.
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For that one, in particular, we had the help of an incredible choreographer called Jamal Sims – who had a team of dancers, choreographed the entire song and sent us the videos. The animators worked extremely closely with him and the dancers to make sure all the dance was exactly right. So, there was really a different approach to each of the songs as we went along because the songs themselves were so different.
JB: Yeah, the other thing I would add is that we knew that in this movie, we wanted it to take place in this family’s home. From the beginning, we knew it wasn’t going to be a quest or a journey movie. We wanted it to be in the family home, but we didn’t want it to feel claustrophobic.
So definitely, we knew that when we get to a music number, we want to make it feel vast and epic and huge. And that was something our entire team did such a great job was really making those numbers feel expansive and bringing in those fantasy elements. Haha, to your point, it was like, “more is more – let’s go.” It was really fun.
CSS: Yes, more donkey unicorns
JB: Yes, all the donkeys, haha.
When I opened this interview, I said that this movie is going to mean a lot to a lot of people. I think that that is because it does lead the way in representation. What do you hope kids will feel when they see this movie?
CCS: I was so excited to work on this movie from the beginning because of that very thing. I’m human American, and you know when I was growing up, there wasn’t a movie like this. And so I am just really excited for children of all backgrounds to be able to watch this movie and feel seen. To feel represented and feel that they are the heroes of their own story. I’m very proud of that aspect of this movie.
Yeah, definitely. Last question, movie theatres are starting to open up after the Covid-19 lockdowns. What are both of your favourite cinema’s to go to now that we can go to the cinema again?
JB: Oh my gosh, you know, what was very unusual for this movie is that we made the whole movie at our homes literally. Like right as we were about to start production we had to go home and take our computers to our houses. So it was created entirely at home. So that meant we watched it on a little screen for years. And then a few months ago, when we had to go back to the studio, the first time we saw it on the big screen, I was literally like ‘oh my god’. Because I realised that every single frame… hundreds of people poured their hearts into that.
So, I’d say my favourite place to see it is just a giant screen. Give me a giant screen, give me a bunch of people. This is really a movie that is a community movie. I think sort of seeing it with people is great – give me some popcorn. If I have those elements, I am good to go.
Thank you both so much. It was lovely meeting you. Congrats on the film again
Both: Thank you so much
JB: Great talking to you
Encanto is out in cinemas now.