Encanto producer Clark Spencer on making his first musical movie for Disney

Encanto producer interview: Clark Spencer on the new Disney movie

Encanto is the latest animated movie to come out of Disney and it’s one of the most colourful and vibrant musical movies from the studio yet. Telling the story of the magical Madrigal family in Colombia, the Disney movie is full of charming characters, elaborate backgrounds and catchy tunes. We sat down with Clark Spencer, president of Walt Disney Animation Studios and a producer on the new film, to discuss what it was like making Encanto.

The family movie, Encanto, is a touching story centred around a family of twelve who have all been gifted with special abilities – such as controlling the weather or talking to animals. However, when the magic starts to disappear from the Madrigal’s home, it is up to Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz), the only family member with no superpowers, to save the day. Spencer has produced multiple Disney movies prior to Encanto. Past credits include Lilo and Stitch, Wreck-It Ralph, and Zootopia. However, Encanto is his first and only musical for Disney to date.

In our interview with Spencer, we discuss the ins and outs of making Encanto, what it was like working on his first musical, and discover why he gravitates to fresh and original stories.

The Digital Fix: Hi Clark, how are you?

Clark Spencer: I’m great, Emma. How are you?

I’m great, thank you. So, Encanto is an amazing film. I really enjoyed it. What was your first reaction when you heard the pitch for the movie?

You know, when I first heard that Byron Howard and Jared Bush – who were the directors on Zootopia and I had the opportunity to be the producer on it – we’re going to do a musical with Lin-Manuel Miranda, I needed no more information. I was in from that moment.

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I have had this incredible career at Disney animation. Before Encanto, I produced five animated films, but I had never done a musical. And to do a musical with Lin-Manuel Miranda was incredible. Then from there, as the story started to build, I could just sort of feel it.

There are those moments where you just feel it, and you think, ‘this is going to be incredible when it finally comes to the screen’. I’m really, really proud of what the entire team – and it’s a lot of people who make these movies together – has created. And I’m excited for the audiences to see it.

Yeah, talking about your past work with Disney, we saw you previously make really fresh stories, like Lilo and Stitch (one of my personal favourites), Meet the Robinsons, and Bolt. What draws you to original stories as opposed to the straight adaptions of fairy tales that we have seen from the studio as well?

I think the thing for me about original stories is that they are incredibly hard to make, right? And I love a challenge. What happens is, you start with the hook, right? You can start with that little tiny bit of a hook. Whether it is Lilo and Stitch – and it’s the idea of this alien going to land on Earth. We see he is in a place he is not supposed to be and then be adopted by this little girl. And you are like, ‘I’m in’, I already like that idea from there’, and there is going to be Elvis music ‘now I’m really in.’

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Or Wreck-It Ralph, and you think let’s go into the world of videogame characters, let’s try and understand what happens when the arcade closes. Or when you look at a world like Zootopia, and you think, let’s tell a story about an animal world where there is Tundra Town and there is Sahara Square and we discover that these two groups, predator and prey, don’t actually work together – that there is bias and discrimination – I’m in.

But you don’t know, that’s just the beginning, that’s the kernel, you don’t know how you are going to get to that final end part of it. To me, it is the discovery of that, that I love. And don’t get me wrong, there are days when you think, ‘will we actually figure this all out in time and on budget?’ And there are days when you have that breakthrough from a story standpoint, and you get so excited about where it is going.

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Encanto is going to mean a lot to a lot of people, especially those of Latin-American descent who will finally have mainstream representation in a big family movie. We have seen Disney do the same thing with Polynesian culture with Moana, Luca in Italy, Coco with Mexico, and now Encanto with Colombia. Can you tell us what culture Disney is going to celebrate next? Any on your radar?

You know what, what we always do is ensure that the directors are telling stories that come from their heart. Something that they want to tell, and we have an incredible group of directors right now working on some incredible stories. I can’t tell you which ones yet, at this moment in time, but I can tell you it’s very exciting. It is an incredible time at the studio.

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I feel like to your point; we want to ensure that the audience that is coming to see our films do see themselves reflected on screen. Whether that is especially in terms of the culture or that is just in the story itself, we always want to try and bring that to the screen. And when I look at Moana, Raya the Last Dragon, Encanto, and even Frozen 2, which was presenting the Sámi indigenous group in Norway, I think that there is so much opportunity – as we share our stories – for people to see themselves too in the stories we are telling.

You mentioned that there were a lot of people working on Encanto. You guys had a very talented cast, three directors, and Lin-Manuel Miranda. What were the challenges of making this movie? There must have been a few because it looks like a lot of work; it looks like a really good film.

Ha, thank you. Emma, one of the things I thought going in honestly was, ‘I want to do a musical because I think it might be slightly easier than no music in a film’. Because I feel like then the songwriter has the responsibility to figure out some of the storytelling. It is infinitely more complex.

I mean, Lin-Manuel is a genius, and we had him on from day one, which is unusual to have your songwriter on building the story with you. But he was really able to go in and think about where the songs should be and what part of the story did he want to tell. But then, after the song is written, you have to get your cast to sing it, right? And when you have a cast of twelve family members, you have to bring all twelve people in to sing it, and they don’t all sing it at the same time, and they are spread across the world.

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You have that aspect of it, then you have to record the song, figure out the choreography – we had two incredible choreographers on the film Kaity Martinez from Colombia, and Jamal Sims, who really brought the dance of Colombia to the screen. You have to get that aspect done. Then the animators have to actually animate it. It is infinitely more complex from that standpoint.

And then you look at the story side of it, and you said it absolutely, which is this is a story of twelve family members. We typically tell stories with two characters. Usually, they are buddy films, or maybe there is three characters that go off on a journey. There is a reason for that because, in 90 minutes, it is hard to really track the story of more than that number of characters. But in this case, there is twelve. And to the credit of Jared Bush and Charise Castro Smith, who did the screenplay, they did a brilliant job of making you fall in love with all twelve members of this family.

Great, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us. It was really nice meeting you.

It is so nice meeting you, Emma. Sorry, I talk too long. You have a few minutes, and I am chatting chatting chatting.

You know what, you gave me some really good answers, so I’m not complaining. Thank you very much.

Haha!

Encanto is out in theatres now.

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Emma-Jane Betts

Staff Writer

Updated: Nov 25, 2021


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