Just in time for Thanksgiving, Walt Disney Animation Studios is set to launch its latest film, Encanto, on Wednesday, November 24. The movie tells the story of the large Madrigal family, who live in a hidden, magical place called an encanto. Each member of this special family has a unique magical gift, except one — Mirabel, voiced by Stephanie Beatriz. Ironically, although Mirabel has always been thought of as “ordinary,” she may be the family’s only hope to save their magic before it’s gone forever. Set in Colombia and featuring original music by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Encanto is about family and the beauty and complexities of those relationships. Disney News recently had the opportunity to sit down with Encanto director Byron Howard, writer and director Jared Bush, and writer and co-director Charise Castro Smith to learn more about the magic of the film.
Can you tell the Disney News readers a bit about Encanto?
JARED BUSH: Sure. Well, I think more than anything, this is a story about family. We began this journey wanting to tell a story about this large, extended family, the joys of family and the complexities and challenges of family. And more than anything, the fact that we don't always see our families for who they are, and they actually don't always see us for who we are. It's really this journey of understanding your family and seeing them differently.
Overall, how was the experience working on the film?
BYRON HOWARD: I'll say it's great to be doing a musical that's really committed to celebrating that format. And to do it with Lin-Manuel and with Jared and Charise — we really love each other as a team, so it's people we trust, and to have everyone on this journey together has been really extraordinary. It is so much a celebration of music and movement and dance, and of Colombia, yes, and families, yes, and challenges, but man… I think the three of us, we're constantly talking to each other about how much more [the film] has become than we’d ever pictured. And I think that's been a huge, huge gift. Yeah, I'd say for me, [the experience of working on the film was] crazy. These movies are crazy. [LAUGHTER]
BUSH: These movies are always hard. And I think we were a couple of weeks away from barely beginning production, and they said, “P.S. There's a quarantine, everyone go home and take your computers home. You're going to produce this entire movie from your houses with your families running around in Zoom behind you.” What?! So I think for me, these movies are always an enormous challenge, but I actually think that a movie about family, set in a home, and we made it with our families in our homes, I could never have predicted that. And it became this very weird, wonderful thing where we actually all got to see little glimpses into each other's lives. Because there's some things you can't predict — I can't predict when my dog's going to come in and grab my power cord, and my computer hits the ground, and everyone sees that maybe what I'm wearing below this is different than they expect. That's something new. [LAUGHTER]
CHARISE CASTRO SMITH: Or exactly what we expected, you know. [LAUGHTER]
BUSH: Yeah, perfect, that's true. Yeah, so I'd say a crazy, wonderful experience for me.
CASTRO SMITH: This being my first time working in animation, and my first time working on a musical as well, I just had no idea what this was going to turn into. I just couldn't have conceived that this is what we would make. I'm so proud of it. And I'm so happy, so eager for the world to see this movie.
Charise, what was it like stepping into Disney Animation as a newcomer?
CASTRO SMITH: It was wild. I mean, I was just thinking about my first day when I came here, and just this giddy, childlike sensation I had that I was like stepping into Willy Wonka's factory. Like I couldn't even believe it. Just walking down this corridor that's in the middle of the building that has all these different little prints from Disney history. It was just like, holy smokes, this is happening. So it was humbling and amazing. And then once I started working here, I got to know this incredible team of artists, vis dev [visual development] artists, character designers, animators, layout artists — just all the departments, all the people that have helped make this movie what it is, and just being blown away by the level of talent, passion, and heart that goes into literally every single frame of these movies.
What was it like when you saw [the] footage come together for the first time?
HOWARD: [It was] incredible. And you know, CG is a really interesting medium. It's very different from 2D, because [with] 2D animation you see the product, the finished version, very early. With CG, everybody — all these different teams — are working in parallel. And it doesn't come all together until the last year of the production. So for us on this five-year journey, this last year has been day after day of eye candy, just like, jaw-dropping, beautiful effects, the choreography, the clothes, the rendering. We have a beautifully diverse family, so the hair types are all very different in the family — they all behave differently when they move — and [they all have] different skin colors. And the environment based on our research with our friends in Colombia — it's incredible. And so, every day to be — and this is not an exaggeration — we are just wide-mouthed, and our eyes are popping because of how beautiful the film is. Because everybody in their own way is trying to elevate the film, and I think when they each see each other's work, it brings it up to a new level. So to imagine this at Thanksgiving in the theaters, done, with the music mixed with the amazing score by Germaine Franco, amazing songs by Lin-Manuel, and people seeing it, I cannot wait. It has really become something incredible, especially [considering that it was] made from everybody's home, which is mind-boggling. So it's been a pretty incredible year.
What was the process like of working with the Colombian Cultural Trust?
BUSH: I mean, it's the best. I'd say that we were really, really lucky. Byron and I met Juan Rendón and Natalie Osma during Zootopia. They are filmmakers in their own right. They were doing a documentary on the behind the scenes of Zootopia, and we were really in the trenches on that movie, so we got to know them really well. They became very good friends of ours.
So when we jumped into this story, we knew from day one that Lin-Manuel was involved. And he was like, “I want to do a Latin American musical,” and we were like, “That sounds great.” We all started talking. What should it be about? It's going to be about family. We all had families and these large extended families in common. But where to set this movie was the real question. And we spent a lot of time thinking about that. We wanted to get it right, and we wanted it to feel organic and real. And we kept on being pointed back towards Colombia, because it is this amazing crossroads of Latin America, where you have all these different cultures, dance, and music, and you have this architecture — all of these things are really intermingled in this one place.
And to have Juan [and Natalie], who [are] Colombian, help us with that, and then start to grow that amazing family of people… we got to go down to Colombia, and we spent a couple weeks with families in tiny, small towns where we met some more really great friends. It's really been a five-year research trip for us. The research doesn't end. And the fact that we have this amazing group of people that have really taught us so much — we've learned so much over these five years — and it hasn't ended. At any point in the process they can raise their hands and say, “Did you think about this?” Or, “That's not exactly right.” Or, “Maybe you could add this.” And it's been this amazing, wonderful, collaborative experience. We feel really, really lucky to have people that we trust so much that have become such great friends to us.
Charise, what was your reaction when you first heard songs from Lin-Manuel?
CASTRO SMITH: So he would just send us demos, and they would just pop up on my cell phone. And I was like, I get to listen to a new song by Lin-Manuel Miranda right here, in my kitchen. It was wild. It was amazing. You know, there [were] songs that… like I'm thinking of this one song that's kind of towards the end of the film, that's in a really emotional moment. He's crafted this beautiful song that sounds like it's a folk song that's always existed. And I burst into tears after I listened to it for the first time, it was just so beautiful. I feel so privileged that I got to hear the first ideas of all of these songs just in their rough state. I mean, rough for Lin-Manuel is like, you know, relative. [LAUGHTER]
What message do you think Encanto has to share with audiences?
CASTRO SMITH: I think from the very beginning, this movie has been interested in exploring questions of perspective. Like, how well do you actually know and see your family members, and how well do they know and see you? That's sort of the journey that Mirabel goes on in this movie — thinking that she knows all of her extraordinary family's lives, like she knows them. But it turns out, she kind of only knows their personas. And so she goes on this journey and really delves deeper into them, and understands them more — understands their kinds of fears, insecurities, so much more about them.
So I hope that audiences will take that as an invitation to think about their own families differently, to ask questions, and get to know them better, sort of move beyond the personas of the family roles that they think they know. And I hope that's something that people will take away from this movie.
If you had a magical gift, what would it be? And what would your room look like?
HOWARD: Oh, my gosh. No one's asked us what the room would look like. I have a lot of dinosaur toys, so today, I'm going to choose time travel. I would like to travel back to the land of the Paleolithic and the Pleistocene, and the Jurassic.
BUSH: You nailed it. I'm going to go with being able to eat anything I want at any time with no consequences. That's what I'd like to do. And I'd have a room where I'd have a Twinkie for a bed, and pizza drapes. And I'd be able to eat any surface I wanted. I'd do that.
CASTRO SMITH: I have a three-year-old, so I'm going to go with a sleep power. The power to get eight hours of sleep at night. My room would just be a nice, comfy bed.
Find out about the magical gifts in the Madrigal family when Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Encanto comes to theaters Wednesday, November 24.