Encanto explores the compelling but complicated relationships within families

Before the setting was chosen, before even a single character was imagined, the filmmakers behind Walt Disney Animation Studios’ 60th all-new original feature film Encanto had decided what the heart of their new film would be: family.

Filmmakers knew from the get-go that their story would be about family, and they quickly focused on the role perspective plays in family dynamics.

“It’s a story about how the people who are closest to us, especially family members, don’t always see us—or fully understand us. And likewise, we don’t show people we love our whole selves for many reasons. Our story shows how one member of a family who feels the least seen can learn to see her whole family and ultimately herself, ” says screenwriter and director Jared Bush, who was the co-director/co-writer on Zootopia, and also wrote the screenplay for Moana.

“We thought it would be amazing to tell a story about not just a pair of characters but a large extended family,” says director Byron Howard, the Oscar-winning director of Zootopia and Tangled. “We wanted to celebrate and try to understand how the complex dynamics in big families really work. How well do we know our families? How well do they know us?”

Encanto tells the tale of an extraordinary family, the Madrigals, who live hidden in the mountains of Colombia, in a magical house, in a vibrant town, in a wondrous, charming place called an Encanto. The magic of the Encanto has blessed every child in the family with a unique gift from super strength to the power to heal—every child except one,
Mirabel. But when she discovers that the magic surrounding the Encanto is in danger, Mirabel decides that she, the only ordinary Madrigal, might just be her exceptional family’s last hope.

According to Howard, each of the Madrigal children receive their gifts during a special ceremony. “As each child turns 5,” he says, “a door is produced in their house that opens to an enchanted space. It reveals their magical gift and therefore what their role will be in this family and how they’ll serve the community.”

“Mirabel is all of us,” says Bush. “She is the ordinary member of her family among a bunch of extraordinary, magical people. Many of us can feel like we’re surrounded by superstars in our lives—we can feel intimidated; we can suffer from imposter syndrome. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve achieved—there’s always someone who’s
doing it bigger or better. Mirabel is that character we can all relate to.”

“Mirabel is a people pleaser—she feels this need to compensate for the fact that she didn’t get a gift. She’s always told herself that she’s OK with the dynamic in her family—but deep down, she’s not. She really wants to make a change. Her journey is to recognize her own intrinsic value and find her place within this family,” says co-director and screenwriter Charise Castro Smith (playwright Feathers and Teeth, writer The Haunting of Hill House).

MEET MIRABEL – Welcome to the family Madrigal where every child is blessed with a magic gift unique to them. Everyone, that is, except Mirabel. Voiced by Stephanie Beatriz, Mirabel is determined to prove she belongs within this extraordinary family. © 2021 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Mirabel’s story actually began long ago

Her story began when her grandparents, Alma and Pedro, were forced to flee their home with nothing but their newborn triplets. Following the tragic loss of her husband, Alma said a prayer to a candle in a moment of desperation.

“The candle responded to her prayer giving Alma and those who followed safe shelter in a wondrous place called an Encanto,” says producer Clark Spencer, the Oscar-winning producer of Zootopia, Wreck-It Ralph, Lilo & Stitch, and is also Walt Disney Animation Studios President.

Mirabel Madrigal struggles to fit in a family where everyone has been blessed with magical powers – everyone but her. Determined to prove she belongs within this extraordinary family, she strives to contribute in meaningful ways—denying to everyone, including herself, that she feels all alone, even in her own house. © 2021 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Set in Colombia, Encanto embraces diversity, culture, people and, of course, the music

The location, says Bush, was wholly driven by story. “Early on we knew that we wanted to tell a story about a large extended family with themes of perception and perspective,” says Bush. “So much of Latin America is a combination of Indigenous, African and European heritage. Colombia is considered a ‘crossroads of Latin America’—and we wanted to reflect that within one family, the Madrigals.”

Howard, Bush and Lin-Manuel Miranda—along with Lin-Manuel’s father, Luis, and executive music producer Tom MacDougall—travelled to Colombia in 2018 to explore and soak up the surroundings. Says Howard, “It was a surprise at every turn. Every city, every place was vastly different and incredibly beautiful—Cartagena, Bogotá, Barichara and San Basilio de Palenque—there’s a feeling of magic in many of these places. And it’s a different kind of magic than we’ve seen in our films. The visit to Colombia and the opportunity to be welcomed by so many we met there was really a revelation and inspired so much in our story.”

Magic abounds in Encanto

“Even in our darkest moments, there’s light where you least expect it.” ~ Mirabel

“An ‘Encanto’ is a term sometimes used for a place of magic and heightened spirituality, where magical or extraordinary things can happen,” says Castro Smith. “It’s a place of natural wonder where the landscape is infused with
magical possibility.”

But, says Howard, it’s not your everyday magic. “There’s magic in the world, but it’s grounded in reality,” he says. “Magical realism, an inspiration for our film, is tied to real emotions, real events, and it’s thoughtful and layered. It’s not just an easy answer to your problems, it’s actually a reflection of the experiences you have every day whether you’re enjoying success or struggling.”

Although many of the characters in Encanto have magical gifts, the filmmakers wanted to ground these gifts in reality.

Says Bush, “Our goal was that these characters would be just as compelling if we were to tell the story of this family without any gifts—if there were no magic in the world. We wanted to have extensions of family archetypes that we could all relate to whether it’s the golden child, the rock of the family, the outcast or drama queen. We just crank it up a little and make it come to life in magical ways.”

MEET MIRABEL – Welcome to the family Madrigal where every child is blessed with a magic gift unique to them. Everyone, that is, except Mirabel. Voiced by Stephanie Beatriz, Mirabel is determined to prove she belongs within this extraordinary family. © 2021 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Encanto honours Walt Disney Animation Studios’ rich tradition of building stories through music and song

Encanto features eight original songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda, and composing the score is Germaine Franco (Dora and the Lost City of Gold, Little, Tag), who co-wrote songs including Un Poco Loco and Proud Corazón for Disney and Pixar’s Coco

Howard and Bush, who previously teamed up on Disney Animation’s Oscar-winning feature film Zootopia” had hoped to team up on another film—but not just any film.

“After ‘Zootopia,’ we were keen on doing a musical,” says Howard. “We’re musicians—we grew up that way. Jared had just come off ‘Moana’ and had a great experience working with Lin-Manuel, I’d enjoyed directing ‘Tangled,’ so the three of us started talking about working together.”

For Miranda, joining a film at the ground level was particularly appealing, but it was the idea that really drew him in. “It really began with family,” says Miranda. “The notion of a family musical that gets to the complexity and interconnectedness of families was really interesting. In the beginning, we told a lot of personal stories—one of the ongoing themes was how we all cast our family members in certain roles. How do those roles change over time? How do they stay the same?”

Diving into the music of the Colombia-set story proved exciting. “A lot of the rhythms are familiar to me, but the instrumentation and orchestration are different and often unique to Colombia,” says Miranda.

In Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Encanto,” Antonio may be shy, but his huge heart is his biggest asset—rivalled only by his newly received magical ability to communicate with animals. © 2021 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

The Team

JARED BUSH (Director/Screenplay by/Story by) helms Walt Disney Animation Studios’ 60th feature film, Encanto, directing alongside Byron Howard. He was previously co-director and screenwriter on the Oscar-winning feature Zootopia as well as screenwriter for Moana and executive producer on Raya and the Last Dragon. He was also co-creator, executive producer and writer for Disney XD’s animated comedy-adventure series Penn Zero: Part-Time Hero. Bush, who began his career as a script reader for Oscar-winning director Robert Zemeckis, added producing to his repertoire, serving as executive story editor and co-producer of Will Smith’s series All of Us. Bush has developed original television series for Revolution Studios, Fox and NBC, and feature film projects for New Line Cinema, Columbia/Tristar and 20th Century Fox. A Harvard University graduate with a degree in English and American literature, Bush is an avid traveller who has visited 40 countries on six continents, and an accomplished trombone player who has played with several jazz bands over the years.

BYRON HOWARD (Director/Story by) helms Encanto, directing alongside Jared Bush. Having started his Walt Disney Animation Studios career over 25 years ago, Howard has directed the Oscar-winning feature Zootopia (with Rich Moore), the worldwide hit feature Tangled (with Nathan Greno), the short Tangled Ever After and Bolt (with Chris Williams). Howard was also an executive producer on “Frozen 2. As a child, Howard’s favourite Disney animated films included Robin Hood, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. He was also inspired by artists like Chuck Jones, Ronald Searle
and Bill Watterson, and he would fill reams of computer paper with characters of his own creation. His love of art and animation continued through high school and college. Howard earned a Bachelor of Arts degree at The Evergreen State College in Washington, where he pursued his interest in filmmaking by studying cinematography, art and literature. Howard loves the collaborative medium of animation because it combines art, cinematography, writing, design, acting and music with a family of supportive and talented artists and crew. Team members inspire each other to achieve something greater than they could alone. In addition to his lifelong passion for animation and a career spanning the last 25 years, Howard’s interests include art, music, theatre, travel and a deep love for animals.

CHARISE CASTRO SMITH (Co-Director/Screenplay by/Story by), is a writer, producer, co-director and actor originally from Miami, Fla. A graduate of Brown University, Castro Smith earned her MFA from the Yale School of Drama. Her playwrighting credits include “El Huracán,” which played at the Yale Repertory Theatre in Fall 2018 as part of The Sol Project—an initiative launched in 2016 that works in partnership with leading theatres around the country to amplify the voices of Latinx playwrights. Her television credits include The Haunting of Hill House, Netflix’s supernatural horror
drama series; Fox’s The Exorcist” a series adaptation of the classic movie; and Sweetbitter, a Starz series based on the novel by Stephanie Danler.

LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA (Original Songs by/Original Songs Produced by/Story by) is an award-winning songwriter, actor and director. He helms Netflix’s upcoming musical drama film “tick, tick…BOOM!” Miranda also wrote and produced eight original songs Encanto. Hamilton—with book, music and lyrics by Miranda, in addition to him originating the title role—was awarded the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in Drama. A film of the 2015 Broadway company of Hamilton was released on Disney+ in 2020. Miranda’s In the Heights (originally conceived by Miranda, with a book by Quiara Alegría Hudes and direction by Thomas Kail) received four 2008 Tony Awards, with Miranda receiving a Tony for best score. The film adaptation of In the Heights, with songs by Miranda and screenplay by Quiara Alegría Hudes, was released by Warner Bros. in June 2021. Miranda is a recipient of the MacArthur Foundation Award, the National Arts Club Medal of Honor, the ASCAP Foundation’s Richard Rodgers New Horizons Award and the Portrait of a Nation Prize. He has received stars on both the Puerto Rico Walk of Fame and the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Miranda, and The Miranda Family, are active supporters of initiatives that increase people of colour’s representation throughout the arts and government, assure access to women’s reproductive health, and promote resilience in Puerto Rico

© 2021 Disney. All Rights Reserved.