Disney's 'Encanto' is about how 'complicated and crazy' large families can be

Encanto' is the latest animated feature from the Walt Disney Animation studios, its 60th one, to be precise. – Photos: Walt Disney Company Malaysia

How well do you know your own family members? You may think you know your siblings and parents very well, after all you spend so much time with them, but sometimes, even they have surprises you may not be aware of.

The idea that sometimes we may not understand our own family members as well as we think we do forms one of the pillars of Encanto, the latest computer-animated feature from the Walt Disney Animation studios, its 60th one, to be precise.

Set in Colombia, Encanto revolves around the members of the Madrigal family, who live in a magical house and have special powers bestowed upon them by a magical candle that was gifted to family matriarch Abuela Alma Madrigal (voiced by María Cecilia Botero).

There are 12 members of the family in total including the super strong Luisa (Jessica Darrow), flower-controlling Isabela (Diane Guerrero), Dolores (Adassa), who has super hearing, Julieta (Angie Cepeda), whose cooking has healing powers, and so on.

However, the star of the movie happens to be the only one without powers – Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz), and the story follows her as she discovers cracks in the magic and family home and sets out to find the source of the disturbance, while trying to find a way to fit in within her own family.

ALSO READ: 'Encanto' review: Disney's latest is a magical musical wonder

Mirabel, voiced by Stephanie Beatriz, is the only member of the Madrigal family without any powers.Mirabel, voiced by Stephanie Beatriz, is the only member of the Madrigal family without any powers.

Making Encanto was a five year journey for directors Byron Howard and Jared Bush, co-director Charise Castro Smith and acclaimed songwriter and composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, and during a recent virtual roundtable interview with Asian journalists, Howard and Bush explained how the movie came about.

"We started five years ago and we were just coming off Moana with Lin-Manuel. We wanted to do a musical set in Latin America, and we needed to find what we had in common, which turned out to be our large extended families," Bush said.

"That was something we all had in common, and so we wanted to tell a story about this big extended family," Howard added. "But it was not just about how good families can be, but also how complicated and crazy they can be!"

Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz, left) and Bruno (John Leguizamo) in a scene from Encanto.Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz, left) and Bruno (John Leguizamo) in a scene from Encanto.

However, as they started to research their own families, they realised that there were so many things they did not know about their own families

"I’d look at my siblings and think I’d know them, but actually, the way they think about life is different, the way they were raised by my parents was different. My mom is not just my mom - she was a whole person with her own life before I even came along," said Bush.

Jared Bush at the premiere of 'Encanto' on Nov 3 in Los Angeles. – APJared Bush at the premiere of 'Encanto' on Nov 3 in Los Angeles. – AP"My sister was an amazing athlete in high school and college. But she actually wanted to be an artist. So, similar to Luisa, she had to really be that athletic member of the family, but she wanted to be something different and didn’t know how to do it. That was a huge influence on me in terms of the story and in figuring out a character like Luisa, who is feeling like she is stuck in one role in the family but wants to be something different.

"We don’t always see our families that clearly, and our families don’t always see us that clearly either. So it’s important for us to try and see that there is more to our family members and conversely, for us to be vulnerable enough to show ourselves to our family," Bush added.

You really need to get more human friends, Mirabel.You really need to get more human friends, Mirabel.

Musical magic

It also helps that you have a musician and composer as highly acclaimed as Lin-Manuel Miranda to help you with the film. Encanto is not the first film Howard and Bush is working with Miranda, having collaborated on Moana in 2016.

"We partnered with Lin five years ago when the film was just a spark of an idea, and it’s very weird for your songwriter to come on that early," Howard recalled. "But it was amazing, because then, Jared, myself and Charice could partner with Lin and really dive into what we wanted the movie to be from the very beginning."

According to them, Miranda was very excited about the idea of a musical about a large multi-generational family, which happens to be the most family members a Disney movie has ever had.

US actor and composer Lin-Manuel Miranda at the premiere of "Having 12 people in one house was an incredible challenge for Lin. He was so excited musically over how he could weave that together for the film. Throughout the years of research, going to Colombia, talking to families there... he was pushing his boundaries and learning about Colombian music and finding ways to marry different styles of different family members," said Howard.

"(Take) Luisa for example, who is very strong and comically great, but also has this great vulnerability that shows up in her song. The music and his lyrics would help define and bring a character into focus, then it is handed back to Jared and Charice to evolve her further.

"That back and forth was happening throughout – he was a great part of the collaboration. He really is part of the team and wants to get results. The music he produced is some of his best work."

Magic of animation

Working in animation also allowed them to do things with this movie that could not have been done in live-action.

"In this movie, we're leaning into the traditions of magic realism. Magic is tied to emotion and needs and wants, and we're feeling that through Mirabel’s eyes. She’s a 15 year old, and her world is somewhat heightened," Bush explained.

"When you're a teenager everything is like ‘it’s the best day of my life!’ and 'it's the worst day of my life!’ and visually we wanted the movie to feel like that. So everything in this movie is cranked up very intentionally – when things are great it is super vibrant, and when things are bad it goes very dark.

It was also important to juggle between appealing to adults and children at the same time, and Bush said that one of the goals was to make a movie that families would to be able to go see it together and have a good time.

"Whenever we think of making a movie for younger audiences, we think 'fun and comedy'. Here, we have a movie that is tons of fun because you have 12 weirdos in this house and they all have their moment to shine," he said.

"We try to make sure the movie is never too heavy. There are moments that have levity and fun, so that the moments that are more dramatic will land as well. It’s important that when you move into the story you’re getting these different flavours. We’re kind of like big kids too – we want to be entertained as well when we watch these movies!"

Encanto is now screening in cinemas nationwide.

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