Earlier this month, the cast and creators of Walt Disney Animation Studio’s latest feature, Encanto, got together for a virtual press conference to discuss the inspirations for and the making of the film. Here are eleven things we learned from that gathering.
- Colombia was the inspiration.
Before a single note or word was written, co-directors Byron Howard and Jared Bush took a trip to Colombia, and brought songwriter Lin Manuel Miranda along. Encanto is set in Colombia, so the creators wanted the film to feel as authentic as possible. In fact, the character of Pepa was written as a reflection of the country. Carolina Gaitán, who voices Pepa and was born in Villavicencio, Colombia, said, “I really love that about Pepa. She is emotional, and she allows herself to be emotional. She’s always raining or thundering, and Colombia is like that.” Howard hopes their love for the country comes through in the film: “Colombia is a country that deserves to be known for the glory that it is, and [we are grateful] for the warmth that we’ve been shown throughout this whole process, and the partnership, and collaboration.”
- The trip to Colombia was a little too memorable for co-director Byron Howard.
Director Byron Howard got a little too close to Colombia during the trip: “We came back really, really charged up to get as much of Colombia into this film as we possibly could. It was incredible. And I almost fell off a cliff.” No details were provided, but he lived to tell the tale.
- The creators needed a song to keep track of everyone
The opening song, “Dos Oruguitas,” was written before there was even a second act. The music was driven by the characters themselves, which then made the characters stronger. It was also a way to keep track of everyone, according to Miranda: “I put points on the board and was like, ‘All right, here’s our opening number. Here’s how everyone’s related, and what they can do.’ I wrote that opening number before we had a second act or a third act to our film, because we needed it for ourselves [LAUGH] to keep track of everybody. And these names may change and the powers may change, but we know the audience is going to need a guide, and Mirabel’s going to be our guide, so let’s write that song early.”
- It’s all about the butterflies.
The literal translation of Dos Oruguitas is “two little caterpillars.” Miranda wanted to use some of the visuals coming out of the animation department, which featured butterflies. “It was a nature metaphor that was already baked into the visuals of the film, but speaks so specifically to what this family is going through, in terms of trying to see each other more fully, and in terms of you have to change to get to the next level and you have to allow yourselves to change.”
- No, really, it’s all about the butterflies.
The butterfly metaphor was also an homage to the style that inspires the film, as confirmed by co-director/co-writer Charise Castro Smith: “We were definitely very inspired by magical realism, by Gabrielle García Márquez and his books One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, and also Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits. The butterflies are absolutely an homage to [García Márquez].” Colombia happens to be home to 20% of the world’s butterflies.
- It’s not harder to rhyme in Spanish.
“Dos Oruguitas” was the first song Miranda ever wrote from beginning to end in Spanish, and he wanted it to feel like a classic folk song. When asked if it’s harder to rhyme in Spanish, Miranda responded, “It’s not harder to rhyme in Spanish. I just have a much more limited vocabulary in Spanish, so I had to really reach for my thesaurus, and go outside my comfort zone to really try to write a song that feels like it’s always existed.”
7. Butterflies are important, but the family dog was key, too.
Castro Smith revealed the inspiration behind the family house, a central location of the film: “As we’re trying to crack the character of this house, what was it going to be, how was it going to act, we really landed on the metaphor of this house behaving like the family dog. It sort of has favorites. It has different relationships with each person in the family. It is a beloved family member by everyone. And it’s really also sort of a metric for how the family is doing, ultimately, throughout the movie. It really is one of the most joyful, cool parts of this movie. And the animators did just an incredible job with it.”
- Making Disney history, in more ways than one.
Most Disney animated films focus on one person, this one focuses on twelve equally. It was a challenge, but the challenge came at the most perfect time for the animation studio, as noted by Clark Spencer, President of Walt Disney Animation Studios and a producer on the film: “Encanto is our 60th animated film, starting with Snow White back in 1937. It’s pretty incredible to think, how do you reflect upon that, right? And so, even though we never said to ourselves, ‘We’ve got to figure out how we have it feel like it has one foot in our history and one foot in the future,’ it does.” He also noted that Encanto is the most complex movie they’ve ever made, visually, which is a testament to how far they’ve come in those sixty years.
9. The actors all relate to their characters.
Each actor noted how much of themselves they put into their characters, especially since most of the actors have a Colombian heritage. John Leguizamo, who was born in Bogatá, Colombia, was emotional seeing characters who looked like him and his family on screen. “A lot of us are Colombianos. And this is what Colombians look like. That’s how my family is in Colombia. You know, everybody can be really mad dark, or light, with straight black hair, or super curly hair. I mean, it looked like my family, it looked like the way I grew up. And to see that, you just feel like, ‘Oh, my god, we’ve arrived.’ You know, we as Latinx people have finally arrived when there’s a Disney movie about you.”
- Stephanie Beatriz, who voices Mirabel, had a little extra help.
Beatriz was eight and a half months pregnant during filming. Miranda confessed, “It was like, ‘We’ve really got to finish this song. Like, we are on a real ticking clock.’” And it was not lost on him the curious coincidence of one of the songs he happened to write for her character: “The joy of Steph’s vocals on that tune, with her child sitting on her lungs while she has to hit these notes–the fact that she is singing ‘Waiting on a Miracle’ while she is literally waiting on a miracle, I will never forget that.”
- A family movie with an important message.
The idea of a story of an extended family with three generations was there from the beginning. Miranda commented on how, even for being a Disney film, Encanto might just be the most on-brand film the studio has ever made: “I think it is the family-est family film that ever familied.” Clark noted that, not only was it important to show families, but to get across a very important message in the film: “We get to go on this incredible journey, and realize at the end of the day that our gifts aren’t related to our worth, that these are separate things, and we all have value, and we all bring something to our family, we bring something to this world, no matter who we are. And I think that’s such a powerful and important message.”