Walt Disney Animation Studio may be on its 97th year and 60th film but there seem to be no signs of it slowing down. Its 60th outing, Encanto, comes out later this year and we at Murphy’s Multiverse got to see 30-minutes of footage from the film. What we saw wasn’t long but was enough to convince us that this movie is worth anticipating.
As the setup for the movie goes, The Madrigals are a family that’s been blessed by an Encanto, bestowing their line with powers unique to each family member. The family lives in a fantastical home and uses their abilities to keep their town prosperous. However, a mysterious dark force seems to be after the Madrigals, putting their house and powers in jeopardy. It all falls on Mirabel, the one family member without powers, to solve this sinister mystery haunting her family.
In the press junket for Encanto, co-director Charise Castro Smith talked about how each power a Madrigal family member has corresponded to family dynamics we’re all familiar with.
It’s special in a way that is a nod to family dynamics that we can all relate to. So there’s a strong, dependable child who’s the rock of the family. There’s the perfect golden child whose happiness blossoms. There’s a quiet kid who’s not so comfortable talking to people, so he talks to animals. And there’s the worrywart who can see the future, but only sees the bad things. So as we thought about that, we had a big breakthrough, because we realized that the family’s house didn’t have to be just a house, because in an Encanto the house itself could have powers too.
On the foreground of Encanto is a very Nancy Drew-esque tone that draws you in. The beats of Mirabel trying to piece together information about the family’s past and her investigations within the fantastical realms in their house evoke that of a young adult detective story, with the film’s fantastical titular subject matter serving as the background. The curious nature of Mirabel, on top of her status as the normie in the family, already makes her the quintessential underdog detective. Director Jared Bush had this to say about her:
Mirabel really carries this story. It is about her,and she goes on this journey. She’s funny and human and empathetic, deeply emotional and quirky, and I think literally unlike anything we’ve ever put on screen before. And Stephanie [Beatriz] not only nailed all of that, she brought her own personality to the character, ad libbed a ton of lines, and really elevated both this character and our movie considerably.
The Madrigal family home is a character in and of itself, in many ways serving as the crux of the family’s identity. Director Byron Howard spoke about the importance of the family’s mystical place of refuge not only as a storytelling device but also as a thematic anchor.
So we played with the idea of the physical as a literal representation of the family and their emotional connections. If the family’s happy, the house is healthy. If the family’s being playful, the house may be playful. But if the family is going through struggles, the house cracks Byron Howard
To respectfully remain true and genuine towards the cultural material they’re adapting, the Columbian Cultural Trust was formed. Composed of experts in Columbian music, anthropology, culture, architecture, and botany, this group was crucial in the development of Encanto. According to Jared Bush:
They’ve been part of the film, literally since the beginning, probably even before the beginning, reviewing early scripts, participating in every screening, and meeting with us weekly. That’s a lot of meetings to help ensure that the creation design look and feel of our world is on point. We are enormously indebted to them and all of the experts who formed our Columbian Cultural Trust.
Walt Disney Animation president Clark Spencer praised the work of directors Jared Bush and Byron Howard, who helmed the hit Zootopia a few years back, and their newfound collaborative partner Charise Castro Smith during the junket, saying:
One of the things I love so much, Byron and Jared, and then when Charise joined, was this creative world that the audience is going to fall in love with. And we had so many of those components. During my nearly 20 years of producing, I never had the chance to produce a Disney musical. So when the opportunity presented itself to work with Byron Howard, Jared Bush, and Lin-Manuel Miranda on Encanto, I jumped at the chance. And while it might seem crazy to run a studio and to continue to produce a film at the same time, I just couldn’t step away from a project I loved so deeply.