Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
There are 8 new songs from Lin-Manuel Miranda featured in ENCANTO and all of them contain that special sprinkling of Disney magic we all love to hear. These tunes will have you tapping your feet and, quite possibly, make tears fall from your eyes. The studio’s 60th animated musical is centered on a young woman, Mirabel Madrigal (voiced by Stephanie Beatriz) as she attempts to save her home and family from impending destruction threatening to rob them of their magical gifts.
The film opens in the best way possible: with a peppy, light-hearted stomper introducing the audience to the extended Madrigal family, who all live in a beautiful, magical casita in Colombia. At the film’s recent virtual press conference, he mentions he valued being involved in the film’s initial gestation.
“I think that being there from the beginning really allowed for more of a give and take than I’ve ever experienced on an animated film. There were songs where I sort of 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.’
Miranda knew the opening number, “The Family Madrigal,” was going to be the through line establishing who this family is to their tight-knit community, not just in terms of the movie, but also to the creatives shepherding the project.
“I wrote that opening number before we had a second act or a third act to our film, because we needed it for ourselves to keep track of everybody. These names may change and the powers may change, but we know the audience is gonna need a guide, and Mirabel’s gonna be our guide, so let’s write that song early.”
One of the songs that pushed his creative boundaries was “Dos Oruguitas” which is sung in a pivotal moment in the film’s third act entirely in Spanish by music artist Sebastián Yatra. Miranda says the song centered on 2 butterflies was inspired by the visuals the animation department were developing.
“I loved the way they embodied the miracle by having this flame from a candle turn into a cascade of butterflies. In approaching this moment, without spoilers, it’s a moment where we reveal a really kind of personal part of the Madrigal family history, and it didn’t feel right to have a character sing in real time, which is what all the other characters are doing over the course of the movie.”
Screenwriter Charise Castro Smith adds she pulled from literary influences.
“We were definitely very, very inspired by magical realism by Gabrielle Garcia Marquez. I was reading ‘100 Years of Solitude’ and ‘Love in the Time of Cholera,’ and also Isabel Allende, ‘House of Spirits.’ Like a lot of different magical realism, as we were starting to work on this movie. The butterflies are absolutely an homage to him.”
Miranda started thinking of this in terms of its musical language first and then the lyrics appeared.
“I thought, ‘We need a folk song. We need a song that feels like it’s always existed.’ Riffing off of the butterfly imagery, I thought, ‘Well, you know, butterflies have to go through a miracle to even become butterflies.’ I wrote this song about 2 caterpillars who are in love, and are scared of letting each other go, but of course have to let each other go to become their next selves.”
“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.”
This was the first song Miranda wrote in Spanish, but credits Yatra to helping it find its wings.
“Sebastián Yatra takes it to a whole other level with his beautiful vocal performance of the song. It’s not harder to rhyme in Spanish. I just have a much more limited vocab in Spanish. So I had to really reach for my thesaurus, and outside my comfort zone to really try to write a song that feels like it’s always existed. That was the goal and I hope we’ve achieved it.”
You can hear a little of the tender tear-jerker below:
ENCANTO opens in theaters on November 24.