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
Of course all the majesty, magic and musical legacy of timeless Disney animation will be on full display in ENCANTO. But the company’s 60th animated feature delivers more than meets the eye. This musical adventure centered on a tight-knit family and their magical casita blends color, character and the Colombian culture. It speaks directly to audiences’ heads and hearts.
The Story and Setting
The film’s story germinated from the questions “How well do we know our family and how well does our family know us?” Director Jared Bush says, “We wanted to ask a central question within our film, a question no doubt we have all asked ourselves at one time or another. Perspective and understanding – that is the foundation we started to build this movie on.” As the story was coming together, the team also wanted to think about the setting. Director Byron Howard says, “Lin, Jared, and I talked about Latin America. The more we talked about Latin America, especially the importance of family within the region, we wanted to learn about a place often described as the cross roads of Latin America: Colombia.” And to get this completely right, they met with former ZOOTOPIA collaborators, Juan Rendon and Natalie Osma. when they were working for the networks fusion. Bush adds, “They kept talking about their home country, Colombia, as a melting pot of Latin culture and music and dance and art and food, with some of the greatest biodiversity on the planet, also the home to magical realism.”
La Casa Madrigal
The home (much like the film that houses it) is full of wonder and whimsy. Imagined as a character unto itself, the Madrigal home is located within the Encanto, along with a small neighboring town. Bush says, “It’s alive with magic and its own unique personality. It’s a house that plays favorites, a house that messes with people. Opinionated and flawed like a family.” Co-director Charise Castro Smith adds, “Each of the rooms in this house is a fantastical realm that represents the personality and magical powers of the Madrigal who lives there.” Howard continues, “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 and crack.”
The Madrigal Family Tree
ENCANTO follows three generations of Madrigals, starting with the family’s patriarch and matriarch, Pedro and Alma (voiced by Maria Cecilia Botero). It was thanks to Pedro’s self-sacrifice that the then displaced family was given a candle with a magical flame that never goes out and a place of wonder, an “Encanto,” to shelter their children Pepa (Carolina Gaitan), whose emotions control the weather, Bruno (John Leguizamo), who’s estranged and can see the future, and Julieta (Angie Cepeda), who can heal heal folks with food. As they got older, the home welcomed Pepa’s peppy husband Felix (Mauro Castillo), their daughter Dolores (Adassa), who has super human hearing, shape-shifting son Camilo (Rhenzy Feliz) and Antonio (Ravi Cabot-Conyers), who can talk to animals. It also house Julieta’s husband Agustin (Wilmer Valderrama) and their daughters flower child Isabela (Diane Guerrero), super strong Luisa (Jessica Darrow), and Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz). Yet, while every direct descendant has a special power that’s given to them once they age out of the home’s nursery, Mirabel was left out as her own unique door never appeared. Bush says, “Mirabel really carries this story. It’s about her. She goes on this journey [where] she has to be funny and human and empathetic, deeply emotional and quirky – and I think literally unlike anything we’ve ever put on screen before.”
The Aesthetic Details
The house is, according to ENCANTO’s Associate Production Designer Lorelay Bové, “inspired by traditional homes in Colombia, places like Barichara, Cartegena and Salento.” She continued, “Earlier on, we talked to Colombian architects and they gave us great information about the construction of these houses. One thing that we learned through the consultants was, in the coffee region, there’s a lot of haciendas that have an indoor/ outdoor feel. So we really wanted to get that in our casita, as well as the courtyard, which has like a beautiful view to all the magical doors in our house.” Young Antonio’s room is modeled after the Chocó Rainforest in the Pacific coast of Colombia and they hired a botanist to consultant on the flora that would decorate that room’s realm.
As far as the characters go, Bové says, “Visually, our goal was to organize the families through a distant color palette so that the audience would be able to understand who is who and what divides the families in two. We created this earlier on in the project to develop the colors of the family. We had Julieta and Agustin’s side of the family –Mirabel’s side of the family – into kind of like jewel tones, cooler tones. And Pepa and Felix’s side of the family had more of the warm color palette. Abuela Alma, her costume color palette has a lot of weight – even her character design. Everything feels very constricted more than the other characters and has more of a formal traditional 1900s look.”
Iconography is also relied upon to reflect these characters. “Old embroidery and lace are designed to have a flame, candles, which is a big part of our film, as well as butterflies which symbolizes the moment of the Encanto being created and also a symbol to Colombia.” Julieta, whose warmth and nurturing is her power, wears a soothing turquoise color and her clothes are embroidered with the design of the herbs she carries in her pockets. Mirabel’s skirt is embroidered with iconography representing each of her family.
Germaine Franco (COCO) – the first Latina invited to join the music branch of the Motion Picture Academy – composed ENCANTO’s score. Emmy, Grammy, Tony, and Pulitzer Prize winning Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote 8 original songs for the movie, arranged and produced by Mike Elizondo, who’s worked with artists like 50 Cent, Eminem, Carrie Underwood and Fiona Apple. Each song has as different sound, uniquely inspired emotional rhythm, and narrative goal to tell us about the inner workings of each character and their predicaments. The creatives hired choreographer Jamal Sims (RUPAUL’S DRAG RACE) to get proper dance movements down during the “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” sequence, which shows the family members singing to Mirabel about why Bruno has been shunned from the Madrigals. Animation Reference Consultant Kai Martinez worked closely with Sims to make this musical number a true stand-out. She says, “We had to not only dance, but we had to create these acting moments and personify these characters.” For example, with Dolores, “the music sounded very quiet and she can hear everything. So we imagined that if you can hear everything, you might be a little quieter. You might [have] a little bit more of a cat-like movement.”
ENCANTO opens in theaters on November 24.