REVIEW & INTERVIEW: Meet the directors and writer of Encanto

We speak to the brains behind the magical new Disney film
Mirabel is a 15-year-old who tries to bring joy everywhere she goes, but she has a hard time living up to her magical family. (© 2021 Disney. All Rights Reserved)

Do you believe in magic?

Some of us do, some of us don't. But for the Madrigal family at the centre of the new Disney film Encanto, there is absolutely no question. Not only do they believe in it, they are it. They are a family blessed with a collection of magical powers—strength, beauty and grace, healing, hearing, shapeshifting. Across three generations of the family, the magical gifts are strong and they change from person to person.

Well, every person except Mirabel.

Though kind, loving, and upbeat, Mirabel Madrigal struggles with her lack of a 'gift', as well as how much the rest of her family—and even her town—won't stop reminding her about it! She is the only ordinary member of an extraordinary family, and she is full of questions.

What is her purpose? Why didn't she get a gift? Is she just in the way?

Fascinating family

Meet the magical Madrigals! (© 2021 Disney. All Rights Reserved)

The family is the heart of this new animated musical. Though packed with gorgeous scenes, tons of characters and animals, and a killer set of songs written by Lin Manuel-Miranda, everything comes back to Mirabel's fascinating family and how she fits into it.

At first, she appears to be surrounded by success—her brawny sis Luisa is the town strong-person, while other sister, Isabela, is so graceful and beautiful, she literally has flowers sprouting everywhere she goes. And did her mother really just heal a cut with a freshly baked arepa?? Everyone is so perfect!

But the more Mirabel digs, the more she finds that not every gift is a great as it seems. Cousin Dolores' super hearing leaves her burdened with everyone's secrets. Her aunt Pepa seems to control the weather, but does the weather actually control her? And what about her mysterious uncle Bruno no one talks about, the one who can predict the future? What happened to him?

Understanding the gift

Mirabel and her uncle Bruno both know what it feels like to be on the outs with the Madrigals. (© 2021 Disney. All Rights Reserved)

This film is about understanding what magic really is all about. As everyone else's gifts begin to fade from the Madrigals, Mirabel goes on a quest to understand why she—the normal one—might be the only person who can save her family.

Interview: Charise, Byron, and Jared speak!

Set in Colombia, this film has it all. Dancing, music, animals, powers, but it also has a lot of heart. To find out what went into making such a movie, we spoke to the creative team behind it: directors Byron Howard and Jared Bush (who first worked together on Zootopia), and writer Charise Castro Smith.

Together this trio discusses learning about Colombia, their favourite characters, what 'magical realism' is and how it helped them come up with Encanto!

OWLconnected: What is magical realism and what does it mean to this film?

Charise: For this movie, we borrowed a lot from the tradition of magical realism, which is this amazing literary tradition that was sort of born out of Colombia. Magical realism just means, imagine if your big feelings and big emotions turned so big that they turned into magic! That's kind of the way that we thought about telling this story.

There's a really, really strong sister in this family (Luisa) who is the rock of the family, the one who holds it all together. So in our movie, she's super strong [physically] and she can lift like seven donkeys! So that's how we kind of thought about magical realism working in this movie.

The magic—and emotions—in Encanto definitely feels real! (© 2021 Disney. All Rights Reserved)

OC: Colombia is full of many different cultures, regions, and traditions. How did you borrow from these traditions without making it seem like there was only one way to be Colombian?

Jared: That's a great question. In Columbia today, there's over a hundred languages spoken! There's a huge Indigenous population, there's Afro-Colombians, there's a lot of people descended from Europe. [The cities] all have very distinct personalities. That's something that we found on a research trip that we took [to Colombia] a few years ago!

So even though Encanto takes place with one family in this one town, we wanted to bring in many elements that we saw there. The way we did that is to say that people in the town migrated there from all over different parts of Colombia. And so each family has brought their textiles, their outfits, their food, their music all into this place.

Byron: That's a great part about our jobs as animation directors! Throughout the whole five-year process [of making the movie], we're learning new stuff literally every week. It keeps the job challenging and fresh.

OC: Five years! What is it like working together on projects that take so long to complete?

Byron: Because we do take so long to make each of these features, we really have to talk to each other and say, Is this something we want to invest ourselves in for the next four or five years of our life? And then these families that form around these films are also super important. You really have to love what you're diving into.

Personally for me, learning about Colombia from friends of ours that were Colombian—that absolutely love their country and are so proud of it—was a remarkable, humbling opportunity.

Jared: Yeah, I'd say for me, spending five years with Byron is a lot! (everyone laughs) So I'll definitely think about that in the future as we move towards whatever's next!

Byron: I'm challenging! (laughs)

Charise: This is my first time working in animation and I feel really fortunate to have worked with such an amazing team for this project that has taken so much time and energy! I also feel really fortunate that we focused this movie on something that was so rich to think about over multiple years. We were trying to really see past someone's set role in a family and see who see them for who they really are.

Shy animal lover Antonio is Byron's favourite character. Maybe he'll be yours, too? (© 2021 Disney. All Rights Reserved)

OC: Yes. And Encanto has so many family members to think about! Outside of Mirabel, which member of the family did you each relate to the most?

Charise: I mean, there's so many characters in this movie that I love, but the one that's kind of popping into my head right now is Juileta, who is Mirabel's mom. Her power is the ability to heal people through food. She's the town healer, this really nurturing, wise person. I think that relationship between Julieta and Mirabel is really special and will be something that people can really root for.

Jared: I don't know why, but I love Camilo, who's a shapeshifter and sort of a clown who hides himself in jokes. Certainly, the idea of a shape-shifter is also super cool to my three sons, but it also says something about that character. Why do you have to be something different than yourself? He is a very unique character that I really love.

Byron: When I was a young kid, I was super shy like Antonio. I wouldn't even pick up the phone because I didn't want to talk to people on the phone! I was afraid of it. So to see someone like Antonio get a gift where he can communicate with animals? That brings him out of the shell. It's a very liberating moment for him. I think a lot of shy kids will plug into Antonio and hopefully see themselves as well.

So, are you excited to see Encanto this weekend? We are! It's open in theatres now and you can catch the trailer for this film below.

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