Encanto Directors Jared Bush, Bryon Howard, and Charise Castro Smith on Bringing Disney’s Newest Animated Wonder to Life
9/29/2021 • 4 min read
ENCANTO is Disney’s 60th animated feature, a magical journey to a mythological version of Colombia where a family gifted with special powers inhabits an anthropomorphic house full of wonder and mystery. At the center of the family is Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz), who, unlike her siblings and cousins, doesn’t have any magical abilities. Disney recently showed off 30 minutes of the movie, after which we were thrilled to chat with directors Jared Bush and Byron Howard and co-director Charise Castro Smith about all things ENCANTO.
ENCANTO is special for several reasons, but chief among them is the fact that it’s the first Disney animated feature set in Latin America since SALUDOS AMIGOS and THE THREE CABALLEROS. Those came out way back in the 1940s. (Those two efforts were inspired by a goodwill tour Walt Disney and a small group of artists did at the start of World War II.)
According to Byron Howard, they didn’t know which country would provide the setting when production began. "There’s the fact that there are so many untold stories in Latin America. That was one of the daunting things when we first started this was – where to go? There are so many cultures, so many stories," Howard admitted. "I must say I didn’t know much about Colombia when we started this movie but when we started looking at this, everything pointed to Colombia."
To really dig into the world of ENCANTO, the production team, including songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda (joined by his father), journeyed to Colombia to soak in the culture. Byron said the trip was made "in the tradition of learning about each other and expanding what these movies could do."
House of Mystery
The movie has an important nonhuman character: the home in which the Madrigal family lives. The house is alive – boards move an alarm clock, stairs become a slide for two younger characters trying to get someplace they shouldn’t, and rooms open up into vast expanses, as for a young family member who communes with animals and whose room is a jungle treehouse. (The objects inside the house, it has to be made clear, are not alive in the style of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. The movie goes to great lengths to establish this difference.)
Bush said the reasons for making the house alive were pretty clear. "Early on, we wanted to tell this story of this giant extended family and we wanted to stay with them. We didn’t want to go on a journey, we didn’t want to go on a quest,” Bush said, immediately differentiating this movie from recent Disney animated fare like MOANA or FROZEN 2. "We wanted to be with them. We had these characters who had these amazing magical gifts and we thought, Shouldn’t the house have a gift? Shouldn’t the house be alive? If they’re going to spend that much time in a place it should be really exciting and fun.' And it is really exciting and fun. (What we would give to have those slide stairs in our home.)
The filmmakers drew on their own homes for additional inspiration. "Our homes all have personalities and quirks and sounds that make it feel like they are alive. Knowing that through animation we could literally bring it to life," Bush explained. "I think early on Charise said, ‘This house should be like the family dog.’ The character of the house is really spectacular. The way the animators brought it to life, I’ve never seen anything like it. It does so many wonderful things." We can’t wait to see even more of the house when we watch the rest of ENCANTO.
Experiencing Encanto in a Theater
Another thing that sets ENCANTO apart is that you can only experience it in a theater, which is a very good thing. While the movie was produced almost entirely from home, the filmmakers are ready for the world to embrace ENCANTO on the biggest screen possible. "We were making this movie from home, so a lot of us were watching this on our home video screens and laptops. And a couple of months ago there came a time when we could go to the studio and see it in the theater," Howard said. "The glory of seeing it so huge… It’s one of the most beautiful, vibrant films full of light and life. The scope of that begs to be seen on the big screen." Castro Smith agreed: "It’s a very cinematic movie."
There are some very practical things that you should consider too, according to Bush. "You can’t play a movie as loud as this movie needs to be played at home. You’ll get in trouble with your neighbors," Bush joked. But he said that the communal aspect of watching the film together actually ties in nicely to the film itself. "Family is a shared experience. We want this to be experienced with an audience," Bush said.
He got to experience this communal effect firsthand, after not having a real audience at all. "All of our screenings were virtual. And then we had an audience preview a couple of months ago and got to sit in a theater with audiences for the first time, which we’d never done with this movie. It was really exciting," Bush said. "Because it’s such a huge family, many people are going to find themselves in these characters and these relatable moments. To actually hear that throughout the crowd and watch that with them, you can’t get anywhere else but in a theater." Anybody else getting really excited?
ENCANTO opens on November 24!
All images courtesy of Walt Disney Animation.