Previewing the Magic of Disney’s Encanto
9/29/2021 • 3 min read
This fall, Disney releases its 60th (!) animated feature, ENCANTO. Following in the footsteps of this spring’s wonderful RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON, ENCANTO takes us to a mythical land steeped in very real cultural authenticity, with headstrong characters existing alongside ancient magic and delightful, nonhuman sidekicks. We were recently treated to around 30 minutes of footage from the movie and are here to report back on what we saw – behold, the sights and sounds of ENCANTO!
It’s a Very South American Adventure
Just as RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON’s Southeast Asian setting was important to its characters and worldbuilding, so too is ENCANTO’s South American locale. The movie is set in Colombia, and Colombian roots run through the design of the movie. They're in the embroidery in the main character’s clothes, the lush jungle surrounding the village where the movie takes place, the animals that inhabit that jungle, and the food and decorations. Everything feels very specific and true to the real world, while still being inherently magical. (More on that in a minute.) It doesn’t shy away from the real-life history of Colombia, either, in some surprisingly frank ways.
Also, as the 60th animated feature from the studio, as the company nears its hundredth year, ENCANTO connects to the past in an interesting way. In 1941, Walt Disney and a small band of animators, including legends like Frank Thomas and Mary Blair, traveled to South America on a goodwill tour funded by the United States government, which was nervous about the potential Axis influence on the continent. The trip was hugely influential for the animation studio, which would release two "package films" based on the excursion – SALUDOS AMIGOS and THE THREE CABALLEROS. And while none of the film segments from the two movies reference Colombia directly, Walt and his merry band of artists did visit Colombia. It’s very easy to feel, from the footage of ENCANTO that we saw, that the exploration and cultural embrace that informed those earlier Disney classics also made its way into this new Disney feature.
There's a Ton of Characters
Another thing that sets ENCANTO apart is the fact that there are so many characters. Directors Jared Bush and Byron Howard said that there are 14 main characters in the movie, which is notable compared to the handful of speaking roles handed out in recent Disney animated movies like FROZEN or MOANA. ENCANTO centers around the Madrigal family, which guards an enchanted flame and is gifted with exciting, singular magical powers.
Our hero is Mirabel Madrigal (Stephanie Beatriz), who was born without access to any power. She’s surrounded by a colorful cast of characters – Isabela (Dianne Guerrero) is her "perfect" older sister who can manifest flowers and other vegetation; Luisa (Jessica Darrow) is another older sister who has incredible strength; Pepa (Carolina Gaitán) is Mirabel’s aunt who can control the weather; Mirabel’s cousin Dolores (Adassa) has super strong hearing; and so on.
When the movie begins, Mirabel is mentoring her young cousin Antonio (Ravi-Cabot Conyers), who is about to discover his powers. The sequence where he gets his powers is, ahem, enchanting. (He can talk to animals, and the animals are insanely cute.) What’s more, each room of the Madrigal house, which benefits each of its superpowered members, has its own magical properties, so Antonio's "room" is a giant rain forest with a treehouse. Of course, there’s also a family member that the Madrigals don’t ever acknowledge, one that could spell certain doom for the magical inhabitants of the house. But we don’t talk about Bruno. Not yet, at least.
The Musical Numbers Are Divine
After making ZOOTOPIA, director Byron Howard said that he really wanted to make another musical. (He had directed TANGLED with Nathan Greno half a decade before.) To handle songwriting duties, Howard and Bush turned to one man: Lin-Manuel Miranda. At this point, Miranda is practically a Disney legend. He wrote songs for MOANA, appeared in MARY POPPINS RETURNS, wrote a cantina ditty for STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS, and cameoed in STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER. He's currently working on new songs for the live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID, which is scheduled to hit screens in the summer of 2023.
In the 30 minutes of ENCANTO that we saw, we heard three original Lin-Manuel tunes, all of which were certifiable bangers. In some ways, it feels like he is more comfortable writing for the animated movie format, having written and starred in his own animated project for Sony in between MOANA and today. (If you listen to the deluxe edition of the MOANA soundtrack, you'll hear many gems that were left out of the movie.) Each song has a different cadence and style, befitting the character that is singing the song. One, for example, sung by Luisa, talks about her strength and also the pressure that comes with being the strongest. It’s brilliant and built around a “tic-tic-tic” refrain that could only come from Miranda. On screen, the musical numbers are over the top. Each pushes the artistry and surrealism of the medium in ways that are reminiscent of "Elephants on Parade" from DUMBO and "Friends on the Other Side" from THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG. They feel genuinely bold, and we can't wait to see more.
ENCANTO opens in theaters on November 24!
All images courtesy of Walt Disney Animation.