Disney Animation’s newest feature, “Encanto,” centers on the extended Madrigal family, who possess magical powers and live in an enchanted house. Only teenager Mirabel, voiced by “In the Heights” actor Stephanie Beatriz, lacks the gift of incantation.
The movie, which debuts in theaters Nov. 24, is rooted in Colombian culture, so filmmakers Byron Howard and Jared Bush traveled to Cartagena and Bogotá to study the details that would capture the country’s essence. Howard says, “We visited Bogotá, Cartagena and small towns like Barichara, Salento and Palenque and stunning natural landmarks like the Cocora Valley, and spent some time with Colombian families.”
Howard and Bush also learned about secret forests and places of magic called ‘encantos’ which helped the storytellers including Charise Castro Smith bring the Latin experience to the feature and help firmly root the story in magical realism. Says Howard, “These are all over Latin America, usually in areas of natural wonder. Our friends in Colombia told us that magic happens in these places and always has. But not European magic, not wizards and wands, but magic tied to emotion and part of a tradition called magical realism.”
Associate production designer Lorelay Bove’s touches were further inspired by Colombian homes. “We added some props that would be found in a cocina Colombiana — like a molinillo, which is a hot chocolate stirrer; a corn grinder; and traditional clay pottery called La Chamba.”
Bove and the art team wanted to ensure the home oozed energy and vibrancy. “We looked at different ways that the house could be moving and thought, ‘What if the stairs move out like a shelf?’” she says.
“The one thing the directors said was that there needed to be truth to the materials,” Bove adds. “They didn’t want to bend wood or metal; they still wanted to make it believable.” The spaces within the house reflected the inhabitants and their powers. That meant the non-magical Mirabel’s room was rather plain.
In comparison, her cousin Antonio, voiced by Ravi Cabot-Conyers, can communicate with animals. Bove looked at the coastline of Colombia and consulted with botanists to reflect natural scenery in the decor of his chamber, filling it with greenery and indigenous animals, including a jaguar and some toucans and capybaras.
For each character, Bove incorporated elements of Colombian folklore as well as hints into their personalities.
For instance, middle daughter Luisa (Jessica Darrow), who has superhuman strength, has images of dumbbells embroidered on her traditional skirt. The designer also used particular hues and patterns to differentiate each of the costumes. “We wanted to make sure to organize the families through distinct color palettes, to make sure that our audiences can track who’s who and which member is from each side of the family. Mirabel’s family has cooler tones to their clothing, while Aunt Pepa [Carolina Gaitan] and Uncle Felix [Mauro Castillo] have warmer color palettes.”
Additionally, the studio’s 60th animated feature includes eight original songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda who also ensured the film’s music was steeped in the music of the country.