‘Encanto’ is Disney’s first Latino musical. How the filmmakers got Colombia right

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Everyone born in the Madrigal family is imaginary and magical. Well, almost everyone.

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Directed by Jared Bush and Byron Howard, Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Encanto, which topped the Thanksgiving weekend box office in its theatrical special release, follows Mirabelle — the only member of her family who was given magical abilities on her fifth birthday. was not given. – As she understands she doesn’t need any special gift to be extraordinary.

It is no easy lesson to learn when one is surrounded by sisters and cousins ​​who can use their unique gifts to help enrich their village. But just as Mirabelle is not defined by her lack of magic, she also discovers that these powers also bring members of her family into their struggles.

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Members of the Madrigal family and their gifts are built on familiar ideals. Mirabelle’s older sister Luisa is strong, so her gift is super strength that allows her to lift everything from donkeys to buildings. Her eldest sister Isabella is a golden baby, so flowers bloom every step of the way. And his foster mother, Juliet, cooks food that can cure real ailments.

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“I hope everyone can see some member of their family reflect on it,” said co-director Charis Castro Smith, who co-wrote Encanto with Bush. “We really tried to build it from the foundation of these family fanatics who are instantly relatable. And then, because the film is about perspective and a deeper look, [it’s about] the past is running [the archetypes] And given that our family members are more complicated than these masks we put on. ,

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The “Encanto” Madrigal family lives in a magical house.
(disney)

The desire to tell a story about different perspectives within a family was one of the elements that inspired the filmmakers to set “Encanto” in Colombia, a South American country with deep indigenous, European and African cultural roots.

After working together on 2016’s “Zootopia,” Howard and Bush knew they wanted their next project together to be a musical. Bush previously worked with Lin-Manuel Miranda in “Moana” (2016). And from their initial interactions, the filmmakers knew they shared a desire to tell the story of an extended family.

Howard said, “Lynn was very keen to do certain Latin American music.” “But none of us knew where it should be set, because Latin America is huge. … We needed to find the right place and all the roads kept pointing to Colombia, which is a part of Latin American culture. It’s an incredible intersection of traditions, ethnicity, food and dance. The families themselves are incredibly diverse and it’s been embraced in a way that we absolutely love.”

Colombia also has a rich tradition of magical realism – where magic is just one aspect of everyday reality – and it provided filmmakers with a way to enhance the familiar family dynamics they had not yet seen in Disney movies with magic. Wanted to search through.

The powers of the madrigals “are a natural extension of these archetypes we know well, told in the tradition that it is associated with the country in which [the story is] set,” Bush said. It “allowed us to use a type of magic at Disney that we’ve never done before — magic born of emotion and personality and character. It was really exciting to play in that realm.”

Another push towards Colombia came through Howard and Bush’s relationship with filmmakers Juan Rendon and Natalie Osma, who had worked on the “Zootopia” documentary “Imagining Zootopia”.

A teenage girl holding a basket of party supplies surrounded by children
Mirabelle (Stephanie Beatriz) is the only Madrigal who hasn’t got a magical ability.
(disney)

“He told us about this vague idea that he had in the beginning and then he asked us to sit down with … [them] And talk about Latin American culture,” Osma said. The conversation started off roughly, but “it started to get more specific day by day. We are Colombians, so, of course, we were always giving the example of Colombia.”

“It really felt like all the pieces started falling together,” Howard said. So “you go, ‘This is what this movie is saying it needs to be,’ and you totally embrace it.”

For “Encanto,” embracing Colombia involves conducting appropriate research and engaging consultants with varied expertise in the process. Rendon and Osma, who accompanied Howard, Bush and Miranda for parts of their research trip to Columbia, served as the film’s primary advisors.

“We went with him to Bogota and Cartagena,” said Rendon, where he introduced the filmmakers to people “who could help him understand the folly and magic of Colombia. … We wanted to highlight some aspects of the country.” were what we felt was important to be portrayed in the film.”

This was meant to facilitate dialogue with architects, who could speak to the traditional materials used in Colombian architecture; cooks, to celebrate the meal; and artisan groups, who could talk about the cultural significance of specific traditional crafts. The filmmakers also met with botanists and visited the Gabriel García Márquez Foundation to talk about Colombian biodiversity.

boy riding a jaguar surrounded by other animals
Antonio (Ravi Cabot-Conniers), the youngest of the “Encanto” Madrigal clan, can communicate with animals.
(disney)

In addition to an education on the country’s rich history and culture, during this visit the filmmakers were exposed to the day-to-day life of Colombian life so that they could “feel the warmth of the people” and see everyday details such as “they how were you dressed [and] That’s how they feel to the music,” Osma said.

From the villagers playing guadua (a kind of bamboo) to tejo (cornhole-like game) within the walls of the magical casita of Madrigal, “some of the things we talked about and saw during that trip made themselves Work done. aspects of the film,” said Randon.

Edna Liliana Valencia, a journalist and TV news anchor who focuses on Afro-Colombian issues, said that “people will see a lot of important symbols. [Colombia’s] Black culture in film.”

Valencia, who consulted on the different styles of clothing worn by the villagers to represent the black letters of “encanto” as well as the clothing worn in the different regions of Colombia, incorporated specific equipment such as Point out details. Marimba de Chonta as an example of those recognizable symbols. In addition to seeing dark characters with natural hair textures, she cites the inclusion of the rainforest of the Choco region in the room of Mirabelle’s cousin, Antonio, as one of the most meaningful aspects to her.

Colombia has one of the largest Afro-descendant populations in Latin America and includes many different cultural regions, so “I really appreciate Walt Disney [Animation] It took an enormous effort to represent the diversity of the Colombian population,” said Valencia. “It’s very important to me.”

Animation of a girl and a toucan
Mirabelle in a scene from “Encanto”.
(disney)

According to Howard, the only way to try to represent a vast country like Colombia was to “look” at the 90-minute feature.[ing] for any occasion we can represent diversity and ethnicity in the family, to represent different [regions in] Dress… [and by] Thinking about the country’s difficult history – the resilience and strength that families built up with – and really wanting to do right with that. ,

But “Encanto” isn’t just about being “right on paper.”

“There’s a difference between being intellectually correct and being emotionally correct,” Bush said. “It’s something we talked about a lot with all our friends we met in Colombia… perception Rights. And it was something that we were really lucky to have such great partners to help us with. ,

The research and learning process for “Encanto” continued throughout the entire period of production. And it’s never too late to make adjustments if changes need to be made. In addition to official advisors, filmmakers also turned to Latinx employees of studios affiliated with the Familia Group for feedback.

“It was this group that got together every now and then and we talked about our experiences and shared a lot of different cultural touchstones,” Castro Smith said. “This group saw the film and gave us really honest feedback every time we showed it. I think their feedback was invaluable in making this film.”

Making “Encanto” was “really a five-year learning process,” Howard said. “We all wanted our Colombian friends to be proud of this film and feel that they really had a true voice in bringing it to life.”

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