Disney’s new film Encanto is a milestone for a number of reasons – not only is it the House of Mouse’s 60th official animated feature, but it is also the first from the studio set in Latin America.
Drawing inspiration from the works of magical realist writers such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the events of the film unfold in a magical village in Colombia, following the Madrigal family, most of whom are bestowed with special gifts such as super strength or the ability to see the future.
And co-directors Byron Howard and Jared Bush recently explained to RadioTimes.com that although “it took a while” to decide exactly which country to set the film in, eventually “every road led to Colombia”.
“I mean, we had conversations when we teamed up with Lin [Manuel Miranda],” explained Howard. “Lin was very, very excited to do a Latin American Disney animated film but none of us, him included, knew where it should be set.
“And so we looked at a lot of countries in South and Central America, but we kept coming back to Colombia, because we’ve said it’s this crossroads of everything – culture, music, food, ethnicity, which was great. And talking about this big extended family idea that existed, we thought – wouldn’t it be great to show that great mix in this family?”
Howard further revealed how the creative team behind the project embarked on a research trip to Colombia and soon realised that “this job is way bigger than we thought it was”.
“Because Colombia is like many countries mashed into one, which is what makes that place so glorious. And further, this idea that magical realism, this literary tradition that originated in Colombia with Gabriel Garcia Marquez, spoke so organically to this idea of family and linking these magic abilities to the roles in the family.
“So it was win-win with Colombia from the get-go, plus, we had very close friends who were Colombian who were guiding us along the way, that actually went with us on this research trip to personally share their families and actually have their own experiences as Colombians with us. So I think every road led to Colombia in a very great way for this movie. It had to be this country.”
Meanwhile Bush added that the vibrant, exuberant look of the film is very much informed by the team’s own experiences on that research trip.
“Honestly, the moment we set foot in Colombia, it is a beautiful, vibrant place – everywhere you look is amazing colours. It’s the most biodiverse place on the planet, I think there are 110 species of hummingbird alone, it’s something insane like that.
“So it is this visual feast, and I think as soon as we saw that we’d spend time there, we knew we wanted that to be reflected in the movie. On top of that there are these amazing textiles, and I think that our costume designers have created something that has never been seen on screen before.
“It’s the use of fabrics, every member of our family has not only a different outfit, but those outfits are inspired by different regions of Colombia that make sense with the characteristics of those actual characters, and they feel very real and true to life.
“We really wanted it to feel handmade. That was a really important thing – we wanted the kitchen to feel like you can put your hand on those tiles and the wood felt like real wood, that the house felt like a real house.”
Notably, the main voice cast for the film all have Colombian heritage – with Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Stephanie Beatriz, Ice Age’s John Leguizamo and Orange Is the New Black’s Diane Guerrero all in starring roles – and they spoke to RadioTimes.com about what it meant to them to be a part of the project.
“Thrilled, absolutely thrilled, excited, in wonderment,” Beatriz explained when asked of her reaction to being cast. “I mean, I never in a million years could have imagined that Disney’s 60th animated film, which is such a milestone for Disney Animation, would be set in Colombia, and would be about a Colombian family. It’s like, dreams really do come true, here we are!”
“You know, Disney is a cultural icon around the world,” added Leguizamo. “And for Latinx and Colombia, to have… I mean, I feel like we have arrived now – now we can be seen on the map, now people will know where we come from, what we look like.
“I mean, Carlos Vives did some music, and Maluma is in it, and this whole cast here with Stephanie, Diane, and myself and the rest, it’s incredible. I’ve never seen it, and I’m so happy that I’m a part of it.”
“It’s just so wild to see these Disney characters, like, the way they move, dancing to these beats and the sound that I grew up with,” explained Guerrero. “I feel like it was so hard to try to explain to people how this country looked, because it’s very rare that people visit Colombia. And when they do, they’re like, ‘OK, we get it’, but it’s hard to put into words.
“So now to see it on the global stage in this way with a Disney film, I think people are finally going to see like, hey, we come in all shapes and sizes. We come in all shades, we have different hair textures, we have different sounds. And I think people are gonna get it – and kids are gonna learn how to dance, finally!”
Disney’s Encanto will be released in cinemas on Wednesday 24th November in the US and Friday 26th November in the UK. You can sign up to Disney Plus for £7.99 a month or £79.90 for a year now.