Since its release in November last year, the magical world of Encanto has been captivating the hearts of folks around the world! This is in no short part due to the effort Disney put into crafting such a charming depiction of Colombia through its music, architecture, food, and most of all, family.
Encanto’s directors, Byron Howard and Jared Bush, have a number of esteemed Disney projects under their belts, including Zootopia, Moana, and Tangled. Needless to say, Encanto was always in good hands from the get go, but these two went above and beyond to ensure that the project was treated with the utmost care and respect when it comes to the roots of the film, Colombia! Join us on this magical journey as we explore precisely what has made this movie such a profound tear-jerker beloved across the world.
In an interview with Condé Nast Traveller, the directors reminisce about visiting a number of the beautiful locations across Colombia in 2018 before the pandemic hit. They hit up many of the big cities, such as Bogotá and Cartagena, as well as smaller towns, like San basilio de palenque and Barichara, in order to garner inspiration for the setting of Encanto.
The look of the titular town was influenced a great deal by these locations, especially as the directors aimed to capture a somewhat ‘timeless and inviting’ feel upheld by a mixture of the vibrant communities and beautiful architecture that can be found across the nation. The colour pallets and house design of the Madrigal household were heavily inspired by the works of Simón Vélez, an architect from Bogotá, who showed a number of colourfully designed period family houses built around centralised courtyards, making them perfect for a family centric musical.
The most striking source of inspiration for the village of Encanto, however, was the Valle de Cocora. One look at the valley and it’s no surprise why the directors were so taken aback by this place in particular, with it’s 200 ft tall wax trees adorning every hill as far as the eye can see and extremely temperamental climate, it seems like a place teeming with magic.
The music of Encanto is instrumental to what gives the movie so much heart. It is of huge cultural importance to Colombia, being one of the most widely celebrated and beloved forms of creative expression. From Carnivals to Salsa shows, the people of Colombia love to get down, which is wonderfully expressed through the musical's opening number, The Family Madrigal.
Knowing how important nailing the musical aspect would be to capturing the magic of Colombia, Byron Howard and Jared Bush got Lin-Manuel Miranda on the project as the lead composer and brought him along for their two-week stint across the country. The brilliant mind behind Hamilton took inspiration from a number of different motifs found across Latin music, notably with the use of the Tiple throughout the movie, to help craft a soundtrack that successfully weaves the high and lows of the lives of the Madrigals with the residents of Encanto and the history of the magic that is present throughout the film.
This attention to detail has proven to resonate with audiences around the world with many of the songs receiving impressive critical acclaim. We Don’t Talk About Bruno has achieved #1 on the global billboard charts, an unprecedented feat for an ensemble cast musical number. The song might have even been up for an Oscar if Disney could have predicted how beloved the song would become and submitted it instead of their choice which has received an Oscar nomination Dos Oruguitas (Two Little Caterpillars).
The musical number, which plays at the emotional climax of the film, works as a metaphor for the Abuelo and Abuela and the Madrigals growing from caterpillars to Butterflies as life pulls them away from each other. This becomes especially meaningful as Colombia itself has the largest biodiversity of Butterfly species of any country in the world with over 3,600 different members of the genus. The yellow butterflies specifically, which are seen throughout the film and play a big part in the visual metaphor of this pivotal moment, were an homage to venerable Colombian author Gabriel García Marquéz and his work One hundred years of solitude wherein the yellow butterflies symbolise hope in the face of adversity.
Colombia’s history is incredibly rich, as is evident by the diverse culture and how expressive it is that can be found across the country. In making Encanto, Disney had to ensure that their research on the topic would be both respectful and accurate with trampling any of the more delicate topics involved. This is where Alejandra Esponisa became an important figure in bringing Encanto to life. Esponisa was working as a tour guide in Barichara when she one day found herself signing an NDA as to not share any information that she may have overheard while giving a number of Disney employees, including Byron Howard and Jared Bush, a tour of the town.
This fateful encounter led to Esponisa having conversations with the directors during the tour about how to approach the subject of Colombia and its people. Being both a literary graduate and the daughter of a historian, few are as qualified to give the Disney employees such a well-informed perspective as she is.
She emphasised the importance of highlighting the cultural stigma of lacking self-worth and an over-reliance on ‘looking for foreign cultural models to define ourselves’, a trap Disney could easily fall into holding many of the most globally recognised IP’s in the world. This theme ends up being portrayed through the movie’s protagonist, Mirabel, as she finds herself feeling inferior in the face of her fantastical family. Esponisa also made it a point to have the creators recognise the importance of the river as the source of the magic in the film, as water was sacred to the indigenous people. These people also tend to feel invisible or not recognised as properly as their brethren, Esponisa explained, something represented by Bruno in the film as he lives in the walls of Casa Madrigal, out of sight of the rest of the family.
All of these invaluable insights resulted in Disney hiring Esponisa on as a cultural consultant for the project in order to shape the film into a love letter to Colombia and its culture. Her contributions to the direction the story ended up forming that Esponisa herself is referenced throughout the movie itself both by having one of the child residents of Encanto named after her and also having appearance serving as somewhat of a base for Mirabel herself! Despite the physical similarities, Esponisa finds herself identifying more so with Mirabel’s spirit and attitude as well as taking pride in her cultural contributions in shaping Encanto into the magical work it is now!