‘Encanto’ Directors Talk Representation and Working with Lin-Manuel Miranda

Walt Disney Animation Studios gave a group of selected journalists their first look at their upcoming musical, Encanto. The film centers on the Madrigals, a magical family who live in an enchanted casita in the mountains of Colombia. At the age of five, the home gifts a Madrigal child a unique magical power, who then uses it to help the family and neighboring town. Everyone except, Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz). However, she when she discovers that the magic is in danger, she sets off on a journey to save it from being extinguished.

Encanto features eight new songs from Lin-Manuel Miranda, who worked with Disney for Moana. These songs will serve as a lyrical storytelling device for the audience on this journey that will be full of drama but also be very fun.  

The Nerds of Color had the chance to speak to directors Jared Bush, Byron Howard, and Charise Castro-Smith about the importance of behind-the-scenes representation to Encanto, and working with Miranda again to create music with such cultural specificity.

The Nerds of Color: Charise, you spoke about the magic realism and how it is uniquely in tune with Latin culture. What’s it like to highlight the importance of that on screen and bring that authenticity from yourself and other artists involved from behind the scenes?

Charise Castro-Smith: I mean, I feel incredibly privileged, incredibly humbled, and incredibly grateful to have been able to work on this film and the way that I did, it, certainly don’t take it for granted. And, you know, I really just want to shine some light on all the incredible members of our team also who have made this movie so special, because, you know, Lin-Manuel Miranda, his songs have just like, elevated this movie, through the stratosphere, our entire cast of voice actors, who have lent their talents to this film are all just really incredible and special.

I give a lot of credit to Disney Animation for how much how much they are working to sort of bring underrepresented voices, both to the screen in ways that we can see and also behind the screen, you know. There’s a there’s Josie Trinidad and Carlos Lopez Estrada are two of the directors that the that are also working on incredible films here. So I think it’s a it’s about time that things have changed. And I’m happy that they are.

ENCANTO – Songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda pictured in Walt Disney Animation Studios reference photo from Colombia research trip. Photo by Jared Bush. © 2021 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Jared, this isn’t the first time that you worked with Lin-Manuel Miranda. Having already established a working relationship with him on Moana, what was it like to work on Encanto’s script while also incorporating his songs so that they would fit organically into the story?

Jared Bush: It’s a huge joy, you know, to be able to hear new songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda before anyone else gets to hear him in the world and hold them. It’s really exciting, I’d say for this movie. We had this incredible collaboration. All three of us and Lin together really crafted the story for years together. And so it’s really this amazing circular back and forth process where Charise and I would be working on characters and backstories. And then trying to find places that we thought maybe or maybe not a song would work and we talked to Lin about it and he’d think about it and come back with an amazing piece of music that we would then fold back in. I think Louise’s song “Surface Pressure” is a really good example of that, where he wrote this awesome reggaeton song for Louisa and really grounded her as a character and we loved it so much and incorporated that into Louisa for the rest of the story and even sort of rippled it back through the script.

But that happened with with pretty much every single character and then we go back and forth. And Lin hears something else that where he would see something else that the storyboard others had created, and that would give him a new idea and he changed lyrics and stuff. It’s this constant chicken and egg process as you’re moving through those five years where hings are constantly evolving as we get to understand these characters better. But to do it with Lin is obviously a dream come true.


Encanto opens in theaters on November 24, 2021.