Encanto follows three generations of family, of which everyone but Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz) has magical powers. Despite being ordinary and spending her entire life trying to measure up to the rest of the Madrigals, Mirabel discovers that the magic that defines her family’s legacy is in danger and that she may be the only one who can save it and them.
As diverse as the Madrigal family members are in their magical powers or lack thereof, the art department wanted to organize the families so that the audience could identify and distinguish them. Co-writer and co-director Charise Castro-Smith spoke about some of the challenges of tracking 13 characters in 90 minutes. “It took a lot of iterations, a lot of screenings, a lot of work, a lot of feedback from our incredible team in the studio,” she said. “But what was most surprising and one of the most amazing things to me, having this be my first time working in this medium, was just how much the animators were able to accomplish character-wise through just simple movement and storytelling.”
The magic in Encanto isn’t the one conjured by wizards using wands. Instead, this kind of magic is tied to emotion and part of Latin American culture and family tradition. Because Smith has deep ties to “magical realism,” it would help make the magic feel more authentic to the story.
Spencer Clark, a producer on Encanto, echoed those sentiments. According to him, there are 13 different characters, who have 13 different hairstyles and costume designs, and need 13 different story arcs. He points out that previous films had only two or three characters going off on an adventure because it was more contained and easier for the audience to track. But the challenge for “Encanto was to have these 13 characters that need to be around because they can’t just disappear. “It was, from the beginning, critical that we were going to tell a story about three generations of the family, that all the characters be seen, be followed, and have an arc to make it work or it wasn’t worth embarking on,” he said.
And to help make the visual tracking easier, art teams and production designers were given the task of giving Mirabel and the Madrigal family costume designs to complement their powers and personalities.
“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 who which member is from each side of the family,” production designer Lorelay Bove said. So, for instance, Mirabel’s family will have cooler tones to their clothing, while her Aunt Pepa and Uncle Felix will have warmer color palettes.
Because the art team got a very clear direction of who Mirabel was, it helped them inform the design and costuming. So for Encanto, it will have a hand-made feel to all of the costumes. Even the casita, or cottage, will feel like it was made by hand. They also worked closely with consultants and anthropologists from the cultural story trust to develop beautiful traditional costumes from early 20th century Colombia.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine star Stephanie Beatriz plays Mirabel, the empathic teenager Madrigal family. Beatriz brought a complex and exciting nuance to the character that would help ground the Encanto through her imperfections and humanity. And her ad-libbing only gave Mirabel more personality and made her even funnier.
Since the beginning, the idea was for Mirabel to have embroidery in her costume. Despite some of its imperfections, the designs were meant to resemble something that you would find in a teenager’s art book or drawings in a diary. Costume lead designer Neysa Bove used her research to design the beautiful iconography embroidered into her skirt and the traditional blouse.
Diane Guerrero voices Isabella Madrigal, the family’s golden child whose magical powers make plants grow and flowers bloom. She also happens to be Mirabel’s oldest sister. Her costuming is less folkloric when compared to Mirabel and Luisa. Isabella has a Christmas orchid, the national flower of Colombia, pinned to her hair. Much of her costume designs and the room designs were inspired by the flower festivals of Colombia, specifically the one in Medellín. So expect to see dahlias, hydrangeas, orchids, daisies, amongst other flowers from Columbia.
Isabella always is the center of attention, even though she isn’t the film’s main character. So the art department team took inspiration from Colombian beauty pageants and mirrored her movements from the way she walks and waves at people tho beauty pageant contestants.
Luisa Madrigal (Jessica Darrow), Mirabel’s older sister, is considered the rock of the family. She is physically the strongest carrying the heaviest weights, including the emotional ones. She is also described as sensitive and secretly bursting with oversized emotions that conflict with her tough persona. Her designs have an athletic build to them. And she has a traditional Colombian blouse inspired by the Coffee region.
Mirabel’s parents are Agustín and Julieta. Julieta (Angie Cepeda) is described as warm and nurturing. As the town doctor, she uses her magical powers to heal through food. Then there is the accident-prone Augustin. He may be a slightly awkward fish out of water who married into the Madrigal family, but he is the perfect husband to Julieta, who has to heal his injuries. “It is a perfect situation that he married a healer, and so they have a great set of comic dynamics,” Howard said.
The team decided to use turquoise for Julieta’s color palette because of its calming and healing effects. And because she can heal through foods, her pockets contain healing herbs that grow in Colombia. “She has a beautiful embroidery of those herbs as well as healing iconography,” Bove said.
For Agustín, the fish out of water member of the family, his clothing was inspired by people from Bogota. Bove mentioned his designs might be a bit more conservative in comparison to the other members of the family. And because he loves his daughters so much, audiences will be able to pinpoint aspects of their personalities within his clothes.
Peppa (Carolina Gaitán) and Bruno are Julieta’s other two children and Mirabel’s aunt and uncle. Though the estranged Bruno was gifted with visions of the future, the family believed that Bruno’s visions were causing the misfortune. As such, he mysteriously disappeared from Casa Madrigal.
The mercurial Peppa can control the weather through her emotions. But because she is super overly dramatic and super emotional all the time, it tends to lead to unpredictable weather patterns. However, she is balanced out by her husband Felix (Mauro Castillo) and described as the life of the party. Their three children, Dolores, Camilo, and Antonio are all Mirabel’s magically gifted cousins.
American Urban Reggaetón singer-songwriter Adassa lends her voice to Dolores. Gifted with the magical ability of extraordinary hearing, Dolores often hears things that she shouldn’t, which gets her into a lot of trouble. But she is always trying to be helpful. Camilo (Rhenzy Feliz) is a shapeshifter. It’s a power that suits him well because he is a teenager trying to figure out what he wants to be. “He’s trying a lot of hats, a lot of different faces, kind of a theater kid at heart,” Howard said. “But the guy is gonna make you laugh.” And finally, the sweet but very shy Antonio (Ravi-Cabot Conyers) has the magical gift of communicating with animals.
But the Madrigal family would not be here if it weren’t for the sacrifice of Abuelo Pedro. Though she may have been alone, Abuela Alma’s unwavering faith would create the magical encanto where the Madrigals call home. As the family matriarch, Abuela Alma’s steely strength and single-minded determination to protect her family haven’t wavered in 50 years since she lost her husband. Abuela Alma is voiced by María Cecilia Botero.
Because Abuela Alma is a widow who’s been through so much, her costume color palette and character design have a lot of weight and feel more constrained than other characters. “All of the embroidery and lace iconography are flames from candles,” Bove said. Butterflies are also a part of the costuming as they symbolize the moment the Encanto was created. They also happen to be the symbol of Colombia.
As for Bruno, he is voiced by John Leguizamo. While the directors could not offer too much information about his character, the mysterious of Bruno is the most delicious, according to Bush.
But the Madrigals and the townspeople in Encanto aren’t the only characters whose life burst with song and dance. Casa Madrigal may be home to the Madrigal family. But casita is also alive and just as magical as they are.
The main casita in Encanto was inspired by the Colombian towns of Barachara and Salento. The Colombian architects who were a part of Cultural Story Trust also provided their input to help bring more authenticity to the Encanto story.
“They gave us a lot of great information about the construction of these homes,” Bove said. “For example, in the coffee region, there’s a lot of homes with an indoor and outdoor feel because of the temperature of the weather. So, we added this in our castle design, as well as a beautiful courtyard where you can see all the magical doors.”
Each of these rooms fits and uniquely designed the Madrigal’s magical powers. For example, Antonio’s room is inspired by the choco rain forest on Colombia’s Pacific coast. To help create this environment, Bove and Pacheo spoke to botanists about the native plants growing in the region, like ferns, philodendron, and all sorts of plants. “We really wanted to reflect the immense biodiversity of Colombia,” Bove said.
Juan Rendon and Natalie Ozma, who had worked with Jared Bush and Bryon Howard on the Zootopia documentary, also provided input on the design of the casita. The kitchen serves as the heart of Casa Madrigal, feels more distinctly Colombian. During the early production phases, the house had a warm and bright color palette to complement the plants and textures. The moving tiles give the home a magical personality. There is also a fun practicality to it as the tiles move objects or turn stairs into a slide. It’s a very helpful house.
Eventually, the animation and design team moved towards a neutral palette by adding more white and more stonework to the interior work. Props like corn grinders, and traditional clay pottery called chamba, were also added to the home.
Since the kitchen is considered the heart of the house, the colors have a very warm and very calming effect. That idea comes alive when candles are lit at night. These acted as a complement to the cooler color palettes of some of the characters like Mirabel and Julieta.
And the house proved to be an incredibly challenging element to Encanto because not only is it moving and breathing, but it needed to be alive in a way that felt real. Anywhere you are in the house, there is always something moving. The clacking tiles carrying over a cup of coffee to you or help put your shoes on. So the bigger questions were how does a house feel and how does she express that to key characters.
Encanto opens in theaters on November 24, 2021.