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Encanto Preview: Meet Disney’s New Animated Familia Madrigal

Walt Disney Animation Studios will release their new animated film, Encanto, on November 24, 2021. Vital Thrills got a chance to attend an early press day for the film and learned all about Disney Animation’s 60th feature. We’ve also got the new trailer and poster, which you can both view by scrolling down!

The movie tells the tale of an extraordinary family, the Madrigals, who live hidden in the mountains of Colombia, in a magical house, in a vibrant town, in a wondrous, charmed place called an Encanto. The magic of the Encanto has blessed every child in the family with a unique gift from super strength to the power to heal – every child except one, Mirabel.

Encanto Preview: Meet Disney's New Animated Familia Madrigal

But when she discovers that the magic surrounding the Encanto is in danger, Mirabel decides that she, the only ordinary Madrigal, might just be her exceptional family’s last hope. We spoke to director Byron Howard, director/writer Jared Bush, producer Yvett Merino, writer Charise Castro Smith, and producer and Disney Animation President Clark Spencer for the event.

Spencer brought up the new songs written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and what the film means for the studio. “I have to tell you that at this moment, more than any other moment in my 30 years at Disney Animation, the creative storytelling, the visual storytelling, the subtlety and the nuance of animation, the technical innovation, and the drive to push the boundaries of what an animated film can be are at a level that I have never seen before.”

Encanto Preview

Spencer said that this was done during lockdown, and the work came from over 1,000 homes. “It is a testament to the love of animation that is within everyone working at Disney Animation today.” It certainly is, with five years, eight internal screenings, and, as Howard told us, “multitudes, multitudes of script drafts.”

We got to see a few clips, including several of the songs. The Madrigal family have been given magical gifts, but Mirabel, a 15-year-old girl, never got one.

Encanto Preview

The rest of the town is magic-less as well, but Mirabel feels left out of her magical family, including a woman who can lift anything, one who is perfect and trails flowers everywhere, another who can hear anything, and a mysterious uncle with a gift that could change everything.

We also got to see test animation, character renderings, and a look at the ceremony that each child goes through to receive their gifts. There were videos of real dancers creating the moves in some of the scenes and how those were translated into animation.

Encanto Preview

One thing Howard stressed during the Encanto event is the connection the creators have to their families, which is a big part of what makes the story work. He also spoke about the setting, saying, “Lin, Jared, and I talked about Latin America. And the more we talked about Latin America, especially the importance of family within the region, we wanted to learn about a place often described as the crossroads of Latin America, Columbia.”

The group, along with Miranda’s father, Luis, headed out to Colombia. Bush called it “…a melting pot of Latin culture and music and dance and art and food, with some of the greatest biodiversity on the planet, also the home of magical realism.”  

Howard said, “On that incredible trip, we visited Bogota, Cartegena, small towns like Barichara, Salenta-Salento, and Palenque, and stunning natural landmarks like the Cocora Valley. One of the coolest things we were able to experience down in Columbia were areas like that secret forest that we were talking about.

“Areas of heightened spirituality, places of magic that some people call Encantos, hence the name of our movie. These are all over Latin America, usually in areas of natural wonder. Our friends in Columbia told us that magic happens in these places and always has. But not European magic, not wizards and wands, but magic tied to emotion and part of a tradition called magical realism.”

Though writer Castro Smith was there, Howard gave a quote from her on why she was drawn to this type of storytelling. He explained, “Here’s what she said, ‘The language of magical realism just makes visceral sense to me. It’s woven into my imaginative DNA. Growing up in Miami, a place where fact often felt stranger than fiction, the tall tale version of a story often felt like the best way to capture the reality of a given event, still does.'”

She added, “We got to work with magical realism… and when we infused magical into our story of family and thought about those Encantos, everything came alive because we realized that if our family – the family in our story lived in one of these magical Encantos, maybe the children born there would be kind of special – but special in a way that is a nod to family dynamics that we can all relate to.

“So there’s a strong, dependable child who’s the rock of the family. There’s the perfect golden child whose happiness blossoms. There’s a quiet kid who’s not so comfortable talking to people, so he talks to animals. And there’s the worry wart who can see the future but only sees the bad things.

“So as we thought about that, we had a big breakthrough because we realized that the family’s house didn’t just have to be a house because, in Encanto, the house itself could have powers too. Bush added, “Like the ocean in Moana, the house of Encanto is a character – but opposed to Moana, our house is a little bit more opinionated and flawed like a family.

It’s a house that plays favorites, a house that messes with people. This is Casa Madrigal, the magical home to the Madrigal family, and it’s located within the Encanto, along with a small neighboring town. It’s alive with magic and its own unique personality.”

Each room has its own personality, tied to each member that lives there. Howard explains that there are three generations of Madrigals there, as well as “…Mirabel, our main character, and she is the only ordinary child in a family blessed with these amazing magical powers. After spending her entire life trying to measure up to the rest of the Madrigals, Mirabel finds that she is the only one who has the power to save her beloved family and their magical home.

Bush spoke about casting their lead. “Voicing our protagonist Mirabel is Brooklyn Nine-Nine star Stephanie Beatriz, who we are so lucky to have as part of this movie, who elevated it so much. I think, probably more than any other movie we’ve ever done, Mirabel really carries this story.

“It is about her, and she goes on this journey, and she has to be funny and human and empathetic, deeply emotional and quirky, and I think literally unlike anything we’ve ever put on screen before. And Stephanie not only nailed all of that, she brought her own personality to the character, ad-libbed a ton of lines, and really elevated both this character and our movie considerably.”

Bush explained some of the other characters we’ll meet. “Mirabel has two older sisters – Isabela was gifted with the magical power that makes plants grow and flowers bloom. She’s Mirabel’s oldest sister. Her effortless grace and poise have made her the golden child of the family. But Isabela is much more than she seems, and secretly, she feels trapped in her role as the perfect Madrigal.

“The other sister, strong, hardworking, and extraordinarily athletic, is Luisa, the rock of the family whose magical gift is super strength, but Mirabel’s middle sister is also sensitive, secretly bursting with oversized emotions that conflict with her tough persona.”

Castro Smith said, “Playing these two incredible characters are Jessica Darrow as Luisa and Diane Guerrero as Isabela. So Jessica is a singular talent with whom we fell in love immediately. She has an incredible sense of humor, warmth, and personality and has just made Luisa a really unforgettable character. We feel so lucky to have Diane as Isabela. She’s so brilliantly captured Isabela’s sweetness, her sisterly cattiness… and the complexity of a young woman feeling confined by a family role that doesn’t quite fit her.

“Mirabel, Isabela, and Luisa’s parents are Agustin and Julieta. Warm and nurturing, Julieta has the magical power to heal through food, and this makes her the Madrigal family caretaker. Agustin is a kind and slightly awkward fish out of water, having married into the Madrigal family.” Angie Cepeda plays Julieta and Wilmer Valderrama plays Augustin.

Howard continued, “Pepa and Bruno are Julieta’s triplet sister and brother and Mirabel’s aunt and uncle. Estranged from the Madrigal family, Mirabel’s uncle Bruno was gifted with visions of the future; he’s incredible. But when his family came to believe that Bruno’s visions were causing the misfortune he foresaw, he mysteriously disappeared from Casa Madrigal.”

They joked that they “don’t talk about Bruno,” which is one of the songs in the film. They didn’t address it, but a recent film, Luca, had the line, “Silencio Bruno,” so perhaps there is an issue with people named Bruno over at Disney Animation?

Moving on… Bush said, “Mirabel’s Tia Pepa, Aunt Pepa, was gifted with the ability to control the weather with her emotions, which is not always great because she’s super emotional and overly dramatic at all times. So that creates some complications. Pepa is married to Felix, the life of the party, and together they have three children, cousins to Mirabel.

“We have the fabulous Carolina Gaitan playing Pepa and the wonderful Mauro Castillo playing Felix. Carolina was a delight to work with, and her performance as the mercurial and loveable Tia Pepa is just a real standout in the movie. And Mauro Castillo is a brilliant actor as well as a musician.”

Castro Smith said, “Felix and Pepa’s children are Dolores, Camilo, and Antonio. Dolores has been gifted with the magical ability of extraordinary hearing, so she often hears things that she probably shouldn’t. Camilo was gifted with the ability to transform his appearance at will.

“He’s a shape-shifter. And then, last but certainly not least, there is sweet Antonio, who receives his magical gift, which is communicating with animals. He is very warm-hearted and shy, and he’s Mirabel’s favorite cousin. And the two are very close.”

Howard said, “Delores is played by an amazing singer, Adassa, Rhenzy Felix plays Camilo… Delores has amazing hearing, and she knows all the gossip around town. She’s also a fascinating character.

“Lin was fascinated with Delores’ character and actually made room in some of the songs for her. She does an amazing job and brings a great, quirky, fun energy to the role. And Rhenzy has that wonderful sort of this idea of a teenager who doesn’t quite know who he is – somewhere of a feeder kid, I would say.

“We have the adorable Ravi-Cabot Conyers playing Antonio. And as Charise mentioned before, his relationship with Mirabel is so key to what makes you love Mirabel. They trust each other. They’ve grown up together, and they both have a lot of understanding.”

Abuela Alma is the matriarch of the family, who received the gift of magic after her husband Pedro was lost, sacrificing himself for his family. Castro Smith explained, “Abuela Alma’s steely strength and single-minded determination to protect her family hasn’t wavered in the 50 years since she lost her husband.

“In our film, Abuela Alma is played by Maria Cecilia Botero, and our whole team just feels incredibly fortunate to have worked with Maria Cecilia in this role because not only did she bring to life one of the most complex and nuanced characters in the entire film, she was also just a joy to work with and crafted a truly iconic performance.”

So, we’re talking about Bruno now. Don’t tell anyone! Bush said, “The one and only John Leguizamo plays Bruno, and we don’t wanna throw out too many spoilers today. But I will say that his performance is one of my favorites in the movie. This character is mysterious and interesting, and there’s a lot to uncover about him as we move to the story.

“But I will say it’s John Leguizamo at his absolute best, what he was able to bring to Bruno. Another character had lots of ad-libs and off-the-page material that he was able to bring to him, and maybe a little bit of singing. But we’ll figure that out down the road.”