Encanto Directors On How They Brought Disney Magic To Colombia [Interview]

"Encanto" is the latest feature film from Walt Disney Animation Studios. And it's not just the second movie coming from the legendary studio in 2021 following "Raya and the Last Dragon," but the studio's 60th feature overall. That's no small thing. It's fitting, then, that the movie will be going to some new places for Disney, namely the nation of Colombia, while also maintaining that special Disney magic that is so associated with these movies. Duo Byron Howard and Jared Bush ("Zootopia") teamed up with writer/co-director Charise Castro Smith to bring it to life.

"Encanto" features music from Lin-Manuel Miranda, who previously struck gold with Disney working on "Moana." This new film centers on a Colombian family, the Madrigals. They live in a magical house known as an Encanto that has blessed the children of the family with unique gifts — everything from super-strength to healing power. Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz), however, is the lone child without such a gift. But when she discovers that the magic surrounding her family's magical home is in danger, Mirabel decides that she might be her family's last hope.

I recently had the chance to speak with Howard, Bush, and Smith in honor of the movie's upcoming release. We discussed how Smith came into the picture, what makes Lin-Manuel Miranda so special, and how two white guys ultimately decided to tell a story heavily rooted in Colombian culture. Check out our full conversation below.

"No one was more surprised than I to become the co-director on this film."

It is an honor to be talking to you folks today.

Jared Bush: It's great to talk to you, Ryan.

Charise Castro Smith: Hi, Ryan.

Byron Howard: Hey, Ryan.

Charise, if I may start with you, Byron and Jared had worked together, they seem to be at the top of getting this going along with Lin-Manuel Miranda. Then you come along with a great script, and then you end up as a co-director. How did that come about? And how did you find that working relationship with these guys who had worked together a bunch before?

Charise Castro Smith: Honestly, no one was more surprised than I to become the co-director on this film, but I feel extremely grateful to Byron and Jared for bringing me on as a writer. As soon as they pitched me the idea of a girl who lived in a magical family who did not have a gift, I was like, I get that girl. I relate to her. I think I can write that. So, as Jared and I were working on the script over a couple of screenings, they were just generous enough and willing to take a chance on me and invited me on as a co-director. It's been an incredible experience. I've learned so much and it's just been such a wild, incredible ride. My background was working mostly in TV and in theater. So also just learning about the whole animation process has just been mind-blowing, and I feel incredibly fortunate.

Byron Howard: This movie would not be what it is without Cherise. I think Jared and I read dozens and dozens of scripts from dozens of writers. We came into the room together with one script in hand, it was one of Cherise's plays and we're like, "It's got to be her! I hope she says yes." We're very lucky that she did.

"Every time we jump into a new film, it's a chance for me to learn."

Based on everything I've seen, I think it looks great. But, this is a movie very strictly about Colombia, very strictly about Colombian culture. I'm a white guy. You guys are two white guys. How did you guys come to discover, or how did you feel that you were the right guys to tell this specific story?

Jared Bush: It's a really good question.

Byron Howard: Early on, I think we knew that, in teaming up with Lin-[Manuel Miranda], Lin was very keen to do a movie set in Latin America, but we had to look for, what do we have in common? And this idea of extended families, the universality of everyone has a family, everyone likely does not understand their family, and likely their family does not completely understand them. Having something universal that we can all sink our teeth into, no matter where we come from was really critical. For me, it's amazing because every time we jump into a new film, it's a chance for me to learn. I think this entire four-year process has been an incredible learning [process] for myself. Starting in the Colombian research trip with Lin, seeing it grow, Cherise joining the team, the team rallying around this central idea, and staying true to that true north, has made an incredible difference.

Lin isn't here today, unfortunately, but you guys got to work very closely with him, obviously. I guess the best way to describe him from afar is a generational talent. People like that don't come along that often. Having worked with him closely, what gives him that X factor? How can you describe what it is about him that makes him, him?

Jared Bush: Okay. I can take this one. I know the answer to this question, and you'd probably say the same thing [Byron], which is that, it's his dad. His dad won't leave him alone and let him rest. We got to go on our research trip to Colombia with Lin and his dad. And to see the work ethic of his dad. Lin always says that he is the least-hardest worker in their family, and spending time with his dad, I go, "that might actually be true."

I'd say that Lin has this amazing gift to be able to sum up experiences and character in a way that is innovative and exciting and always changing over the course of the story. I think that he challenges himself constantly. I think that when you hear his music, you assume that it just flows and it's done, but I think he really lets himself go out of his comfort zone all the time. That's something that is really inspirational to all of us as we were sort of going through this process, is he is learning with us, and he is challenging himself. He wants to try new things constantly and not just stay in the pocket. So definitely it was a real treat to be able to work with him, to collaborate with him throughout the process.

"It's definitely a super, super fun world to play in."

Just real quick off-topic here, because I got both of you here. "Zootopia 2." Where is it? Come on.

Jared Bush: [Laughs] You're breaking up Ryan. You're breaking up. You go, Byron.

Byron Howard: No, you take it.

Jared Bush: Alright. Well, you know that right now on Disney+, "Zootopia+" is in the works. Trent Correy and Josie Trinidad are working on a very exciting series that we've already seen a lot of. I'm really, really excited for people to see the continuing stories of "Zootopia." You know, these movies are a lot of work. Byron and I've been super focused on just getting "Encanto" done. But yeah, it's definitely a super, super fun world to play in. And I can't wait for people to see what Trent and Josie have cooked up.

We've just a minute left, any quick, final thoughts from the three of you? Anything you want to throw out there that I didn't get the chance to touch on?

Byron Howard: Just so proud of it. It's a great film to see around the holidays. We're so excited for people to get together and see this film with their families. It's such an amazing boost of joy when I think we really need it. Amazing songs, incredible choreography, characters. A whole family of people where I think you can find yourself. I think like who's who in your family versus the Madrigals. I think that's a great game to play this holiday season.

Charise Castro Smith: Yeah, I can't wait for that BuzzFeed quiz.

Jared Bush: Oh! Yeah, and to see it in theaters. That's huge! We're so excited that it's going to go exclusively to theaters. This movie needs to be seen on a big screen for certain. It's really exciting. And then a Christmas present, everyone gets to watch it at home [on Disney+]. We're really excited about it.

Disney's "Encanto" hits theaters on November 24.