The Filmmakers Behind Disney's Encanto Share How The Film Resonates With Them

"Encanto" is the latest animated feature from Walt Disney Animation Studios. Though it's walking on familiar ground, being a vibrant musical full of charming characters, it is also set to wander into new territory. Specifically, the nation of Colombia is at the heart of this tale from directors Byron Howard, Jared Bush, and Charise Castro Smith. But more than that, the movie is all about family. 

I recently attended a presentation for the film, which features music from Lin-Manuel Miranda ("Hamilton"). When Miranda, Bush, and Smith were looking to collaborate, it came down to the question of what they had in common. What they landed on? Family. As Howard put it:

"Family was what we had in common. No matter the size or the shape, everybody, all of us, we all have a family. And for Lin, Jared, and myself, we all have large extended families." 

The filmmakers expressed a strong desire that everyone who sees this movie should see themselves reflected on screen. Aiding them in that department is the fact that the movie features a very large family at its center, with lots of unique characters. 

In speaking with many of the filmmakers and creatives that helped bring "Encanto" to life, I asked them about the film's family-centric theme and how it resonated with them. Everyone from the Heads of Animation to the President of Walt Disney Animation Studios weighed in. Check out their responses below.

Lorelay Bove - Associate Production Designer

On feeling reflected in the film's color palette: 

"Both the production designer and I love, love color. And we wanted to push that in this film. And I think that we achieved it because it's a very colorful film. There was that opportunity of being a musical, so pushing it even more. Being set in Colombia, so I feel at least my color aesthetic and also the production designer's is throughout this whole film. So that's one thing that I think... That's kind of the connection there."

Kira Lehtomaki - Head of Animation

On connecting to "Encanto" as an only child: 

"I'm an only child. I don't have a large extended family and so I was sort of worried about [that]. Because we bring so much of ourselves to these characters, into the performances that we do. And I was really worried that like, "Oh, well maybe with this big family, I won't find sort of my relation to this and see myself in this." It was almost like the complete opposite. I see myself in almost every character in this film, and I see my family in this film, even though it is a drastically different family from a different culture.
All of those things, and yet there is this beautiful, sort of universality to it, where you realize that we all really are the same. Even though it might not be my relationship with my grandmother, but it might be my relationship with another family member or even a friend who's like family. I feel like Pepa sometimes. I feel like Louisa, or Isa, or Maribel. I feel like I don't have a gift. And it was like, you can see yourself on the screen in each of these moments, and in talking to our consultants we'd show them our work, and you can see them react when they're watching these performances. It's really rewarding because you feel like, 'Okay, I'm touching on that thing that is relatable.' They're recognizing it maybe from their culture and it's feeling real and authentic, but in that specificity, it's also feeling real to me, even though I don't come from that culture."

Renato dos Anjos - Head of Animation

On "Encanto" feeling familiar: 

"I was born and grew up in South America and the diversity of this film, when you watch the crowds of people that are represented in there, it felt so familiar to me, it felt very much genuine. And it's spot-on places that I could point to, people I could point to, friends. Like Maribel reminds me a lot of my sister and, Abuela reminds me of my mom, and just kind of seeing people that look so much like people that I know was a blessing, and also such a unique experience. I haven't had that before and it's been such a pleasure, and I'm very proud of the work. I can't wait for people, in that part of the world, to actually see the film. I think they're going to be emotional and very proud of see themselves on the screen like that. Hopefully, as I am."

Yvett Merino - Producer

On feeling reflected in new ways on screen in "Encanto":

"I think there are so many different characters that I kind of relate to a little bit of each of them. Byron and Jared and Charise did such an amazing job of actually defining each of the characters. So, with the quick interactions that you have with them, you know who they are. I find different parts relatable. And what I love about this film is that I actually see people who look like me and my family on this screen, which is not something I grew up with. Physically, I can see people. I was like, 'Oh, my gosh, that looks like so-and-so or that reminds me of so-and-so.' So, that's exciting for me. But really, all the different characters, even the pepa, the aunt, the emotional one who controls the weather, we all have that. Maybe I'm that person, the emotional one in my family."

Clark Spencer - Producer/Presidnet of Walt Disney Animation Studios

On being an introvert in a public-facing job: 

"I think what's interesting is in the journey of making the film, from the beginning, they knew they wanted these characters to all have a magical gift except one, Mirabel. And that would be the mystery of the story that the audience would go on. The key element is though, if everyone has this gift or this magical power, that's not something that's relatable. We don't all have magical powers in the real world. So I think what they've done a great job of is actually making it relatable by saying there's the strong one, there's the emotional one, there's the one who only sees bad things in the future, there's the one who is the introvert, there's the one who's the gossip. So there's a piece of all of that, the golden child, that I feel like anyone can relate to. And I can relate to in my own family, because I think, again, we have this tendency to feel like everybody has something more than we have ourselves. And we're trying to figure out where we fit in that and what we're bringing to that table.
So to me, I think that's why it's going to be so relatable to people. Even though there's these magical powers, it's based on something we all know from our own families and our extended families, from that standpoint. I think for me, Antonio has always been a character that I related to because he's an introvert. And it seems kind of ironic because I'm in a job where you have to be around people all the time. But if I wasn't in this job, I would be that introvert. And so I think Antonio, in the same way, is given this gift of being able to talk to the animals, I've been given the gift that work allows me to have to come out of my shell and be somebody who I'm not internally. So I think Antonio might be the character I can relate to the most."

Disney's "Encanto" arrives in theaters on November 24, 2021.