‘Encanto’ Directors On Colombian Influences And Magical Realism: “Magic That Was Born Out Of Emotion”
Latin America is a large place, so when the idea was pitched, it was a daunting task to narrow it down. Directors Jared Bush and Byron Howard, with co-director and writer Charise Castro Smith, found the perfect place for this musical fantasy: Colombia.
Encanto takes place in a magical town sheltered by mountains. As she is fleeing from her home, Alma Madrigal (María Cecilia Botero) loses her husband and prays for a miracle to save her three children. The candle she was holding becomes magical and builds an “encanto” around the refugees, blasts away the invaders, and builds a sentient house for her family to live in. The candle gave magical gifts to Alma’s family for 50 years, until her granddaughter Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz) mysteriously receives no gift. Mirabel starts to notice cracks forming in the house and goes on a quest to fix the magic of the candle, without the aid of any special gifts herself.
In deciding how the magic worked, Castro Smith brought on the concept of ‘magical realism’ which gave the story a sense of Latin American magic, as opposed to European magic.
DEADLINE: Where did the idea for the magical house, Casita, come from?
JARED BUSH: This idea that this family would be living in this Encanto, this magical place, was early on, and the family had magical powers we knew we wanted it to be a story about this multi-generational extended family. We didn’t want to leave the house. We didn’t want to go on a journey or a quest. We wanted it to be in one place, and so we wanted that one place to be as interesting, fun, and entertaining as possible. So, the idea that the house would also have magic came in really early on. The first few months of working on this concept, I’d say that the most significant adjustment up front, was actually when Charise joined us, and this notion of this miracle that gave the family this place and this house. And the way I think that the generational trauma also fits into that was something that Charise brought into it. So, it was a really great balance because we wanted the fun of this magical house, but we also wanted the grounding in a way that was really emotional.
DEADLINE: And how did you arrive at Colombia for the backdrop of this?
BYRON HOWARD: Taking it back five years ago, Lin [-Manuel Miranda] especially talked to us very early about wanting to do a definitive Latin American musical at Disney. It was a dream of his, and we were totally on board, we all love that idea. But it’s a huge part of the world, and so the question was where to set it. Luckily we had two very close friends from Zootopia, who had worked on a Zootopia documentary with us, Juan Rendon and Natalie Osma. They’re both from Colombia and as they heard us looking at Latin America in general, they said, “If you guys are looking for a place that’s a crossroads of everything in Latin America, culture and ethnicity and tradition and food and dance and music, you should really look at Colombia, because it really naturally has all of that.”
We weren’t disappointed, and Juan and Natalie actually were key in actually getting that research trip set up. They went with us to Colombia and they became two of our primary consultants on the film. And again, once Charise joined us, she had such a great grounding and magical realism, that this place, Colombia, which is one of the cradles of that literary style with Gabriel Garcia Márquez, it just made total sense, talking about a family. And a great way to get organic Latin American magic into this film without trying to force it into some European type of magic, that you’ve maybe seen before in other films.
DEADLINE: So, what’s the biggest differences between European magic, which seems to be more prevalent in films, and Latin American magic?
CHARISE CASTRO SMITH: Well, I think magical realism is a fast tradition that doesn’t just exist in Latin America. It’s a literature tradition that’s throughout the world. But I think the way we started to think about it and sort of define it within the context of our film, was that it was magic that was born out of emotion. Magic that was born out of character and relationship, instead of something that was like an external force sort of foisted upon the characters in the story. So, we really started to think about how to turn these very relatable family archetypes that everybody knows and is very familiar with, into how would they look if they were totally beefed up and made magical. And that’s where amazing characters like Luisa were born. She’s the rock of the family and she can carry 12 donkeys, or Isabela as the perfect effortless golden child with flowers literally blooming in her footsteps. So, it was really us trying to think about who these characters were, and these really very relatable family dynamics, and then making them magical and big and beautiful and visually stunning.
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