Walt Disney Animation Studio’s 60th animated feature, Encanto, returned the filmmaking giant to the animated musical genre for which it has become so closely associated. To do that, the filmmakers — producers Clark Spencer and Yvett Merino, screenwriters Jared Bush and Charise Castro Smith, directors Byron Howard and Bush, as well as songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda — looked to the one thing that all people have in common.
“No matter the size or the shape, we all have a family. For Lin, Jared, and myself, we all have large extended families. I have a large, crazy, wonderful Italian family in Philadelphia. Jared has a huge family in the mid-Atlantic area. Lin is deeply connected to his family both in Washington Heights and to his roots in Puerto Rico,” director Byron Howard explained. “So our early research was really about ourselves and our own families. We looked at a large, extended family and how these complex dynamics really work. It became an exciting challenge for us: ‘How do you tell a story with a large family?’ You’ll see a lot of characters and, with each one, a personality, dimensions, and unique qualities.”
That research resulted in Encanto, the Golden Globe-winning film about a large family called the Madrigals who live in an enchanted house in Colombia. Each member of the family holds special powers that make them unique. Each member save Mirabel, a seemingly ordinary member of the Madrigal family who discovers the source of the family’s magic may be endangered. The critically acclaimed film received dozens of mentions from critics’ groups and was nominated for nine Annie Awards.
Plot aside, the film would not work without carefully balancing each and every character. As the film progresses, the Madrigals learn details about each other along with the audience. It’s a unique and complicated challenge the team designed for themselves.
But as with most Disney films, the filmmaking team rose to the challenge by creating a richly drawn tapestry of the Madrigal family. So, let’s meet some of the key members of this wondrous and magical family.
- Mirabel (voiced by Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Stephanie Beatriz) centers the film as the only child in the Madrigal family without powers. Writer/director Jared Bush indicated that Mirabel carries the film more than many Disney heroines before her. “It is about her, and she goes on this journey. 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,” Bush said. “Stephanie not only nailed all of that, she also brought her own personality to the character, ad libbed a ton of lines, and really elevated both this character and our movie considerably.”
- Mirabel has two older sisters — Isabela (Diane Guerrero) and Luisa (Jessica Darrow). Isabela makes plants and flowers grow while Luisa has super-human strength. Each character is a bit of a contradiction. Isabela, possessing the ability to create beautiful surroundings, feels trapped as what Bush calls “the perfect Madrigal.” Luisa, a fan favorite, boasts a deeply emotional core that contrasts with her steely, tough exterior.
- Mirabel’s parents are Agustin and Julieta, voiced by Wilmer Valderrama and Angie Cepeda respectively. Julieta, the town doctor, heals through food. She’s kept busy by Agustin who married into the Madrigal family. He’s awkward and accident-prone, so they’re the perfect complement to one another.
- Mirabel’s aunt and uncle (Julieta’s siblings) are Pepa and Bruno. Pepa, voiced by Carolina Gaitán, is the super emotional and dramatic member of the Madrigal family (every family has one). Unfortunately, she can also control the weather, which doesn’t always make for the most ideal circumstances. She’s married to Felix (Mauro Castillo), the life of the party, and they have three children. We don’t talk about Bruno.
- Finally, the glue of the Madrigal family is abuela Alma (Maria Cecilia Botero) who created the magical encanto the Madrigals call home through her unwavering faith. “Our whole team just feels incredibly fortunate to have worked with Maria Cecilia in this role,” Smith gushed. “Not only did she bring to life one of the most complex and nuanced characters in the entire film, but she was also just a joy to work with and crafted a truly iconic performance.”
Encanto currently streams exclusively on Disney+.