- Golden Globe Awards
Winners Circle 2022: “Encanto” (Best Motion Picture – Animated)
Disney has a long history of creating animated films from international cultures – and Latin America seems to be one of the studio’s favorite locations.
Back in 1941, on the eve of the USA’s entry into World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt dispatched Walt Disney down South, as part of what became the Policy of Good Neighborliness, the opening for a future relationship north-south.
Walt ended up in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, drank in the culture and music, and thus was born Saludos Amigos (a title that all Brazilians loathed and still loath, considering that the local language is Portuguese), followed by Three Caballeros in 1944, the short Pluto and the Armadillo and the feature Melody Time in 1948. (A new character was born, too: the parrot Zé Carioca).
The connection, somehow, remained. At the turn of the new millennium, after a string of European-inspired classics, Disney turned South again: to the Andes with The Emperor’s New Groove and its sequels; in 2009, with Up, which places its protagonists in Roraima, a spectacular mountain in the Amazon Rainforest, straddling Brazil and Venezuela; and in 2017 with Coco, an important pivot moment of Disney back in touch with Latin America.
This year, with Encanto, Disney went deep into the South American experience, not as mere reference or “color”, but a true immersion into a culture, in a way so deep and organic that can be enjoyed – as Walt would like it – internationally.
Encanto started out in 2018, with a simple premise: instead of the usual “two characters go on an adventure and learn something”, the opposite “stay where you are and learn even more”. Zootopia directors Jared Bush and Byron Howard soon got Lin-Manuel Miranda on board, after his collaboration with the songs of Moana.
The idea of a large family – something that Miranda, Bush, and Howard knew very well – pointed to Latin America, and was reinforced by Juan Rendon and Natalie Osma, the producers of the documentary about Zootopia, both of them Colombians. Serendipity established the core of the project – an extended family, in Colombia.
For two months Rendon, Osma, Howard, Bush, and Miranda – the self-appointed “Colombian Cultural Trust” – traveled throughout Colombia, from Bogotá and Cartagena to small towns, many of them living examples of centenary architecture. In one of these towns, Barichara, a local tourist guide, Alejandra Espinosa Uribe, became a rich source of details, traditions, and stories. And everything about her – her looks, energy, personality – helped create the heroine of Encanto: Mirabel Madrigal (voiced by 15-year-old Stephanie Beatriz in the movie).
For two years, Encanto took shape from a simple premise to a complex and touching story, the fruit of imagination and inspiration from Colombian culture.
Although not openly stated, the narrative is set at the end of the 20th century, when the drug wars peaked and the people, especially the residents of smaller towns, were at the mercy of the cocaine lords and their armies. Encanto begins very clearly – a dangerous moment that echoes one of these civil wars – and quickly turns it around into a world that Disney knows so well, the universe of magic and fantasy.
From that pivotal moment comes out the matriarch, the widower Alma Madrigal (voiced by Maria Cecilia Botero, sung by Olga Merediz) and her three daughters, who will build the most perfect refuge for them and for the people of the village around them: an enchanted nook taken from the forest, a true encanto, where generations of the Madrigal family can do extraordinary things to enrich the lives of all, employing the phenomenal, magical gifts that were bestowed on them on that crucial moment decades ago. All of them except the protagonist, Mirabel, a girl without powers but with an open heart and solid logic.
Enriched by a gorgeous palette of colors and music – score composed by Germaine Franco, co-composer of the songs from Coco, Encanto is indeed magic. Like the works of Gabriel García Márquez (whose foundation the “Colombian Trust” visited) and the savvy storytelling of Walt’s studio.