Encanto Directors Reveal How The Movie’s Featured Superpowers Changed Over Time

Evolution is a big deal in the making of every film from Walt Disney Animation Studios. Each project starts with a basic idea and intention, but over the course of development the goal is to repeatedly build up concepts and then break them down before rebuilding, allowing the best material to be discovered and implemented throughout the process. Naturally, every feature has a different avenue through this, and a different way of navigating it – and Encanto is no exception, with one of the biggest evolving elements being the superpowers exhibited by the various characters.

There are all varieties of special abilities on display in the latest feature from Walt Disney Animation, including shapeshifting, soothsaying, and super strength, but not all of the ideas were on the table from the very start of development. Last month, I had the pleasure of interviewing directors Jared Bush, Byron Howard and Charise Castro Smith during the virtual press day for Encanto, and among the subjects that we discussed was the way in which the movie changed over time, including magical skills that were imagined by the filmmakers but didn’t make the final cut.

Divulging the way in which the movie changed from its early development, Byron Howard discussed the fact that the bedrock idea for Encanto was that the different superpowers on display would be representative of the different roles that people play in their relationships with their families. Throughout the process, however, the filmmakers would discover that not every idea they had would mesh with the story that they were trying to tell. Said Howard,

Oh, well, you know, it's funny, cause I say from the very beginning, it was about exploring the complexities of family. How well does your family know you? How well do you know your family? But the powers, that was a big question because we really, as much as possible, try to find knowable comps within the family – like the rock of the family, the golden child, the outcast. But sometimes we would try something and it wouldn't exactly land.

Throwing out an example, Byron Howard revealed that one of the original ideas for a member of the ensemble was that they would always bring a party with them wherever they went… but that notion didn’t end up being solid enough to support bigger things that the filmmakers wanted to do with the movie. Howard continued,

Like we had 'the party guy' at one point: he'd walk into a room and balloons would appear from nowhere. He didn't stay around for more than a couple of weeks, so we kind of got rid of him, but you know, it just feels like the more relatable and more universal these roles are, the more everyone – everyone – lit up to them and the more musical it felt and more clear it got.

Encanto tells the story of the magical Madrigal family – a close-knit clan living in Colombia who, for three generations, have developed gifts that they have used to help each other and their community. Protagonist Mirabel Madrigal (Stephanie Beatriz) is an exception in that she doesn’t have an ability of her own, but her siblings, cousins, parents, and other relatives can all do extraordinary things, from instantly generating flowers everywhere to spectacularly sensitive hearing.

By the end of Encanto, all of the special powers exhibited wind up revealing deeper thematic connections, and in the process of making the movie one of the significant challenges was making sure that all of those themes and approaches worked. As Jared Bush explained, some ideas they had didn’t work immediately out of the gate, especially those that got in the way of character development:

Early on Mirabel's mother actually was the one who controlled the weather with her emotions. And as a result of that version of that character, she had to never show her emotions. But we found after a couple of screenings, she was kind of boring because you had a character that couldn't show emotions in a musical where you need big emotions.

Continuing, Jared Bush noted that having Mirabel’s mother, Julieta Madrigal (Angie Cepeda), control the weather didn’t make sense for her, but they still liked the idea. As a result, that power was given instead to Mirabel’s aunt, Pepa Madrigal (Carolina Gaitán), and Charise Castro Smith came up with an alternative idea for Julieta. Said Bush,

I think it was Charise's idea to actually to think like, 'Mothers kind of heal with food, and maybe the real emotional one uses those emotions all the time, and we take that over-dramatic, crazy person and really have fun with it. And so yeah, we made switches throughout really, as I think the story told us what made sense, and then also what we wanted to watch on screen and be entertained by it.

Co-starring John Leguizamo, Mauro Castillo, Jessica Darrow, Diane Guerrero, Wilmer Valderrama, and more in addition to all of the stars mentioned above, and featuring a stellar soundtrack from the incomparable Lin-Manuel Miranda, Encanto is now playing in theaters everywhere.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

NJ native who calls LA home and lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran who is endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.