Encanto’s Filmmakers Gave Themselves A ‘Fun Limitation’ That Separated The Project From Recent Animated Disney Movies

In recent years, one of the hallmarks of the films created by Walt Disney Animation Studios has been a high degree of world-building. From the variety of video games in Wreck-It Ralph, to the many biomes in Zootopia, to the vast land of Kumandra in Raya and the Last Dragon, the different adventures have been heavily built around journeys through expansive environments. In that respect, however, Jared Bush, Byron Howard, and Charise Castro Smith’s Encanto is a fascinating exception, as the story is far more contained than what we’ve become accustomed to.

Rather than sweeping characters away on a journey that take them far from home, the vast majority of Encanto is set in a single house – specifically a sentient and charmed home referred to as Casita. Like the TARDIS from Doctor Who, Casita is special in that it is bigger on the inside than it is from the outside (particularly thanks to its collection of magic doors), but even still the movie is unquestionably far smaller in scope than every Walt Disney Animation Studios feature from the last decade. It’s a great change of pace, and recently talking with the film’s director’s I learned that direction was a purposeful choice.

Prior to the release of Encanto last week, I had the pleasure of speaking with Jared Bush, Byron Howard, and Charise Castro Smith during the movie’s virtual press day, and I remarked how the scale of the narrative in the film compared to the voyages in films from Frozen to Moana to Ralph Breaks The Internet. Bush noted that it was part of a choice that was made early in the development of the project, and they initially thought that it was going to make the work comparably easier than other productions… but that was a notion that evidently didn’t end up having great shelf life. Said the filmmaker,

I think we knew very early on that that's what we wanted to try to do. It presented a great challenge in that 'Okay, you're stuck with this one place. How do you make that interesting for 90 minutes?' And then I remember we had this conversation where we're saying to the designers, like 'It'd be easy, cause it'll be one house.’ And that turned out to be really hard to do.

Set in Colombia, Encanto tells the story of the Madrigal family, who, for three generations, have lived literally enchanted lives in Casita. The descendants of the family’s matriarch, Abuela Alma (María Cecilia Boter), all have their own magical gifts – though the one exception is Alma’s youngest granddaughter, Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz), who is the movie’s protagonist. Mirabel is vaguely viewed as a black sheep in the clan, but it becomes her responsibility to try and save her family when everyone’s powers begin to diminish.

One of the truly great things about animation is that it gives filmmakers the capacity to tell any kind of story they desire without the hindrances that are inherent in live-action – but limitations aren’t necessarily a bad thing, and they can, in fact, be extremely valuable in the creative process. As Jared Bush explained, the idea of trying to keep the action of Encanto limited meant that the creatives were forced to make certain choices that they otherwise may not have considered, and it meant developing special accents that made the work special:

But what was great is, I think, sometimes those limitations mean that you have to be very creative with how to make the movie feel big, and certainly in a musical where you have musical numbers, where those can push into fantasy or beyond, was really exciting. It also allowed us, I think, to really lean into what makes animation so fun, which is bringing this house literally to life and having the house have a personality and having the house not treat some people so great or love somebody else, and really have fun with it.

In reflection, Jared Bush sees it as an aspect of Encanto that made it unique compared to other recent titles from Walt Disney Animation Studios, and that it added a special fuel to the process. Said the co-director,

It turned out to be this amazing fun limitation that I think really sets this movie apart from others.

Featuring a soundtrack from Lin Manuel Miranda and the voices of John Leguizamo, Jessica Darrow, Diane Guerrero, Wilmer Valderrama, Mauro Castillo, Angie Cepeda, and more in addition to the aforementioned Stephanie Beatriz and María Cecilia Botero, Encanto is now playing in theaters everywhere. To discover all of the other films that are set to arrive on the big screen and on streaming in the remaining weeks of this quickly ending year, head on over to our 2021 Movie Release Calendar.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.