Why Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Experience Making Disney’s Encanto Was Totally Different Than Making Moana

Following Lin-Manuel Miranda’s widespread success in Broadway as the playwright behind the acclaimed In The Heights and the musical phenomenon musical phenomenon Hamilton, he has begun to shift his career over to the movies. In 2016, Miranda brought his talents to Disney Animation with Moana, and his second musical with the studio, Encanto, hits theaters this coming week. But his experience this time around is much different from the previous one

When Lin-Manuel Miranda spoke with CinemaBlend's own Eric Eisenberg, he shared how the two projects were much different from each other behind the scenes. In his words: 

I had an amazing experience working on Moana, but I was the last guy hired. I was sort of jumping on a train in motion. They had the character of Moana, they had done several years of story development before I got there and I was there to help unlock the storytelling. And I had an amazing time writing with Opetaia [Foa'i] and Mark Mancina, then I just said when we finished that movie, like ‘Can I just be there for the beginning of the next one?’

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s involvement on Moana came later in the game in the development process, leading the playwright to be wholly focused on the musical element of the storytelling. With this, he didn't necessarily need to be sitting at the table when a lot of initial decisions about the story were made. So when it came to working with Disney Animation again, he shared an interest in working with them from beginning to end. 

The actor and writer loved being part of Encanto from the first drafts and had the opportunity to contribute to a different kind of story that focuses on a three-generation family living in one roof. He shared that he wanted to capture the “complexity” of those relationships. As he continued: 

Family [often] falls away in screenwriting because they’re working on a quest and there’s a quest and stakes and you lose any character that is not central to that quest. And our goal was to hang on to that and really make the dynamics between the family members and how we see ourselves versus whether we’re a family as the story and the meat of the story dynamics themselves.

We’ve become a bit hard-wired as an audience to expect some grand adventure in Disney movies following recent releases like Moana, Tangled or Frozen. Yet Encanto remains focused on what goes on inside the magical house of the Madrigals. Lin-Manuel Miranda also touched on the songwriting process: 

Then, getting to write the songs that outline that, writing songs where every character has their own pulse and their own rhythm, but then they crash up against each other in interesting ways was a really fun challenge. So, I just got to be there early and often, and that was really exciting.

Whereas Moana is a Disney movie with some of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s flavor, Encanto really involved Lin-Manuel Miranda being part of many more of the elements of the storytelling. He has a story writing credit in addition to crafting the original songs. This new animated tale takes place in the mountains of Columbia, where a family has each been graced with different gifts that allow them to provide for their community. The conflict lies in our main character, Maribel, who must confront being the only one in the family without gifts. 

Encanto has been met with positive reception from critics overall. CinemaBlend’s own Dirk Libbey gave the movie a 4.5 out of 5 in our Encanto review and called it a “revolutionary film” for the studio due to the “changes to the formula” Disney has used quite a bit in the past. It’s exciting to see Lin-Manuel Miranda usher in some new perspective to Disney Animation, may he continue to work with the studio for years to come! Check out it in theaters on November 24th. 

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

Sarah El-Mahmoud has been with CinemaBlend since 2018 after graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Journalism. In college, she was the Managing Editor of the award-winning college paper, The Daily Titan, where she specialized in writing/editing long-form features, profiles and arts & entertainment coverage, including her first run-in with movie reporting, with a phone interview with Guillermo del Toro for Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. Now she's into covering YA television and movies, and plenty of horror. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.