How Disney’s Encanto Achieved Cultural Authenticity Without Sending The Whole Team To Colombia

Mirabel and her mom sharing a sweet moment in Disney's Encanto

Set in Colombia, the latest film from Walt Disney Animation Studios titled Encanto embraces the diversity, culture, people and, of course, the music. In telling a story about a large extended family with themes of perception and perspective, screenwriter/director Jared Bush knew Colombia was the perfect location as a “crossroads of Latin America” that the team wanted to reflect within the Madrigal family. Although the entire Encanto team was not able to travel to Colombia, they were still able to provide an authentic experience for viewers.

In 2018, Encanto co-directors Byron Howard and Jared Bush, along with composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, his father Luis and head of music Tom MacDougall, traveled to Colombia to explore and soak up the surroundings. They were able to travel before the COVID-19 pandemic, but as travel became restricted and the members of the Encanto team grew, it was not feasible to take additional trips with more of the team. I spoke with producer Clark Spencer for an interview with CinemaBlend about how the team was able to convey the culture so beautifully without that first-hand experience, and here’s what he shared:

The Colombia Cultural Trust was critical to us in terms of building a group of experts who could speak to architecture and to botany and to music and to the people of Colombia all across the board. That was one puzzle piece where all our departments worked with them. It wasn't them just working with me or with the directors and the writers. They were working with our individual departments. When design was happening, they'd be working with our design team and we would see something through into modeling and actually see the clothing come on. They would see it at that moment in times when we started to animate the characters, they'd see that part of it. So they were on the journey with us and also included seeing the eight different screenings that we had of the film as we were going along, really talking story and character to make sure that we're being as authentic as possible.

The Encanto team at Walt Disney Animation Studios really went the extra mile with this film. Every single element was scrutinized, from the color scheme used throughout, to the way the characters interacted with each other, the set design, and even the foods and dishes seen in the background when characters move through the kitchen. Encanto transports viewers to Colombia by fully immersing them in the music and culture.

Members of the Disney family who are from Colombia along with others brought in to share about the culture provided invaluable input to Encanto. Producer Clark Spencer shared the following about getting these first-hand accounts:

One of the key things was, and I give [producer] Yvette [Merino] so much credit for this, is she brought in people very early on to come speak about Colombia and about Latin culture. So there were actual moments in time where the entire leadership would come together and hear people speak about different pieces of it, about the music, about the culture, about the food, about family and what does it mean? In a way that would allow it to kind of start to infuse into people who didn't know about it. And it's one of the things I love about making these movies is we learn so much in it and we have such a better appreciation for things we didn't have knowledge of beforehand. So it really is kind of a collective effort from that standpoint.

As Clark Spencer mentioned, there is so much to experience, learn, and appreciate with Encanto. The animated film tells the tale of an extraordinary family, the Madrigals, who live hidden in the mountains of Colombia in a magical house. Every member of the family is given a magical gift, except Mirabel. When she learns the magic surrounding the family home is in danger, the only ordinary Madrigal just might be the extraordinary family’s last hope.

How well do you know your family members? How well do they know you? Explore the answers to these questions and more when Encanto arrives in theaters November 24th.

Samantha LaBat

Obsessed with Hamilton and most things Disney. Gets too attached to TV show characters. Loves a good thriller, but will only tolerate so much blood.