Disney has visited many different countries and cultures in its films including Australia in Finding Nemo; France with Ratatouille; Mexico in Coco and, most recently, Italy with Luca. Now, the studio turns its spotlight on colourful Colombia with a tale about a magical family who live hidden in the mountains in a charmed place named Encanto.
Encanto features all-new songs by award-winning composer/filmmaker Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton, Moana), and also serves to reunite filmmakers Byron Howard, Jared Bush and Clark Spencer – the team behind Disney’s 2016 Oscar-winning film, Zootopia.
The movie introduces the Madrigal family, who are blessed with unique gifts – from super strength to the power to heal – except one child, Mirabel, voiced by Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Stephanie Beatriz, fresh from her success with In the Heights.
While so many Disney’s heroines have extraordinary talents, Beatriz warmed to Encanto’s themes of inclusion and celebrating our differences.
“Mirabel doesn’t have a gift, which I find extremely relatable, because there have been many times in my life where I felt like I didn’t belong, I didn’t measure up, I wasn’t talented enough to be there. I had that sort of imposter syndrome.
“But I also discovered by getting older, and working more on trusting myself, that I do have something to offer, and it is special, and I am myself,” she tells STACK.
Whilst Mirabel is not a Disney princess, she is certainly a heroine, “Which I think is even cooler actually,” notes Beatriz. “Disney has this incredible tradition of crafting female protagonists; girls and women who are really brave and good at heart, who want the best for everyone around them, and are willing to go on dangerous, crazy or magical adventures to get what they want.
“So I’m proud to be part of that legacy, to hopefully honour the work of all of the women that have come before me, and also add something new to it, as well,” she adds.
Beatriz also discovered she enjoyed making people laugh, bringing aspects of her own personality to the role.
“Certainly my sense of awkwardness is in there and my anxiety. Often when I’m uncomfortable, or don’t know how to handle a situation, I try to make a joke out of it, to make myself more comfortable or make somebody else more comfortable.
“And I think comedy is really useful because it takes the air out of stuff, like everything can be really intense, and then you make a joke, and everyone relaxes. I like to improvise and make jokes and feel like I make other people laugh.”
She also understands how, oftentimes, children can feel lost or overlooked within a big family.
“When Mirabel takes off on her adventure, there’s some funny stuff when she’s by herself and trying to entertain herself. What’s crazy is how in this huge family, Mirabel is often alone and depending on herself. And so she kind of becomes her own sidekick and talks to herself a lot,” she explains.
Joining Beatriz in the voice cast is fast-talking, multi-talented John Leguizamo, who immediately related to his character – the overbearing uncle Bruno.
“Bruno is the guy who wrecks every holiday, because he’s always talking too much. I’m that uncle who they try to get rid of – and they do get rid of him in this movie,” laughs the Colombian-born actor who was four years old when his family emigrated to New York; Leguizamo voted as “Most Talkative” by his classmates.
“So I understand Bruno because I also had that issue with always talking too much, saying everything nobody wanted to hear or was afraid to say. But I would say it anyway so I was always the black sheep of the family.”
A familiar face, with Die Hard 2, Carlito’s Way, Moulin Rouge and Romeo + Juliet among his many notable roles, Leguizamo praises Encanto’s visuals, admitting how he teared up watching the film for the first time.
“Especially when I saw all the colours, because that’s how my family is in Colombia. Everybody can be really dark or light, straight black hair, or super curly. I mean, it just looked like my family and the way I grew up. And to see that, you just feel like, ‘Oh, my god, we’ve arrived’. As Latinx people, we have finally arrived when there’s a Disney movie about you.”
• Encanto opens in cinemas on December 2