Lin-Manuel Miranda explains the difficulty of creating musical moments for each of the main characters in Disney’s latest movie Encanto.
Actor, playwright and musical icon Lin-Manuel Miranda has talked about the difficulty of creating meaningful musical moments for the large cast of characters in Disney’s latest movie Encanto. Disney’s 60th film, Encanto follows the lives of the super-powered Madrigal family who live in a beautiful, magical village in the rural mountains of Columbia. Each Madrigal family member has a special mystical gift apart from protagonist Mirabel, who finds herself tasked with protecting the magic surrounding their village despite a lack of magical powers herself. The movie boasts a talented voice cast, with Brooklyn 99 actress Stephanie Beatriz voicing lead Mirabel after working with Miranda in his recent musical drama, In the Heights.
It’s not the first time Miranda has found himself in the composing seat of a Disney movie, previously working on the soundtrack for Moana. Last year was a big year for the composer-come-actor, with perhaps his most famous work, Hamilton, arriving on Disney+ to intense critical fanfare. Miranda’s schedule has only become more crowded of late, not only celebrating the release of Encanto and In the Heights but also achieving a well-received directorial debut with Tick, Tick… Boom!. The latter, a musical biopic based on the stage musical of the same name, stars Andrew Garfield as aspiring composer Jon, in a role that Garfield has recently offered kind words toward Miranda for helping him achieve.
While discussing the creation of Encanto with Collider, Miranda went into detail about how they created moments for each of the movie’s main characters within the given timeframe. When asked what the difficulties were developing a soundtrack that represented each of Encanto‘s characters, Miranda said that, while challenging, it was his “job as the composer to amplify these characters, their gifts, and their musical version of self-expression” within the time restrictions. Miranda elaborated, saying that ensemble songs gave everyone their moment across several bars instead of through a song each. While using characters Dolores and Camilo as examples, Miranda said that the ensemble numbers “provided an incredible opportunity to hear from Dolores and to hear from Camilo. We don’t have time to hear their songs, but we really get a strong sense of who Dolores is, in those 12 bars that she has”.
“The challenge is the complexity of bringing 12 major characters all to the screen. That was the challenge we set up for ourselves at the beginning. We said, “We wanna talk about family, and we wanna present an intergenerational family, all under one roof.” Usually, when you say that, then you chip away at the family until you find your hero, and the hero goes on a quest. Moana had eight brothers when I got hired for Moana. She does not have eight brothers anymore because Moana had more important stuff to do. And so, hanging on to that, the really exciting challenge was finding the drama and the conflict of the movie itself, within the relationships between those characters. My job, as the composer, is to amplify these characters, their gifts, and their musical version of self-expression.
The way we did it is actually a slight of hand. You said every person gets to their song, but they super don’t. I got to write these incredible ensemble songs. wherein everyone gets their moment. I remember pitching, “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” because every family has the stuff you’re allowed to talk about at the dinner table, and the stuff that you’re going to talk about it, but not in front of mom or not in front of abuela, and not now. “We don’t talk about Bruno, but let’s talk about Bruno.” That, as an ensemble number, provided an incredible opportunity to hear from Dolores and to hear from Camilo. We don’t have time to hear their songs, but we really get a strong sense of who Dolores is, in those 12 bars that she has. And so, it was really exciting finding that mix between solo numbers and group numbers and letting every family member shine within that kaleidoscope.”
Using ensemble songs in this manner has worked well for Miranda before. Compared to Hamilton‘s lengthy run-time, which allowed each character to have their moment, In the Heights featured far more ensemble songs, many of which incorporated short bars from characters that otherwise didn’t have the screen time to fully develop. Testament to Miranda’s skills, Encanto has received a strong box office opening and glowing reviews, with critics praising the film’s art direction and Miranda’s music in particular. It’s proof that no matter the subject, tone, or genre, putting a musical in Miranda’s hands is a safe bet.
Outside of a successful career composing hit musicals, Miranda starred as Lee Scoresby in the HBO series based on the His Dark Materials novels. Despite being drawn back to acting gigs, Miranda never strays too far from musical endeavors. He will once again work with Disney in the upcoming The Little Mermaid remake, with Miranda lending his songwriting prowess to the live-action take on the Disney classic. While The Little Mermaid is still some way off and Miranda’s schedule slowing down, at least for now, Encanto‘s beautiful and heartwarming adventure is currently showing in cinemas before its arrival on Disney+ this Christmas Eve.
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