When I heard the accordion-heavy opening number for Disney’s upcoming animated musical film Encanto, my ears perked up. The vallenato song titled “The Family Madrigal” serves as more than just the introduction to this perfectly imperfect Colombian familia; it’s a nod to the folk music Colombians hold near and dear to their heart and identity.
Out in theaters on Wednesday, Encanto tells the story of an extraordinary family, the Madrigals, who live hidden in the mountains of Colombia, in a charmed place called an Encanto. Immersed in Colombian culture and its picturesque scenery — from arepas to the iconic gigantic palm trees in the Valle de Cocora and, of course, its vibrant vallenatos and salsa anthems — the film is ushered by Lin-Manuel Miranda (who co-wrote the film and wrote original songs for), Stephanie Beatriz (Mirabel), Diane Guerrero (Isabela) and John Leguizamo (Bruno).
The soundtrack features songs by Colombian artists Carlos Vives (“Colombia, Mi Encanto”) and Sebastian Yatra (“Dos Oruguitas), who were tapped by Miranda once he started writing songs for the film. “I honestly did my best Carlos Vives impression in writing the song ‘Colombia, Mi Encanto.’ I listened to a ton of his vallenatos and sort of wrote my version of what one of those would sound like,” Miranda tells Billboard ahead of the musical’s release. “And to bring it full circle and have him record it with his band and his musicians, it brings ‘Colombia, Mi Encanto’ to another level of authenticity.”
As for “Dos Oruguitas,” he held onto a metaphor the production team had come up with. “They created this beautiful visual metaphor of the candle flame that turns into the butterfly and the butterfly creates the miracle. I kind of held onto that to write ‘Dos Oruguitas,’ like the entire family is holding on too tight and they have to become their next version of themselves. Sebastian’s vocals are so tender and heartbreaking that he brings it to whole other level.”
“I told my manager right away, ‘Let’s do this no matter what, please.’ It’s a passion project for sure,” Yatra says. “This film is one of the most important things that has happened to Colombia globally in terms of its culture. A Disney film that talks about our culture, miracles and family, that’s what we’re all about. And doing this love song that is featured in such an important part of the film is beautiful. I’ll always be grateful.”
Miranda wrote eight original songs for Encanto, taking inspiration from local musicians in Colombia. Getting it right was key for Miranda, creator of Broadway’s award-winning Hamilton and In the Heights.
“To be there from the beginning of this project meant that there could be a lot more give-and-take between what music can do and what animation can do and what those things can do together,” Miranda explains. “We went to Cartagena, to Bogotá, and just listened to musicians everywhere. Anytime we leaned into the specificities something would unlock. I have all these Disney anthems in my head and when I finally cleared that away and went back to the music we heard in Colombia. Anytime we lean into authenticity, we win.”
Performing some of Miranda’s original tracks on the film are actresses Beatriz (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) and Guerrero (Orange Is the New Black) who, respectively, give life to sisters Mirabel — the only Madrigal family member who doesn’t have a magical gift — and Isabela, the golden child of the family who’s been gifted with the ability to make plants grow and flowers bloom.
“I was so nervous because I’ve never worked with Lin and I’m such a huge fan,” Guerrero says. “I was sitting in the booth and much like my character Isabela, I wanted to be perfect. Lin was so gracious and so sweet, so understanding and patient. We had a running joke that I would miss the bus every time my cue would come in and I would miss the music. He’d jump in and say, ‘That’s you! You missed the bus again.’ But that was a beautiful moment because having that kind of humor was so disarming.”
Adds Miranda: “I just want to say there was a lot of missing the bus because of Zoom delays. Like it wasn’t anyone’s fault. There was a 10-second delay between the music starting and her hearing it. Making movies in a pandemic is not easy.”
Meanwhile, Beatriz says that having Miranda as both their biggest cheerleader and biggest critic only helped them grow as artists. “You’ve got Lin sort of saying, ‘You got it, no problem,’ but he’s also the artist that will challenge you and take you to places you were not aware that you could go. I think that’s what the best collaborators do. They look at your work and say, ‘Yes, but also,’ and they push you to the edge of what you think is possible.
“I’m excited for people that are Disney adults like Diane and myself to listen to the music before they actually go see the film,” Beatriz adds. “There’s so much character development and cool little secrets that Lin has hidden within these songs that you won’t hear necessarily the first time but upon second or third listen. It’s like a blossom of storytelling that comes out through his music.”
Encanto‘s soundtrack is now available to stream. The movie will be released in theaters on Wednesday.