Between Moana, In the Heights and Tick Tick Boom, Lin-Manuel Miranda has been on quite a roll. Now, Disney has brought the Hamilton creator on to do the songs for Encanto, Disney's 60th feature film, where he blends his musical skills with the magic of the Madrigal family. In Encanto, each member of the family -- aside from protagonist Mirabel -- has a magical gift. As writer-director Charise Castro Smith mentioned in a press conference CBR attended, the music and Miranda's work were essential to developing the characters and world of Encanto.
"I do give a lot of credit to Lin-Manuel for this," Castro Smith shared. "Because from early on, he knew that he wanted each character to have their own distinct musical style. Really character-driven. Those choices were really driven by the choices he made musically, were really driven by the characters themselves, and then once he made those choices and wrote those songs, it really made those characters even stronger and deeper, as Jared [Bush] and I were writing the script."
Miranda, who was also in attendance for the press conference, discussed the roles certain songs took. For instance, when it came to introducing the Madrigal family, a large opening number was the perfect way to meet them all.
"There were songs where I sort of put points on the board and was like, 'All right, here's our opening number. Here's how everyone's related, and what they can do,'" Miranda said. "I wrote that opening number before we had a second act or a third act to our film, because we needed it for ourselves to keep track of everybody. These names may change and the powers may change, but we know the audience is gonna need a guide, and Mirabel's gonna be our guide, so let's write that song early."
In addition to that opening number, Miranda touched on one of the more heart wrenching songs in the Encanto, "Dos Orguitas." Unlike the other songs in the musical, this one is not sung by the characters of Encanto, but it is still impactful nonetheless.
"Then 'Dos Oruguitas' was really inspired by some of the visuals coming out of the incredible animation department," Miranda recalled. "I loved the way they embodied the miracle by having this flame from a candle turn into a butterfly, turn into a cascade of butterflies, and in approaching this moment, without spoilers, it's a moment where we reveal a really kind of personal part of the Madrigal family history, and it didn't feel right to have a character sing in real time, which is what all the other characters are doing over the course of the movie, so I thought, 'I think we need a folk song. I think we need a song that feels like it's always existed.'"
"Riffing off of the butterfly imagery, I thought, 'Well, butterflies have to go through a miracle to even become butterflies,'" Miranda continued. "So I wrote this song about two caterpillars who are in love and are scared of letting each other go, but of course, have to let each other go to become their next selves. It was a nature metaphor that was already baked into the visuals of the film, but speaks so specifically to what this family is going through in terms of trying to see each other more fully, and in terms of you have to change to get to the next level, and you have to allow yourselves to change. Then Sebastian Yatra takes it to a whole other level with his beautiful vocal performance of the song."
During the press conference, Miranda also talked about how he approached the film's "I Want" song. In many musicals, and particularly Disney musicals, an "I Want" song is sung by the protagonist and lays out what is driving them. While a staple part of musicals, that doesn't make creating an "I Want" song any easier.
"Disney has almost cornered the market in this particular type of song, and it's an intimidating fact. There's 'Part Of Your World;' there's 'Into the Unknown;' there's 'Reflection' from Mulan; there's 'Out There' from Hunchback; there's 'I Just Can't Wait to Be King.' I mean, I could go on and on," Miranda said, "which is probably why the 'I Want' song is always what takes me the longest. I'm just trying to push all those other songs out of my head because if you do it right, you're going on that playlist. I think something that all of those songs I just listed share is that they soar in this really specific way, and they're so specific that as a kid, you go, 'I get it, and I understand, and I'm with you on this journey.' That is the hardest to pin down because it takes making your entire movie to understand the journey you're going on in the first place."
What didn't make this any easier was the tight schedule Miranda and company faced, but this wasn't just for the production deadlines.
"By the time I wrote 'Waiting on a Miracle,' time was of the essence, not only with the production of the movie, but with Stephanie Beatriz [Mirabel] 'cause she was eight and a half months pregnant," Miranda explained. "It was like, 'We really gotta finish this song. We are on a real ticking clock.' The joy of Stef's vocals on that tune with her child sitting on her lungs while she has to hit these notes, and the fact that she is singing 'Waiting on a Miracle' while she is literally waiting on a miracle, I will never forget that. Those two experiences of seeing her singing this moment in her life, they're inextricably bound up together for me, and I'll always cherish that."
Hear Miranda's latest music in Encanto this Thanksgiving.
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