In Disney’s upcoming animated feature Encanto — from co-directors Byron Howard and Jared Bush — almost every member of the Madrigal family is blessed with a unique ability that comes from the powerful connection to the magic that their family tree as a whole has always had. So growing up without powers is hard for Mirabel in part because of the incredible things her parents and siblings are able to do.
But Encanto’s real powerhouse, whose magics put Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz) and the rest of the Madrigals to shame by comparison, isn’t a person at all, or even the movie’s main antagonist. It’s a character who’s very important to Encanto’s story and plays a key role in shaping who Mirabel is long before she sets off on a journey to save magic. When Gizmodo recently spoke with Encanto’s creative team, they explained how getting to know this character is the best way to get to know the rest of the Madrigals.
Of all the otherworldly things that define the Colombian town that the family calls home, few stand out quite like their actual house, a sentient dwelling that Bush likened to Moana’s ocean. “But opposed to Moana, our house is a little bit more opinionated and flawed like a family. It’s a house that plays favourites; a house that messes with people.” The Madrigals refer to their abode as “Casita” — something like a cross Howl’s moving castle (and its relatively modest facades) and the Steven Universe’s hidden temple of the Crystal Gems.
The outward magic it radiates pales in comparison to the living, vibrant energy humming within it, and while Casita’s very much its own being, Howard also described it as a reflection of the Madrigals’ status as a unit. “We played with the idea of the physical as a literal representation of the family and their emotional connections,” Howard said. “If the family’s happy, the house is healthy. If the family’s being playful, the house may be playful. But if the family is going through struggles, the house can crack.”
To develop Casita’s look and feel, Encanto’s team looked to the homes of Colombian towns like Barichara, Cartagena, and Salento in order to make it feel like a somewhat realistic sort of abode from the outside. Working with notes from Colombian architects, assistant production designer Lorelay Bové set out to create a house that felt at home in the country’s mountains, but also provided a way to literally show you into the lives of everyone living within it. “One thing that we learned through the consultants was how, in the coffee region, there are a lot of haciendas that have an indoor/outdoor feel,” Bové said. “We really wanted to get that in our Casita, as well as the courtyard has a beautiful view to all the magical doors in our house.”
According to Bové, Casita’s kitchen took inspiration from all Latin American kitchens, but in order to both give the house a distinctly Colombian aesthetic, and create a way for the house to physically interact with people, the creative team led with tile as one of the main interior design elements. Throughout the film, Casita makes its presence known and expresses itself by moving its tiles, which allows it to “touch” objects, but many of the house’s more impressive powers revolve around specific occupants.
Casita as a whole is a house, but each of its individual rooms reflects the person who lives within it (and their magical power.) Because Mirabel’s “normal,” her room’s rather plain, but for other Madrigals like her cousin Antonio (Ravi-Cabot Conyers) who can talk to animals, the house transforms. Because of Antonio’s connection to nature, Bové looked to the Chocó–Darién moist forests on Colombia’s Pacific coasts and consulted with botanists in order to accurately depict the sheer scale of the country’s natural biodiversity within his room alone.
Of all the Madrigals, Antonios’s powers are an example of one that most obviously lends itself to a visual translation — like a room overflowing with greenery and animals. It’s going to be very interesting to see what other sorts of ways Casita comports itself to suit the magical family.
Encanto hits Australian theatres on December 2 and comes to Disney+ on December 24.
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