Every member born into the family at the center of Disney’s new animated movie Encanto is blessed with a magical gift — except plucky teenager Mirabel, who never received a gift from the family’s enchanted house the day she was supposed to. Compared to a sister who can make flowers bloom wherever she steps and a cousin who can shapeshift into anyone else’s form, Mirabel is definitely an outcast. Her feelings about herself and her family are the emotional core of the movie, according to director Byron Howard and one of the movie’s stars.
“I think many of us feel like outsiders in our family, and yet we desperately want to be accepted by our family,” says Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Maya and the Three star Stephanie Beatriz, who voices Mirabel. “That’s the sort of push and pull that I think is super relatable. I just pulled from my own experiences about that.”
While Mirabel loves her family, she’s constantly trying to prove herself to them. All the Madrigals use their powers to help the greater community, but without any magical abilities herself, Mirabel often feels that she can’t live up to the family name. This puts a particular strain on her relationship with her abuela, the family matriarch, who has high expectations for all the Madrigals. Without powers herself, Mirabel feels like she cannot meet them.
“Abuela [and Mirabel’s relationship] really reminded me of my relationship with my mom, which is like really wanting acceptance and love, unconditional love, from someone who you feel — whether or not they do have conditions on their love, sometimes you feel like the love is conditional,” says Beatriz. “And you don’t know how to get in there and get around to the place where you feel loved.”
From the get-go, filmmakers Byron Howard, Jared Bush, and Charise Castro Smith had to figure out how to balance the family’s tension with their care and concern for each other. In the first few months of the process, they spent a lot of time looking at their own families for inspiration.
“I think a lot of what you find, if you really start to dig into your families, is that there are these difficulties and these challenges,” explains Howard. “At the same time, there are things you want to celebrate. And there are moments of pure joy. One of the things we tried to do was find that relatable family balance, where you kind of get a little bit of everything, where it feels like an honest conversation about family. [We] also don’t shy away from the great times. They really love each other, they’re just kind of missing each other from time to time, and not seeing each other fully.”
Encanto is out in theaters on November 24.