Entertainment

Lin-Manuel Miranda: My great-grandmother ran the household and redistributed paycheques


The world of Disney’s Encanto might be magical and incredible, but its characters are not any less realistic or relatable.

If you’ve had the chance to catch the new animated film by the House of Mouse, you would most probably see your family members reflected in the Madrigal family.

Not surprising, considering that directors Byron Howard and Jared Bush, as well as songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda, drew inspiration from their own families.

In a recent interview with AsiaOne, 41-year-old Lin-Manuel said they all threw their family stories into the pot and he even brought his father along for the ride. The older Miranda, who hails from Puerto Rico, had a different perspective compared to Lin-Manuel who grew up in New York.

The American playwright-director said: “One of the unexpected things I learned [about my family] actually had a lot of influence on the final film — which was that his grandmother, my great-grandmother, really ran their household. It was a matriarchal household.

“So much so that when her kids got married, the husbands or the wives would move into the house, and she would collect everyone’s paycheques from their different jobs at the end of the week and redistribute it to the different families based on what they needed.

“I never heard of anything like this before, but I think some of abuela Alma’s strictness in Encanto comes from my dad telling the story of his abuela (Spanish for grandmother).”

Encanto tells the tale of an extraordinary family — the Madrigals — who live in a wondrous and charmed place hidden away in the mountains of Columbia. This secret haven is known as an Encanto and its magic has blessed every child in the family with a unique gift, except for Mirabel (voiced by Stephanie Beatriz).

Three generations of the Madrigal family live in their ancestral magical home and they are led by Mirabel’s grandmother Alma. Aside from Alma, there are her children Julieta, Pepa and Bruno; and her grandchildren Luisa, Isabela, Mirabel, Dolores, Camilo and Antonio living under one roof.

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Despite being the only ordinary person in her family, Mirabel takes it upon herself to save her family when she discovers that the magic of the Encanto is in danger.

Sister wanted to be an artist instead of an athlete

Speaking to media in a separate roundtable interview, 47-year-old Jared shared that the research for the film started with their families and it became clear that “we didn’t actually know our families as well as we thought we did”.

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Byron, 52, said: “My mother was like a trained fencer in college, I had no idea. We found her sword in a garage in my aunt’s house, which was insane.”

Jared added: “My sister was an amazing athlete throughout high school and into college. But she actually wanted to be an artist. And so, similar to Luisa, she had to really be that athletic member of the family. My parents really wanted her to stay on that track, but she wanted to be something different and wasn’t sure she knew how to do it… 

“So that was a huge influence, I think, on me in telling the story and figuring out a character like Luisa. [It] was just feeling like you’re stuck in one role in your family and wanting to be something different, and how hard that is to pivot in a family that kind of just puts you in place as one thing.”

Luisa is the oldest of Alma’s grandchildren and is blessed with super strength. However, she feels like the weight of the Madrigal family is entirely placed on her shoulders and she struggles with that responsibility.

‘We don’t talk about Bruno’

The story of the oldest child with the heaviest burden is one that many people are familiar with, but Encanto doesn’t stop there when it comes to exploring the expectations placed on certain family members.

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There is the perfect sibling’who flaunts that perfection in everyone’s face, and there is also the black sheep of the family whom no one talks about.

No joke, the film even has a catchy song (We Don’t Talk About Bruno) dedicated to the character of Bruno, who left the family some time ago and everyone avoids mentioning him.

Byron shared: “Most big families have a black sheep, someone who’s sort of an outsider of the family or maybe someone who doesn’t kind of belong to the inner circle of the family as much as they would like, and there’s a lot of talk around them. So Bruno is a very compelling character, especially a character who could see the future because sometimes families don’t want to deal with some of the negative stuff that could potentially happen.

“And Bruno is really a truth-teller… He really isn’t changing the future. He’s really telling what he sees. And that’s a tough position to be in for a character and I think we all relate to that.”

In the film, Bruno becomes a central figure in the mystery surrounding the disappearing magic of the Encanto and one that Mirabel has to figure out pretty quickly.

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That is also why Lin-Manuel feels the most like the heroine because of how she has to navigate her family’s secrets that happened way before her time.

During our interview, he said: “I’m a baby brother in my family. I’m the youngest… and I think when you’re the baby of the family, you’re always kind of tripping on invisible trip wires that you didn’t know about, that happened before you’re born. You’re like, ‘Oh, wait, why can’t we talk about that in front of grandma?’…

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“And you know, Mirabel really is in a journey of discovery of the secrets within her own family and how those secrets and the inability to see each other is harming the house and the family. And so I really related to that, because I think when you’re the youngest, there’s a whole lot of life that happened before you were born and part of growing up is discovering that.”

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What can parents learn from this?

Unlike other family films where most of the lessons are aimed at children or the younger generation, Encanto actually holds lessons for both the young and old — especially parents.

To put it simply, there is something for everyone in this film.

When asked what parents can take away from this film, Lin-Manuel replied: “I think the best family movies give us new ways of talking about our own families. I remember seeing Inside Out and being able to talk to my kids in a whole new way, like, ‘All right, is Joy taking the wheel right now? Is Rage at the controls in your brain?’

“Again, just suddenly, we have this new reference point we can all talk about and I hope that this movie allows people to talk about their families because of what they’ve just seen the Madrigals go through.”

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As for Jared, the most important lesson is that we don’t always see our families that clearly and our families don’t always see us that clearly.

He said: “It’s important for us to try to see that there’s more to our family members and conversely, it’s important for us to be vulnerable enough to show our full selves to the family.”

Encanto is now showing in cinemas.

bryanlim@asiaone.com



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