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Lin Manuel Miranda and Disney filmmakers traveled Colombia to prepare for 'Encanto'

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Disney has released its 60th animated movie. It's a musical featuring a little girl who lives with her family in a fictional village in Colombia.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COLOMBIA, MI ENCANTO")

CARLOS VIVES: (Singing) Colombia.

CORNISH: Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the songs for "Encanto," which celebrates the culture of the South American country. NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: "Encanto" is set in an enchanted town hidden in the mountains.

LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA: Where the world is just a little more spiritual and a little more magical than everywhere else.

DEL BARCO: Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote eight original songs for the movie in English and Spanish.

MIRANDA: We all gravitated towards Colombia because it's kind of the home of magical realism in literature and culture and the home of the great Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

DEL BARCO: The story of "Encanto" is based on a charm. The Madrigals live in a magical house, and each member of the large family has a magical gift. Mom has healing powers. Tia Pepa's moods control the weather. Cousin Camilo can shapeshift, and Cousin Antonio can talk to animals.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ENCANTO")

RAVI CABOT-CONYERS: (As Antonio) Uh-huh, uh-huh. I understand you.

DEL BARCO: But 15-year-old Mirabel is different from the rest.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ENCANTO")

STEPHANIE BEATRIZ: (As Mirabel) I might not be super strong like Luisa or effortlessly perfect like Isabela.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) But what's your gift?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Oh, Mirabel didn't get one.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) You didn't get a gift?

BEATRIZ: (As Mirabel) Gift or no gift, I am just as special as the rest of my family.

DEL BARCO: Mirabel has curly black hair and wears eyeglasses, and she plays the accordion - kinda. She's voiced by Stephanie Beatriz, an actress from TV's "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" and the film "In The Heights." There is another member of the family, Bruno, voiced by John Leguizamo. He can see the future, but he's the misunderstood uncle, an outcast.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ENCANTO")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) We don't talk about Bruno - no, no, no. We don't talk about Bruno.

DEL BARCO: Mirabel goes on a quest to discover secrets about Bruno. To prepare for "Encanto," Lin-Manuel Miranda traveled with his father, Luis, and the filmmaking team in 2018. During a two-week research trip, they met with architects, botanists and families. And they visited the Gabriel Garcia Marquez Foundation.

MIRANDA: We went to Cartagena. We went to Bogota. We went to the town of Palenque. We went up into the mountains to a town called Barichara, sort of explored the incredible diversity of Colombian culture and life and listened to music at every stop on our journey.

DEL BARCO: Miranda says they learned about instruments unique to Colombia, including the tiple, a 12-string guitar, and musical styles like the waltz-like bambuco.

MIRANDA: It's in 3/4 time, which is really rare for a Disney song.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ENCANTO")

BEATRIZ: (As Mirabel, singing) I can't move the mountains. I can't make flowers bloom.

DEL BARCO: On the soundtrack are touches of reggaeton and salsa, cumbia and mapale. In the Colombian folk music style, Miranda also wrote a vallenato inspired by Carlos Vives.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COLOMBIA, MI ENCANTO")

VIVES: (Singing in Spanish).

MIRANDA: And I'm doing my best Carlos Vives impression as a songwriter. So then to have the great Carlos Vives, who is a hero of mine, to have him actually record the song with his band and his musicians brought a whole other level of authenticity.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VIVES: (Speaking Spanish).

DEL BARCO: Vives recently told Billboard he's fought to positively portray his country, to show its beauty and diversity.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VIVES: (Speaking Spanish).

DEL BARCO: The diversity in "Encanto" is not just musical. Members of the Madrigal family are Afro Latino, Indigenous and mestizo.

JUAN RENDON: Colombia is a place of racial mixes. Those differences are celebrated.

DEL BARCO: Juan Rendon, who was born and raised in Cali, Colombia, was one of "Encanto's" cultural consultants, so was Natalie Osma from Bogota. The two of them first met the filmmakers while making a behind-the-scenes documentary of the film "Zootopia." For "Encanto," they schooled Miranda and the directors on Colombia's history and introduced them to citrusy lulo fruit, ajiaco soup and arepas, stuffed corn patties - also, typical gestures.

RENDON: There's a scene where Mirabel points with her mouth, for example (laughter). That's something we do all the time. In Colombia, it is frowned upon to point your finger at something. It's kind of like bad manners, so people point with their mouths a lot.

DEL BARCO: Osma says the film also celebrates another element found in Garcia Marquez novels.

NATALIE OSMA: You see butterflies. You see hummingbirds. Like, you see magic in every place.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DOS ORUGUITAS")

SEBASTIAN YATRA: (Singing in Spanish).

DEL BARCO: For one scene, Colombia-born pop star Sebastian Yatra sings about two caterpillars who are in love. Together, they transform into butterflies.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DOS ORUGUITAS")

YATRA: (Singing in Spanish).

DEL BARCO: "Fly your way to the future," the song goes. It's a symbolic mantra for Disney's new Latina heroine.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DOS ORUGUITAS")

YATRA: (Singing in Spanish).

DEL BARCO: Mandalit del Barco, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.