Lin-Manuel Miranda on Writing the Songs in Encanto and The Little Mermaid

From Walt Disney Animation Studios, Encanto tells the story of the Madrigals, an extraordinary family who live in a magical house in the mountains of Colombia. Every child in the family has been blessed with a unique magic gift, except for Mirabel (voiced by Stephanie Beatriz), an ordinary teenager still trying to find her place and value among the generations in her vibrant and lively community when she learns that the Madrigal magic may very well be in danger.

During the film’s virtual junket, Collider got the opportunity to chat 1-on-1 with Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the original songs that were crafted to dive even deeper into the story of the Madrigal family, about the challenge of giving so many characters their moment to shine, the meaning behind “Surface Pressure,” why Moana no longer has the eight brothers she originally started with, the experience he had working with one of his musical heroes on The Little Mermaid, and the impression The Sword in the Stone made when one of his kids first watched it.

Collider: What was it like to get to create such a collection of different songs, and to give each of these characters their own song and their own moment to shine that also fits their personality? What are the challenges of developing a soundtrack like that?

LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA: The challenge is the complexity of bringing 12 major characters all to the screen. That was the challenge we set up for ourselves at the beginning. We said, “We wanna talk about family, and we wanna present an intergenerational family, all under one roof.” Usually, when you say that, then you chip away at the family until you find your hero, and the hero goes on a quest. Moana had eight brothers when I got hired for Moana. She does not have eight brothers anymore because Moana had more important stuff to do. And so, hanging on to that, the really exciting challenge was finding the drama and the conflict of the movie itself, within the relationships between those characters. My job, as the composer, is to amplify these characters, their gifts, and their musical version of self-expression.

The way we did it is actually a slight of hand. You said every person gets to their song, but they super don’t. I got to write these incredible ensemble songs. wherein everyone gets their moment. I remember pitching, “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” because every family has the stuff you’re allowed to talk about at the dinner table, and the stuff that you’re going to talk about it, but not in front of mom or not in front of abuela, and not now. “We don’t talk about Bruno, but let’s talk about Bruno.” That, as an ensemble number, provided an incredible opportunity to hear from Dolores and to hear from Camilo. We don’t have time to hear their songs, but we really get a strong sense of who Dolores is, in those 12 bars that she has. And so, it was really exciting finding that mix between solo numbers and group numbers and letting every family member shine within that kaleidoscope.

RELATED: ‘Encanto’ Review: Disney Animation’s Latest Is a Heartwarming Celebration of Family

All of the songs in this are great, but the one that has really stuck with me since seeing the film is “Surface Pressure,” Luisa’s song. Why was that the perfect song and the perfect sound for that character?

MIRANDA: “Surface Pressure” is my love letter/apology to older siblings everywhere. I am a baby brother. I have a sister who is six years older. I know she had responsibilities that I did not have. I know she had burdens that I did not have. Really writing honestly about that with lyrics like, “Give it to your sister, your sister’s older / Give her all the heavy things you can’t shoulder,” and that, “Nevermind, I’ll do it,” is something that I really wanted to write to. Something I also know that’s true, about my sister in particular, but may be true of people in your family that you know, is that the tougher an exterior they present, actually the more vulnerable and sensitive they are on the inside. My sister’s the easiest crier. If I cry at the end of a movie, my sister crises at the trailer for the movie. She’s actually got the softest underbelly, which is why the exterior is so tough. And so, I knew, writing that, I would find that turn in it because that’s something I didn’t really learn about my sister until we were grownups together. So much of the movie is about that, seeing your family members more fully, as you grow and as you evolve and as you change.

RELATED: 'Encanto': New Song Clip Introduces Audiences to the Familia Madrigal Through a Song

You’ve gotten to work with one of your musical heroes on the music for The Little Mermaid. What did you learn from working in collaborating with someone like Alan Menken, who’s both a Disney legend and a songwriting legend?

MIRANDA: Yeah, Alan is the reason I’m in this business. I’m here because The Little Mermaid blew my mind. Howard Ashman and Alan Menken shaped my childhood. It took us awhile to get started because I think we were both nervous to go first, to present lyrics or to present music. When I learned is that Alan is maybe our greatest melodist since Richard Rogers. His doodles are better than any melody I will write in my life. But what he loves is to bounce off of something. As soon as I started writing lyrics, it wrote really fast because he’s so quick, in terms of, once he’s got his head around the style a song is, he’s got it and he’s got 50 melodies to pick and choose from. It’s like anything else, you talk until the moment is right and you understand the musical moment you’re dramatizing, and then it’s a matter of keeping up with Alan Menken because he’s fast.

You’ve done so many Disney projects now. As someone who’s really firmly entrenched as part of the Disney family, at this point, if you could create a song for any existing character from any of the previous Disney projects, whether it would be for a film or a theme park ride or just anything, is there a character that you would just love to write their own song for?

MIRANDA: Oh, man. So much of my work on The Little Mermaid was that wish fulfillment. I actually didn’t write any new songs for Sebastian the Crab because I love his songs so much. I was like, “I can’t. Nope, not me. I can’t do it.” I did get to write for some of the other characters in that movie. Every song you love in The Little Mermaid is still in The Little Mermaid, we just found some new moments to musicalize. That’s really tricky.

I can tell you one of the ones that I didn’t watch so much growing up, that my kid loves is The Sword in the Stone. There’s something so incredible about when that wolf first shows up to menace Wart, I saw my kid get really scared for the first time. And then, immediately the wolf light falls down a cliff and falls on his face, and the laugh my kid let out when that happened was so delicious. It was such a lesson in tension and release and relief. So, there’s probably something fun in The Sword in the Stone to be mined. I don’t know. I’m spit-balling.

Encanto is now playing in theaters.

'Encanto': Lin-Manuel Miranda Explains the Importance of the Film's Music in Behind the Scenes Featurette

The animated musical hits theaters next week.

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Christina Radish (5064 Articles Published)

Christina Radish is a Senior Reporter at Collider. Having worked at Collider for over a decade (since 2009), her primary focus is on film and television interviews with talent both in front of and behind the camera. She is a theme park fanatic, which has lead to covering various land and ride openings, and a huge music fan, for which she judges life by the time before Pearl Jam and the time after. She is also a member of the Critics Choice Association and the Television Critics Association.

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