Miranda talks about Bruno, and the ‘Encanto’ phenomenon

Jake Coyle

NEW YORK (AP) – A month after Encanto debuted in theatres, Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the movie’s Colombia-inflected songs, took a long vacation. By the time he returned, something almost as extraordinary as the enchanted home of the movie had transpired.

Encanto became the first movie soundtrack since 2019 to reach number one on the Billboard charts earlier this month. The film’s most popular song, We Don’t Talk About Bruno, became the highest-charting song from a Disney animated film in more than 26 years, ranking higher than even Let It Go.

The music of Encanto was suddenly everywhere. Everyone was talking about Bruno.

“By the time I got back, We Don’t Talk About Bruno had kind of taken over the world along with the rest of the Encanto soundtrack,” Miranda said, laughing. “It helps you have the perspective of: The opening weekend is not the life of the movie. It’s just the very roughest draft. Two months out, people are talking about Bruno, and his whole family.”

It’s not unusual for songs by Miranda, the composer of Hamilton and In the Heights, to capture the zeitgeist. But what the soundtrack to Encanto is doing, long after it arrived in theatres on November 24, is almost unheard of – particularly during a pandemic that has muted the ability of movies to make a lasting impression. Encanto, a warm celebration of family centred on the Madrigals, a Colombian clan with magical powers, has been the most successful animated film at the box office during the pandemic, with USD223 million in ticket sales worldwide. But the soundtrack explosion – prompted by its Christmas debut on Disney+ – has propelled a rare kind of pop-culture sensation.

Encanto didn’t displace just anybody from the top spot. It overtook Adele. Six songs from the film have charted on the Billboard 100, including Surface Pressure, The Family Madrigal, What Else Can I Do?, Waiting on a Miracle and Dos Oruguitas. All also rank among the most streamed songs on Spotify. There, We Don’t Talk About Bruno has been streamed more than 100 million times. On YouTube, you can not talk about Bruno in Hungarian and Bahasa Malaysia.

Miranda took in the phenomenon of the Encanto soundtrack for the first time in an interview, speaking by phone on his way to a night of theater. (“Very on brand for me,” he said from the back of a car.) He’s mostly been experiencing Encanto mania through a text thread with directors Byron Howard and Jared Bush, co-director Charise Castro Smith and Head of music at Disney Tom MacDougall.

“I just got a text 10 minutes ago of someone tweeting ‘If you don’t speak Spanish and you put on the closed captioning for ‘Dos Oruguitas,’ you’re really going to cry,” said Miranda, chuckling.

To Miranda, what’s most rewarding is how people are connecting to the songs and its characters as expressions of their own family roles and dynamics. For example: Surface Pressure, sung by Jessica Darrow, taps into the weight of responsibility felt by an older sibling. Miranda wrote it with his older sister, Luz Miranda-Crespo, in mind. In one of the most popular Encanto TikToks, a young woman named Maribel Martinez said she not only looks like the muscular sister Luisa, but that Surface Pressure “tells my story”.

“The thing we were chasing was: Can we get the complexity of family, a multi-generational Latin family, into a Disney film?” said Miranda. “That’s what people seem to be responding to: ‘I’m bopping my head to this but it’s kind of deep and there’s layers to it.’”

A Disney image shows Mirabel, voiced by Stephanie Beatriz, in a scene from the animated film ‘Encanto’. PHOTO: DISNEY / AP