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ENCANTO – Germaine Franco and Lin-Manuel Miranda

February 25, 2022 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Christopher Garner

Disney’s 60th animated feature film, Encanto, had a unique path to popularity. Its one-month theatrical run was profitable by pandemic standards, but far less successful than these films usually are. After being released on Disney+, however, it has become a huge hit. It tells the story of the Familia Madrigal, a multi-generational Colombian family with magical powers that live in a sentient house they call Casita. The main character, Mirabel (voiced by Brooklyn 99’s Stephanie Beatriz) is the only descendent of the family matriarch, Abuela, who does not have a “gift.” She discovers something to be wrong with the family’s magic and takes it upon herself to discover the cause of the problem and find a solution. As of this writing, the film has already won the Golden Globe for best animated picture, and has also been nominated for an Academy Award.

One of the most successful elements of the film has been its music. The soundtrack album has been a #1 billboard hit and several of the songs have been on the charts as well, with “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” becoming the highest chart-topping song from a Disney film since “A Whole New World.” The score and the song “Dos Oruguitas” have also been nominated for Academy Awards.

The songs are written by multiple Tony, Emmy, and Grammy award winner Lin-Manuel Miranda, who couldn’t have had a bigger year in 2021. In addition to composing the songs for this film, he was executive producer for the big screen version of his Broadway musical In the Heights, he produced and wrote the music for the Sony animation Vivo (for which he also voiced the titular character), he was executive producer on the documentary Rita Moreno, and the film Neptune Frost, and he worked on a series of TV shorts called We the People. Oh, and he directed his first film, Tick, Tick, BOOM! He must be the busiest man in Hollywood. Encanto is the second of Disney’s films for which Miranda has written songs, the first being 2016’s Moana.

Miranda wanted a Latinx team to work on the music for the film and suggested Germaine Franco to the studio to write the score. Franco thus became the first woman (let alone the first Latina) to score a Disney animated feature film. Her score has been nominated for best score by the SCL awards, Annie awards, Golden Globes, and now the Oscars. Franco got her start as an assistant, production coordinator, percussionist, and orchestrator for John Powell. She joined his team on The Italian Job in 2003 and worked with them through 2014’s How to Train Your Dragon 2. Since starting her solo career she’s worked on several major films with Latinx influences (The Book of Life, Coco, Dora and the Lost City of Gold). She also provided scores for 2015’s Dope, 2018’s Tag, and 2019’s Little. This is by far the biggest solo assignment she has received, and to help her navigate such a big film, she asked her mentor, Powell, to serve as an advisor on the score.

The album opens with Miranda’s songs. While these songs have become more popular than the ones he wrote for Moana, I don’t think that these songs are generally as memorable or hummable as the ones he wrote for that film. Miranda has given in to his wordiest tendencies here. Each song is packed with lyrics, story, and description. Interestingly, many of these songs don’t have a chorus—just a bunch of verses.

“The Family Madrigal” is an excellent example of this. The film’s directors, Jared Bush, Byron Howard, and Charise Castro Smith, wanted to tell a story about a large family. Miranda new from his experiences on Moana, that Disney has a tendency to want families in their animated films to be small. Moana was originally going to have eight brothers. By the time the film was released she was an only child. Miranda was invested in this story, having been influential in making the family Latino, and wanted to prove to the studio that it was possible to tell a story about a 12-person family. So this was the first song he wrote, and apparently it worked. The song introduces each person in the family, gives them a bit of character, and explains what each of their magical gifts is—twice. The song is in Colombia’s vallenato style – a Caribbean influenced genre that uses accordion, caja vallenata drums, and guacharaca sticks. Its rhythm is infectious and Stephanie Beatriz’s singing voice will blow away anyone who only knows her from her Rosa character on Brooklyn 99. At the end of the song she nails some of the fastest lyrics Miranda has ever written—and that’s saying something.

“Waiting on a Miracle” is Mirabel’s “I want” song. It explores Mirabel’s internal conflict at being the only member of the family that doesn’t have a gift. This song was apparently the hardest for Miranda to write. Trying to write a ballad that would be like so many of these songs from Disney films past (think “Part of Your World,” “Reflection,” or Miranda’s own “How Far I’ll Go”), he wrote three songs for this scene that were all scrapped. Relistening to a lot of Colombian music, he realized how much of it was written in a quick 3/4 time. All of his other songs for Encanto were already written at this point, and were in a 4/4 time, so the idea of putting Mirabel’s song in a different time signature than all the other songs appealed to him because, as he has said, she is “in a different rhythmic universe than the rest of her family.” Once he made the decision to set the song in that time signature, the lyrics came to him quickly. It has a lot of Spanish guitar, drums, and handclaps. It may not be as grand or singable as so many of these kinds of songs that have come before, but the end result may well be a better fit for Mirabel’s character, and the style of music in this film.

Two of the other songs on the album, “Surface Pressure” and “What Else Can I Do?” also explore the idea of being an outsider in the family—and of dealing with difficulties the rest of the family is unaware of—only this time the songs are about Mirabel’s older sisters. “Surface Pressure” is written in a Reggaeton style with electronics and hip-hop influences. The rhymes are impressive, and the song does a good job explaining the pressure that Mirabel’s sister Luisa feels being the strongest member of the family. Miranda has said that the song is a tribute to his own older sister, who he said “takes on way more responsibility” in the family than he does. The other sister song, “What Else Can I Do?” is about Mirabel’s seemingly perfect sister, Isabela, who has secretly felt trapped in her family role. Miranda was inspired by 90s Spanish rock songs for this one (even though it’s in English), so if it feels a little dated in style to you, that’s why. Not only do these songs help Mirabel (and thus the audience) discover the challenges faced by her sisters, they also both serve the purpose of strengthening the bond between the sisters, and in the case of Isabela, closing a significant rift in their relationship. These songs, as well as “Waiting on a Miracle” succeed in illustrating something many families have in common: multiple members who feel they bear a burden that no one else in the family would understand. Becoming aware of those burdens brings these sisters closer together and enables them to help each other.

“We Don’t Talk About Bruno” hardly needs an introduction. It gives us some backstory on Mirabel’s uncle Bruno, whose visions of the future were never welcomed by the family or the larger community. It also develops each character in the family as they gossip about Bruno from their own perspectives. As an ensemble song that doesn’t make sense outside the film, it’s surprising that this song has become such a huge hit. But the song’s rhythm, mixing Salsa and Guajira styles of music, is catchy enough to overcome those obstacles. I can’t speak for all the others who have loved this song, but I can tell you that it was my children’s favorite song from the film almost immediately. My three-year-old probably can’t sing any of the other lyrics from the film, but she knows the line “We don’t talk about Bruno.” The song ends in that polyphonic Broadway style of each character singing their lines from the song over the top of one another—which makes this song impossible to sing on your own—but it is impressive. This song is such a curiosity. There are so many things about it that should have prevented it from becoming so popular, yet here we are. The song has now even out-performed “Let it Go.”

“Dos Oruguitas” is the first song Miranda has ever written in Spanish from beginning to end. He has said that he even started dreaming in Spanish while he was writing it. His goal was to write a song that would tell a story that would sound like a folktale that has existed for decades, and I feel he has succeeded. The song is about two caterpillars (oruguitas) in love, who don’t want to be apart, but have to lose each other briefly in order to experience the miracle that will allow them to be together again in a way they never could have imagined previously. By the end of the song they are butterflies (mariposas) and flying forward to find their futures. It really is a gorgeous song, and sung beautifully by Colombian singer Sebastian Yatra. The song helps the audience understand why Abuela is who she is. By the end of the song, the fractured relationship between Mirabel and her abuela is healed. I found scene in the film to be emotionally moving, and that was thanks in no small part to the song. Miranda had to submit songs for Academy Award consideration before the film was released, and chose to submit “Dos Oruguitas.” This was, in my opinion, the right choice. “Dos Oruguitas” better exemplifies the spirit of the film. It’s a wonderful song with a truly timely quality, and I hope it wins.

“All of You” tells the moral of the story—that members of a family are all inherently valuable regardless of the way or amount they contribute to the family. It accompanies the family and the townspeople working together to rebuild the Casita. It also reintroduces Bruno to the rest of the family, briefly quotes a lot of the previous songs, resolves the romantic story lines for Isabela and Mirabel’s cousin, Dolores, and most importantly, resolves Mirabel’s conflict within the family. The song also contains several examples of Miranda’s signature rap-style of singing.

For the song “Colombia, Mi Encanto” Miranda’s goal was to write a vallenato that could have been written by Colombian musical superstar Carlos Vives. True to Vives’s style, Miranda mixed rock and pop elements with traditional vallenato style, and then got Vives to sing it himself for the album! The song is a joyful love letter to Colombia. It appears twice in the film, once toward the beginning and again at the end, playing into the credits.

“Two Oruguitas” is an English-language version of “Dos Oruguitas” that plays during the end credits. It’s a good translation, in that everything still rhymes and makes sense, but in order to do that in a different language the lyrics have to change. In this case, however, Miranda chose to leave the words oruguitas and mariposas in their original Spanish. The underlying story and message of the song are intact in this translation, but I prefer the Spanish version’s lyrics. The song is again sung wonderfully by Sebastian Yatra.

Germaine Franco’s score takes over the album from that point. Franco was given over a year to work on the score and spent much of that time studying Colombian music and experimenting with Colombian instruments, styles, and rhythms. Franco got her start as a percussionist, so rhythm has always been her specialty. For this score she adopted Colombian rhythms—such as joropo, bullerengue, and bambuco—with seeming ease, and included a number of other Latin rhythms, such as tango and salsa, as well. She also included a significant number of native Colombian instruments, such as the tiple, bandola, and cuatro (all guitars), the charango (in the lute family), tambora drums, arpa llanera (a Colombian harp), and even went as far as having a marimba de chonta (a Colombian marimba made of a palm tree native to Colombia) made for her and shipped to the states.

The first cue of score from the film to appear on the album actually comes between two of Miranda’s songs, “All of You” and “Colombia, Mi Encanto.” It’s the short “¡Hola Casita!” that accompanies the house coming back to life. It presents the main theme of the score, which Franco calls the Encanto theme in a joyful variation, with sweeping strings, swelling orchestra, and choir. It’s a short piece, but a good introduction to the Encanto theme as well as the lush sound Franco created for the film.

The rest of the score is presented in film order after the last of Miranda’s songs, starting with “Abre Los Ojos.” The cue begins with peaceful guitars before the strings build to an expansive orchestral statement of the Encanto theme. It’s a really lovely theme, and slightly reminiscent of the B part of John Williams’s Hedwig Theme from Harry Potter. A soft choir repeats the theme before guitars lead into a final grand statement of the Encanto theme with the orchestra and choir. The theme is ubiquitous throughout the score, but varied each time it appears, so it never overstays its welcome.

“Meet La Familia,” features a fun cumbia rhythm – a rhythm native to Colombia that has become popular in Latin countries around the world. Franco decided to use the rhythm to represent Mirabel, and her search to discover the mystery surrounding her family’s magic. Guitars, maracas, accordion and tuba all feature prominently in the cue. A fuller version of this rhythm, along with a melodic theme, appears at the end of the album in “Mirabel’s Cumbia.”

The next couple of cues are about Mirabel’s cousin Antonio. “I Need You,” starts with a building sense of suspense before resolving into a cooing choir and then the Encanto theme on piano. The theme gets another gorgeous orchestral and choral variation at the end of the cue. “Antonio’s Voice,” is impressive. It’s a celebratory track featuring an Afro-Colombian rhythm, for which Franco hired an Afro-Colombian choir, directing their singing via Zoom call, due to the pandemic. The recording session took twice as long as it otherwise would have, but the results speak for themselves. It’s a joyful explosion of music that accompanies Antonio getting his gift of talking to animals, and it ends with the choir singing the Encanto theme.

“El Baile Madrigal” is a dance number full of Latin rhythm (this one sounds Caribbean-inspired to me) that will dare you not to at least tap your foot. It starts with bass guitar and drums, adds electric guitar, brass, and then a very prominent saxophone. The piece is super fun and has the feel of a jazz number being somewhat improvised on the spot. The saxophone keeps going after the rest of the music has ended, almost as though the player didn’t realize everyone had stopped. It’s hard not to dance to this kind of thing.

“The Cracks Emerge” and “Tenacious Mirabel” begin our heroine’s discovery of the problem with the family’s magic and her quest to solve it. The former cue builds tension, getting faster as it goes along. The latter creates a general sense of disquiet, with a bit of cumbia rhythm thrown in to represent Mirabel’s discovery.

“Breakfast Questions” hints at a tango rhythm and highlights the comedic nature of the meal in which Mirabel is trying to get Luisa to admit that something is wrong with her gift. Franco seems to have chosen the Tango to represent contention in the family. She uses it again later on in “The Dysfunctional Tango,” which accompanies another family meal that goes horribly wrong. This is full-blown tango. It starts slowly and again adds comedic elements to play up the ridiculousness of the scene. As the dinner devolves into disaster, the music speeds up. Franco clearly had a lot of fun writing that cue. The tango returns again in the later track “Las Hermanas Pelean,” which means “The Sisters Fight.”

“Bruno’s Tower” and “Mirabel’s Discovery” further her search into whatever is happening to the family’s magic. The cues have a mysterious sound, and cameos of cumbia rhythm. “Mirabel’s Discovery” ends in a flurry of action music, with pounding drums, chopping strings, and ominous choir, as she races to escape Bruno’s crumbling tower. “Chasing the Past” continues in this vein, with a general sense of foreboding, and some sliding strings straight out of a horror film score, heralding Mirabel’s discovery of Uncle Bruno in the walls of the home. That discovery initiates another burst of action music as she chases him through the bowels of the house. “Family Allies” features the melody from “Mirabel’s Cumbia,” though not over the Cumbia rhythm, interestingly. In “The Ultimate Vision,” an eerie variation on the Encanto theme builds to a grand orchestral climax as Bruno has his first vision in years. Horns blast over arpeggiating strings as he sees how Mirabel is central to what will happen to the family.

“Isabela La Perfecta,” lightens the mood, with guitars, bass, and percussion over Mirabel’s cumbia rhythm. “The House Knows” returns the score to its darker tones, presenting the Encanto theme on low strings and choir before becoming dissonant. “La Candela” begins with more sinister sliding strings, before returning to the theme from Bruno’s ultimate vision. A tragic variation of the Encanto theme plays over crashing cymbals, accompanying the destruction of the Casita and the candle that has provided their magic for 50 years. The cue ends with mournful choir.

“El Rio” begins with slow unaccompanied guitar, and then gives us a melancholy variation of the Encanto theme from the choir, the last note of which is unexpectedly in a major key, giving a sliver of hope. “It Was Me,” pick up that ray of hope and runs with it. The whole cue feels very happy and hopeful in comparison with much of the music that has immediately preceded it.

The rest of Franco’s music is presented in several bonus tracks. “El Camino De Mirabel,” has a strong and quick-paced Latin rhythm, with hand claps, fast guitar and orchestra, and ends with cascading piano. “Mirabel’s Cumbia” plays over the end credits. It’s a full-blown presentation of that cumbia rhythm that has been more subtly used to represent her quest to save the family up to this point. Her work now having been done, this cumbia is a celebration. Accordion, strings, and brass provide a nice melody over the strong rhythm. “The Rat’s Lair” is light-hearted, with a Latin beat. “Tio Bruno,” is a sad piece, featuring the Encanto theme. “Impressiones Del Encanto” grew out of a jam session that happened at the end of recording several guitarists. They had more time in the recording studio, so Franco led the guitarists in playing through the Encanto theme several times, with the melody of Mirabel’s Cumbia thrown in at one point. It’s pretty great. “La Cumbia De Mirabel,” is a repetition of Mirabel’s Cumbia, with accordionist Christian Camilo Peña playing the melody along with some embellishment. The album also includes instrumental versions of Miranda’s songs at the end.

Lin-Manuel Miranda and Germaine Franco have crafted memorable songs and score that give the world of Encanto a rich and magical depth. Franco’s music is excellent and I sincerely hope she is given many more high-profile projects in the future. I think Miranda has a good chance of completing his EGOT with “Dos Oruguitas.” I suspect Franco’s score will not win the Oscar, but I would be happy if it did, as it is my favorite of the scores that were nominated this year.

Buy the Encanto soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • The Family Madrigal (written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, performed by Stephanie Beatriz, Olga Merediz and the cast of Encanto) (4:17)
  • Waiting on a Miracle (written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, performed by Stephanie Beatriz) (2:41)
  • Surface Pressure (written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, performed by Jessica Darrow) (3:22)
  • We Don’t Talk About Bruno (written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, performed by Adassa, Stephanie Beatriz, Mauro Castillo, Rhenzy Feliz, Carolina Gaitán, Diane Guerrero and the cast of Encanto) (3:36)
  • What Else Can I Do? (written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, performed by Stephanie Beatriz and Diane Guerrero) (2:59)
  • Dos Oruguitas (written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, performed by Sebastián Yatra) (3:34)
  • All of You (written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, performed by Adassa, Stephanie Beatriz, John Leguizamo, Olga Merediz, Maluma, and the cast of Encanto) (4:38)
  • ¡Hola Casita! (0:46)
  • Colombia, Mi Encanto (written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, performed by Carlos Vives) (2:55)
  • Two Oruguitas (written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, performed by Sebastián Yatra) (3:34)
  • Abre Los Ojos (3:16)
  • Meet La Familia (2:08)
  • I Need You (2:27)
  • Antonio’s Voice (2:14)
  • El Baile Madrigal (2:50)
  • The Cracks Emerge (1:22)
  • Tenacious Mirabel (1:35)
  • Breakfast Questions (1:25)
  • Bruno’s Tower (0:52)
  • Mirabel’s Discovery (2:56)
  • The Dysfunctional Tango (2:42)
  • Chasing the Past (2:26)
  • Family Allies (1:15)
  • The Ultimate Vision (2:10)
  • Isabela La Perfecta (1:20)
  • Las Hermanas Pelean (1:17)
  • The House Knows (1:28)
  • La Candela (3:20)
  • El Río (1:27)
  • It Was Me (1:20)
  • El Camino de Mirabel (2:09)
  • Mirabel’s Cumbia (2:48)
  • The Rat’s Lair (1:21)
  • Tío Bruno (2:23)
  • Impresiones del Encanto (2:29)
  • La Cumbia de Mirabel (written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, performed by Christian Camilo Peña) (2:46)
  • The Family Madrigal [Instrumental] (written by Lin-Manuel Miranda) (4:17)
  • Waiting on a Miracle [Instrumental] (written by Lin-Manuel Miranda) (2:41)
  • Surface Pressure [Instrumental] (written by Lin-Manuel Miranda) (3:22)
  • We Don’t Talk About Bruno [Instrumental] (written by Lin-Manuel Miranda) (3:35)
  • What Else Can I Do? [Instrumental] (written by Lin-Manuel Miranda) (2:59)
  • Dos Oruguitas [Instrumental] (written by Lin-Manuel Miranda) (3:34)
  • All of You [Instrumental] (written by Lin-Manuel Miranda) (4:53)
  • Colombia, Mi Encanto [Instrumental] (written by Lin-Manuel Miranda) (2:54)

Running Time: 114 minutes 45 seconds

Walt Disney Records (2021)

Music composed by Germaine Franco. Conducted by Anthony Parnther. Score orchestrations by David Giuli, Nicholas Cazares, Rick Giovinazzo, Jennifer Hammond, Andrew Kinney and John Ashton Thomas. Song orchestrations and arrangements by Germaine Franco, Mike Elizondo and Kurt Crowley. Score recorded and mixed by Greg Hayes and Alvin Wee. Songs recorded and mixed by David Boucher. Edited by Earl Ghaffari and Angie Rubin. Album produced by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Germaine Franco and Tom MacDougall.

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