Encanto: The Long History Between Lin-Manuel Miranda and Disney
7/21/2021 • 4 min read
This Thanksgiving, Disney’s 60th animated feature, ENCANTO, materializes in theaters nationwide. It's the tale of a magical family which lives in the mountains of Colombia, in which each member is born with a unique gift. Each member, that is, aside from Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz), who was born without magic. While the movie has been kept largely under wraps, we do know one thing: Lin-Manuel Miranda provides the music and songs for the new project, which is directed by ZOOTOPIA filmmakers Byron Howard and Jared Bush.
Miranda’s involvement alone should make it one of your most anticipated movies of the year. And in a way, it feels like a continuation of a wonderful relationship between the Pulitzer Prize-winner and Disney. Let’s look back at what their collaborations have been so far – and where they’re headed.
Back in 2011, Miranda guest-starred on the long-running sitcom "Modern Family," which aired on the Disney-owned ABC. A year later he popped up in "The Odd Life of Timothy Green," a strange, vaguely supernatural live-action melodrama from Disney, playing a botanist perplexed by the leaves growing out of a young boy’s legs. It wasn’t exactly a classic, but Miranda still brought humanity and an understated warmth to a brief role.
A Galaxy Far, Far Away
STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS director J.J. Abrams chatted with Miranda during intermission at a performance of "Hamilton" (Miranda wasn’t performing that night) and Miranda (half-jokingly) offered to write music for the cantina scene in Abrams’ upcoming STAR WARS movie. The director ended up taking him up on the offer, and Miranda wrote and performed music for the movie’s cantina scene alongside Abrams. (The track is called "Jabba Flow.") When Abrams was wrapping up the sequel trilogy with STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER, he called on Miranda again, this time to create a song for the Aki Aki celebration on the planet Pasaana … and to cameo as a Resistance fighter pilot. Sadly, his character does not have a name.
Make Way, Make Way
Disney’s 2016 animated classic MOANA (yes, it's already a classic!) features amazing songs written by Miranda. He won a Grammy for his work and was nominated for an Oscar. It was clear from this collaboration that he fit in well with the storytelling style of the studio and that this would be a truly fruitful partnership. Fun fact: he was working on MOANA and "Hamilton" concurrently, so the demo tracks he would send to Disney often included the vocal stylings of his talented stage castmates. You can still hear Miranda on the published tracks, most notably on the wayfaring anthem "We Know the Way." Clearly, his star was only getting brighter and his work on MOANA introduced the artist to new fans who couldn’t stand in line all day for "Hamilton" tickets.
Next Stop: London and Duckburg
In 2018, Miranda made connections to two vaunted but very different Disney franchises. He co-starred as Jack the Lamplighter in the underrated MARY POPPINS RETURNS. And while he didn’t write any of the songs for the movie (Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman handled those duties), he does perform in several of them. One stretch of "A Cover is Not the Book" seems specifically tailored to his singing style. The same year that MARY POPPINS RETURNS debuted, Miranda started appearing on the Disney Channel reboot of "Ducktales," which he continued to do until the show ended earlier this year.
Two Miranda projects debuted on Disney streaming platforms last year. WE ARE FREESTYLE LOVE SUPREME premiered on Hulu and chronicled an improvisational rap troupe that Miranda was a member of. (They had a show on Broadway as well.) Speaking of Broadway, a filmed version of Miranda’s stage play sensation HAMILTON finally made its way onto Disney+. The show, filmed over several nights in 2016, featured most of the original cast (including Miranda) and was directed by the show’s director Thomas Kail. It turns out "the room where it happened" is actually your living room!
A Return to Disney Animation
Shortly after ZOOTOPIA debuted in 2016 (the same year MOANA made its splash), filmmaker Byron Howard mentioned that he was already at work on a secret project with Lin-Manuel Miranda. What that project was, exactly, remained a mystery for many years. Last year's Disney Investors Call revealed ENCANTO. While the film still remains shrouded in the magical fogs of Colombia, the fact that Miranda is re-teaming with Disney Animation is reason to get pumped. We can’t wait to hear what he comes up with. If these new songs are half as catchy as what he cooked up for MOANA, we will be humming these well into 2022.
Under the Sea
If you thought ENCANTO was the end of the story, think again. Miranda has already finished work on his next Disney project, a live-action remake of the beloved 1989 animated musical THE LITTLE MERMAID. This time around, he's working with composer Alan Menken on new songs for the project. (The original lyricist, Howard Ashman, passed away in 1991.) These will feature Manuel’s regular collaborator Daveed Diggs voicing everyone’s favorite Caribbean crab Sebastian. The new LITTLE MERMAID’s release date is currently unknown, but they just wrapped production, with Halle Bailey from pop group Chloe x Halle as Ariel, Javier Bardem as her over-protective father, and Melissa McCarthy as villainous sea witch Ursula. We're eager to take another dive under the sea!
ENCANTO opens on November 24! Want to know more about Disney's new movies?
All images courtesy of Lucasfilm and Walt Disney Pictures.