NEW YORK — (AP) — A month after “Encanto” debuted in theaters, Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the songs for the Colombian-influenced film, took an extended vacation. By the time he returned, something almost as extraordinary as the enchanted house from the movie had happened.
“Encanto” became the first motion picture soundtrack since 2019 to hit No. 1 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, even surpassing “Let It Go.”
The music from “Encanto” was suddenly everywhere. Everyone was talking about Bruno.
“By the time I came back, ‘We’re Not Talking About Bruno’ had kind of taken over the world along with the rest of the ‘Encanto’ soundtrack,” Miranda laughs. “It helps you to have the following perspective: the opening weekend is not the life of the film. It’s just the roughest draft. Two months later, people are talking about Bruno, and all his family.
It’s not uncommon for songs by Miranda, the composer of “Hamilton” and “In the Heights,” to capture the zeitgeist. But what the “Encanto” soundtrack does, long after it hits theaters on Nov. 24, is almost unheard of — especially during a pandemic that has reduced movies’ ability to make a lasting impression. ‘Encanto,’ a heartwarming celebration of family centered on the Madrigals, a magically-powered Colombian clan, was the highest-grossing animated film at the box office during the pandemic, with $223 million in ticket sales in the world. But the explosion of the soundtrack — sparked by its Christmas debut on Disney+ — has propelled a rare kind of sensation into pop culture.
“Encanto” didn’t move anyone from the top spot. He passed Adele. Six songs from the film charted on the Billboard 100, including “Surface Pressure”, “The Family Madrigal”, “What Else Can I Do?” “Waiting for a miracle” and “Dos Oruguitas”. All also rank among the most streamed songs on Spotify. There, “We don’t talk about Bruno” has been broadcast more than 100 million times. On YouTube, it is impossible to talk about Bruno in Hungarian and Bahasa Malay.
Miranda took to the “Encanto” soundtrack phenom for the first time in an interview, speaking on the phone while on his way to a theater party. (“Very on-brand for me,” he said from the back of a car.) He mostly experienced “Encanto” mania through a text thread with directors Byron Howard and Jared Bush, co-director Charise Castro Smith and Disney music chief Tom MacDougall. They share things like clips of choreography or TikTok videos of people singing. (The #Encanto hashtag has been viewed over 11.5 billion times on TikTok.)
“I just got a text 10 minutes ago from someone tweeting ‘If you don’t speak Spanish and put the caption on ‘Dos Oruguitas’ you’re really going to cry,” Miranda laughs.
For Miranda, what is most gratifying is how people connect with the songs and her characters as expressions of their own roles and family dynamics. For example: “Surface Pressure,” sung by Jessica Darrow, taps into the weight of responsibility felt by an older brother. Miranda wrote it thinking of her older sister, Luz Miranda-Crespo. In one of the most popular “Encanto” TikToks, a young woman named Maribel Martinez not only says she looks like muscular sister Luisa, but that “Surface Pressure” “tells my story.”
“The thing we were looking for was, can we fit the complexity of the family, a multi-generational Latino family, into a Disney movie?” Miranda explains. that, but it’s a bit deep and there are layers.'”
But Miranda never saw the massive popularity of “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” coming. The song now ranks historically with anthems like “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” from “The Lion King” and “A Whole New World” from “Aladdin.” But “Bruno” is a song you can dance to. It’s a more offbeat tune, enhanced by its contagious groove and a mix of vocals that separate and merge into a chattering song about family secrets.
“I was saying to a friend: I think this is my ‘Send the Clowns’,” Miranda said. “‘Send in the Clowns’ was Stephen Sondheim’s only hit single. Who would have guessed among the millions of songs he wrote that it would be ‘Send in the Clowns’? It seems random in a way.
“But on the other hand, we’ve all been locked up for two years,” he continued. “The notion of a group of voices performing in one house sounds very resonant, in hindsight. There’s a kind of role for everyone to play singing along with the song. If you don’t jump on that tune , another melody is coming in two seconds because almost every character has a little feature in it.
“We’re not talking about Bruno” came quickly to Miranda. In an early demo track, Miranda sang all 10 parts in a feat of choral schizophrenia. He didn’t release the demo, but that didn’t stop an impersonator from trying his best imitation.
“It’s always the process with me. There are a lot of terrible demos. A lot of times these are sung at 3 or 4 a.m. so they don’t sound good,” Miranda says with a laugh. “I think TikTok had a field day with the demos I posted because I chirp and my voice cracks.”
“Films take a long time,” he adds. “There’s been a lot of singing those songs in your house for years and trying to make them better and better.”
Even though “Bruno” broke, he won’t be competing at the Oscars. (“No, no, no,” as the song goes.) “Encanto’s” Oscar submission is the moving, allegorical ballad “Dos Oruguitas” (which translates to “Two Caterpillars”), sung by the author -Colombian singer-songwriter Sebastián Yatra. Miranda composed it looking for the simplicity and metaphor of an old folk song. ‘Dos Oruguitas’ has already been shortlisted for the Oscars; if he were to be nominated and ultimately win, it would give Miranda his first Oscar — and since he’s already won Tonys, Grammys, and Emmys — EGOT status.
“It’s not something you consciously pursue,” he says. “I’m delighted to be on hand.”
The “Encanto” phenomenon capped a two-year whirlwind for Miranda that included documentaries tracing her origins, the release of a filmed “Hamilton”, the long-awaited and highly controversial big-screen spectacular “In the Heights” and her feature debut in Jonathan Larson’s musical “Tick, Tick…BOOM.”
“I have a strangely empty desk for the first time in maybe 13 years,” Miranda says. “I was working on everything, and it all came out last year.”
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP
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