ETimes sat down with the directors to chat about the film that has it all–art, magic, music, and a whole lot of heart. From letting us in on the process of creating Disney’s first ‘ordinary’ heroine with glasses and no magical powers to debating why Prince Charming has been missing in action, hinting at a Disney film set in India, and the welcomed Oscar buzz, the makers tackle it all. Excerpts from the interview:
Mirabel Madrigal is the first Disney Princess with glasses, no magical powers, and has bad hair days… what was the idea behind her character, and how do you hope she influences young girls and boys?
Jared Bush: Mirabel is a really fun character. We started this five years ago and very early on, this idea that we will be surrounded by this magical, extraordinary family, but one member would be left out and not have a magical gift. In your life, you look around and everyone looks like they have it together and they have this great life, and you are left wondering ‘how do I measure up? This is really hard!’
We wanted Mirabel to embody those feelings because I personally feel like that all the time, and we wanted her to also look like that.
Yes, she is the first Disney heroine with glasses is because one of the journeys she goes on is to see her family differently… To see them for their whole selves and so we intentionally gave her glasses as it was part of her journey and wanted that baked into her character.
Her name is Mirabel. In Spanish, Mira is to look, so, that, too, was intentional. And because she is on the outside, she can see her family a little differently and has this different perspective.
But we also wanted her to be super fun, flawed, weird, a great singer, and all these amazing things to have her stand out in the crowd. We want everyone to fall in love with her because she is us.
Speaking of magic and family, would you say there is a lingering effect of Marvel superheroes here? Considering they all have superpowers.
Byron Howard: One of the things we spoke about five years ago was ‘magical realism’ which tells stories so beautifully. Where real-life influences and emotion influences magic. Then we started talking about family roles – the rock (who takes on anything and never complains), the perfect daughter or son (who makes it seem like nothing is difficult for them). Then adding magical abilities to these qualities and thought of a perfect way to talk about family roles that everyone can relate to. Also for Mirabel, who doesn’t have a specific gift, to be surrounded by extraordinary people where she has her own issues of self-worth and what she is bringing to the table for her family. So we thought of an interesting way to approach the family.
What, according to you, makes magic real?
Jared Bush: I think that is one where magic is born out of emotion and need.
Do you have any favourite magicians? And what was your approach to magic in this film?
Byron Howard: I love Penn & Teller. But I think the magical qualities of the Madrigal family are so unique that the movie also approaches magic differently. It even questions the value of magic. We certainly don’t have this much magic in Disney films and there’s so much magic everywhere in the world. It was something we experienced in Columbia, magic runs in the streets and we all really felt that there was something special about that country when we were there. Hopefully, you will all see that in this film.
There is no Prince Charming or a knight in shining armour anymore in Disney films. Do you, in some way, feel you are reducing men’s roles?
Jared Bush: I’m a dad, I have three boys and having men and boys in the movies is really important. Every story is different and we always try to think before we launch about ‘what does this movie need?’
In our story, we knew was going to be about Mirabel and her Grandmother. But you still have great characters like Theo Bruno, her uncle, who is so important in the story, or her little cousin Antonio, or even Camilo who is super funny and one of my favourite characters.
So I think this is very movie-specific.
In ‘Zootopia’, Nick the Fox is one of my favourite male leads that we have had in the last many years. It really comes down to what this specific story needs.
There is a lot of Oscar buzz around this film. How does that make you feel? And can we expect a Disney film set in India?
Byron Howard: We would love to see a Disney movie set in India. Jared and I are both huge fans of Indian culture from way back and we have such amazing filmmakers coming up in the next 10 years telling stories from around the world that we are excited about.
It is nice to hear the Oscar buzz. We are flattered anytime someone mentions an award. But really, we’re just excited for families to see this film that we have lived with for the last five years and see our own families experience it. We are proud of our film and the music, our crew has done such an amazing job and we hope families around the world will enjoy it.
Do you hope this show will become a broadway show someday?
Jared Bush and Byron Howard: That will be amazing! Our whole movie takes place in one house, it’ll be perfect for the stage, so if you can call somebody, tell them they should do that.
Let’s start with Lin-Manuel Miranda?
Jared Bush: Yeah sure! I have my phone right here, let’s give him a shot.