Tuesday, December 7, 2021

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How ‘Encanto’ Inspired A Global Network Of New And Diverse Voice Talent

Encanto tells the tale of the Madrigals, an extraordinary family who live in a wondrous, charmed place called an Encanto. Each child has been blessed with a magic gift unique to them—each child, that is, except Mirabel (voice of Stephanie Beatriz). But after the family’s home is threatened, Mirabel may be their only hope. The voice cast also includes Adassa, María Cecilia Botero, Ravi Cabot-Conyers, Mauro Castillo, Angie Cepeda, Jessica Darrow, Rhenzy Feliz, Carolina Gaitán, Diane Guererro, John Leguizamo, Maluma and Wilmer Valderrama, and the movie itself is a celebration of the culture, diversity, music and people of Colombia.

While voice dubbing for global markets is a common practice in the industry, Disney Studios Content is committed to further diversifying its voice dubbing talent around the world. With that in mind, several strides were made for Walt Disney Animation Studios’ 60th feature film, Encanto, opening today in theaters worldwide. A Spanish-language version of the film, featuring an entirely Colombian cast, is playing in approximately 30 countries throughout Latin America and Spain. Much of the dub was recorded and produced in Colombia and features voice actors who are all new to Disney.

Berenice Esquivel, Production and Creative Manager, Disney Character Voices Latin America, led the efforts to cast the best possible voice for each character while striving to be as authentic as possible. She first hired a consultant, Andrea Bravo Puerto, with whom she had worked with nearly two decades earlier at Disney Channel (Latin America). “She was my eyes in Colombia for some Disney Channel productions I was doing at that time,” Esquivel says. “She was perfect for Encanto, because she has worked in the whole country.”

Esquivel and Bravo Puerto created a task force, working with a translator to interpret the screenplay over the course of several weeks. “We wanted to add flavor with Colombian phrases and typical words,” explains Esquivel. “Andrea brought in a lot of materials, like pictures and readings, so we could learn about the accents from each part of the country.”

“It was a really interesting experience,” adds Esquivel. “In Latin America, all of the actors and actresses take classes to learn to talk in neutral Spanish so that they can get contracts for commercials, soap operas, etc. It was a challenge for us, because they are never asked to use their own native accents in productions. In the beginning, they were so weird in the booth—because for them, this wasn’t a normal thing. They’re trained to do other accents.”

It was just as important to filmmakers that each line of dialogue and voice performance represented Colombia’s rich diversity. “We’ve done so much work to make sure we’re celebrating and highlighting the beauty of Colombian culture,” says producer Yvett Merino.

The casting for this film took place during the pandemic, which posed challenges for open and in-person casting calls. But the team persevered, finding the right person for each role. In fact, it was Esquivel’s team that found Botero, who voices Alma aka Abuela in both the original and Spanish versions of Encanto. “We searched high and low for someone to play our Abuela,” recalls Merino. “Working with our casting director, Jamie Roberts, we reached out to the Latin American team to see if they knew of anyone. We went through their cast list, because they know the Latin market so well, and they put forth María Cecilia’s name. She really brings out the sternness of Abuela, but there is also such a warmth in her voice.”

As Disney Studios Content looks to tell more inclusive stories, it is working to build and strengthen its network of diverse voice dubbing talent around the world. There’s not a one-size-fits-all solution; it’s something that must be addressed in every unique market, given the varying demographics in each country. For example, in Italy, a Colombian consultant was brought on to advise on pronunciations and oversee the dub. In France, a Colombian musician, Julian Ortiz, voices Félix (Mirabel’s uncle), and a famous Colombian chef in France, Juan Arbelaez, voices Agustín (Mirabel’s dad). They advised on pronunciation, while intentional and deliberate training was offered to help both of the new voice actors.

Through targeted efforts, Disney is leading the charge in helping to build and broaden the dubbing community around the world. For example, in Poland, a Colombian sound engineer was brought in as an adviser, with Encanto marking his first theatrical credit. In addition, Peruvian and Cuban singers were used for background vocals for the dub. In Germany, three roles were voiced by Latin American actors, and four actors who are new to Disney were hired; in Portugal, two roles feature Latin American actors (Abuela and Julieta, Mirabel’s mom); and in Czech Republic, a Uruguayan actor voices Félix and a Latin American engineer was brought on as an advisor.

“This is the first time Disney Animation has created a story that focuses on a Latin family, and I am so excited for people to be able to see themselves and identify with the Madrigals,” says Merino. “This is the movie I wish I had when I was a little girl. No matter where you’re from or what language you see this film in, I hope you’ll see yourself and your family in it.”

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