Staff Writer: Roxanne Hepburn
Fans of Walt Disney’s animated films have begged the corporation to diversify the characters and cultures depicted in their movies for over a decade. Disney has partially succeeded in meeting those demands with films such as Coco (2017) and Raya and the Last Dragon (2021); however, those attempts have been blown out of the park. In November of 2021, Disney released the film Encanto. Set in Columbia during the early to mid-1900s, Encanto featured the realities of generational trauma set in a magical mountain haven from deadly conquistadors. The core family of the village has been blessed with powerful gifts to protect their home. There was one catch, though. The main character, Mirabel, the teenage granddaughter of the family head, did not receive her gift when she came of age. Encanto follows Mirabel and her family as they struggle with the pressures of being gifted protectors of their home.
Encanto was released in theaters on November 24th; however, the box office release did not meet the standard of other Disney animated hits. Encanto had a $120–150 million production budget while it only grossed $93,909,675 domestically in its debut. On a global scale, the theatrical release of Encanto grossed $234,197,979 worldwide, which excludes the film from the top 100 highest-grossing Disney theatrical releases. Frozen (2013), a Disney film commonly compared to Encanto grossed $1,265,596,785 worldwide and its sequel, Frozen II (2019), grossed $1,445,182,280. When comparing box office performance to past Disney film successes, it is quite obvious that Encanto underperformed.
The Disney+ release of Encanto on December 24th was a different story. The film started to blow up on social media in the weeks preceding its streaming service release due to its catchy and relatable music written by Lin Manuel Miranda. As the hype grew in anticipation of the release, pressure began reaching max capacity. Once it hit midnight on Christmas Eve, that pressure exploded into a full-out obsession for many. In its first weekend on the streaming platform, Encanto was watched for 407 million minutes in the US, jumping up to 2.2 billion minutes by the end of its first whole week.
The wild success of Encanto can be measured through the popularity of its soundtrack. ‘We Don’tTalk About Bruno,’ the song that lies in the heart of Encanto, reached #1 in Billboard’s Hot 100 list. This was a first for Walt Disney Records (although Aladdin’s ‘A Whole New World’ also achieved this rank in 1995 before the Walt Disney Records label was formed). ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’ has even out-performed Frozen’s infamous ‘Let it Go,’ Disney’s second most successful song on the Hot 100s, just behind ‘A Whole New World.”
Another contributor to the flourishing popularity of Encanto is that the movie went viral on TikTok preceding its release to Disney+. The heart song, ‘Surface Pressure,’ performed by the strong older sister of Mirabel, Luisa, was why the movie initially went viral. Users began to see the song appearing everywhere. A trend formed where people were relating to the struggles of being the emotional support sibling of the family. Confusion developed over the origin of the song, and hype started to build when it was revealed as a part of the soundtrack of a new Disney film.
The dichotomy of the theatrical and streaming service releases of Encanto comes down to one specific circumstance: the state of movie theater attendance during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the end of the lockdown, movie theaters have been struggling to get customers back in their seats and buying snacks, but people just aren’t ready to go back to “normal” in that aspect. Or they just don’t want to.
The quick-release of Encanto to Disney+ did not help its box office performance. After the film had become viral on TikTok, Disney had already announced when it would be released on the streaming service. Excited fans were willing to wait the one month between the movie’s debut and its streaming release rather than go through the hassle of going to see the film in person. Why pay $50 on tickets and food at the movie theater when you could be patient and get the movie for free on the streaming account you or a friend already owns in the comfort of your own home.