How ‘Encanto’s’ ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’ Became Bigger Than ‘Let It Go’
The song, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, from Disney’s animated musical has been dubbed in 46 languages
By Alex Janin Jan. 19, 2022 11:01 am ET
Is someone you know singing about Bruno?
They may be crooning about the clairvoyant Colombian animated character in Bulgarian, Norwegian, Vietnamese or one of more than 40 other languages. The song, “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” from Disney’s movie “Encanto,” is known as “Don’t Mention Bruno” in Russian, “Secret Bruno” in Japanese and “Just Not a Word About Bruno” in German.
“Bruno” recently became the first song from a Walt Disney Animation Studios film to hit the number one spot on Billboard’s Streaming Songs chart. This week, it hit number four on Billboard’s Hot 100 to become the highest-charting song from a Disney animated film in over 26 years (since “Colors of the Wind” from “Pocahontas” in 1995) according to Billboard—and surpassing “Let It Go” from “Frozen,” which made it to number five in 2014. The song is also in the top 20 of Spotify’s Global Daily and Weekly Top Song charts.
The sleeper single, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, has turned into a hit nearly two months after the movie’s theatrical release. Fans and critics have praised the way it blends musical patterns and genres, from hip-hop to Cuban folk and dance music.
Part of its appeal is that it can be sung in so many places. Translating the lyrics for audiences around the world has required some explanation, including what it means to “grow a gut.”
“Encanto” takes place in rural Colombia and features a magical family, whose members possess unique superhuman skills. The song explains how Bruno, an outcast uncle with psychic powers, has ruined lives with his negative prophecies.
“He told me my fish would die. The next day, dead,” one woman sings while displaying an upside-down goldfish in a bowl. “He told me I’d grow a gut and just like he said,” a man wails as his belly explodes through his shirt, popping off the buttons.
The Thai translation captures a similar spirit: “He said you just lose a goldfish with its mouth wide open, he said you will grow a big belly soon, just like what has been said.”https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/3VqbiF3EBvA?hd=1&rel=0&autohide=1&showinfo=0
The film premiered in U.S. theaters on Nov. 24 and on the Disney+ streaming service a month later. On Jan. 10, Disney released a video of the “Bruno” song that incorporates the lyrics in 21 of the languages it was recorded in. It starts with English and Spanish, then moves to Hungarian, Greek, Bahasa Malaysia, Portuguese (with separate Brazilian and European translations) and more.
The multilanguage version of the song accumulated more than 12 million views on YouTube in one week. A polyglot version of a 2016 Disney hit, “How Far I’ll Go” from “Moana,” has 10 million views on the same channel.
“It’s so streamlined,” says Jacqueline Avila, a professor of musicology at the University of Tennessee, of the editing in the multilanguage “Bruno” track.
The musical numbers in “Encanto” have a specific sound, largely from a specific region. The studio worked with teams across the world to dub the film in 46 languages total, director Jared Bush says. The goal is for translated lyrics to capture the spirit of the song and character across various languages.
“These are not typically direct translations,” Mr. Bush says. “If a different word needs to come in or the way this is said needs to adjust, it should feel like the way it feels to us in whatever language feels very comfortable.”
The process requires trust across teams, he says.
“Our teams around the world will come to us and say, ‘What you can say in English in four seconds is very different than what you can say in Korean in four seconds. So can we say this?’ ” director Byron Howard says.
Notes to help translation and localization were provided to these teams, according to a Disney spokeswoman. Under the English lyric that begins, “He told me I’d grow a gut,” there is a note to help clarify: “gut = someone’s stomach, especially when it is fat.”
In reference to another lyric that goes, “Hey, sis, I want not a sound out of you,” a note clarifies that “sis = colloquial sister.” Another note says that “feast on = to feel great enjoyment from something.”
The directors say they hoped to keep Colombian culture and music at the core of every translation. Many of the dubs were recorded in Colombia, and Colombian consultants and musicians advised on pronunciation. The filmmakers also enlisted help from other South American countries. For the Czech version, an Uruguayan actor voiced Félix, a fun-loving animated character with a large part in “Bruno.”
Some words and phrases stayed consistent in Spanish throughout the versions, such as one character’s term of endearment for his wife, “mi vida,” which means “my life.”
“Some of it was very character-specific, and those are the things that ended up sticking,” says Charise Castro Smith, co-writer and co-director of “Encanto.”
In recent years, Disney has taken steps to address criticism over stereotypical or racist themes and depictions in its older films and theme-park rides. In 2020, the company said it would include an advisory on content that includes negative depiction or treatments of people or cultures, including the 1953 film “Peter Pan,” in which indigenous people are referred to as “redskins,” and the 1992 film “Aladdin.”
The influences of Cuban folk and dance genres—including guajira, a rural peasant music from the late 19th and early 20th century, and son, a more modern version of guajira—may have contributed to the global reaction to “Bruno,” says Michael Birenbaum Quintero, a professor of musicology and ethnomusicology at Boston University with a focus on Latin America.
“It is very familiar to people in the United States and all over the world as a kind of Latin American music. We have been hearing it internationally since the 1930s,” he says. “It’s something that shows up in Broadway musicals, and in Hollywood and television commercials.”
The song’s global popularity across languages has been both surprising and affirming for Ms. Castro Smith.
“I think this video actually proves that everybody in the world has a black sheep in their family,” she says. “It’s such a relatable concept of the person in your family that you really aren’t supposed to talk about, but he’s like the biggest deal, right?”
Write to Alex Janin at Alex.Janin@wsj.com
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Appeared in the January 20, 2022, print edition as ‘How ‘Bruno’ Became Talked About.’