In Disney’s “Encanto,” the magic of Colombian culture is the star.
Disney’s 60th feature, “Encanto,” offers families an exciting and endearing adventure. Behind the scenes of this familia lies the talent of director Jared Bush, who directed recent animated favorite “Zootopia,” and composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose film adaptation of “In the Heights” was the movie of the summer. “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”’s Stephanie Beatriz brings her experience in comedy to the role of Mirabel Madrigal, giving the film’s protagonist a punchy personality.
“Encanto” tells the story of Mirabel, the only child in the famous familia Madrigal to not have a magical gift. Despite her optimistic attitude, Mirabel silently struggles with her identity, as she feels she has no special role in her home or the community. She battles with her abuela, Alma, who affirms that Mirabel only gets in the way during important events due to her lack of a magical gift. When Mirabel learns that her family’s magic might be dying, and she may be the one behind it, she does all that she can to prove to her family that she is worthy of being a Madrigal.
The film does exactly what it sets out to do. It has a heartwarming story that will make you laugh, then cry and then laugh a lot more. The plot develops quickly, throwing a lot of information at viewers to set the scene. The front-heavy exposition could leave heads spinning, but it ultimately keeps viewers on the edge of their seats. The fast-paced story, in combination with the bright colors and bubbly characters, is perfect for children, the film’s target audience.
“Encanto” plays with some darker themes as well. The origin of the Madrigal family magic is deeply rooted in a harrowing tale of violence, with one of the first scenes depicting Alma losing her husband to an invasion of their rural village shortly after giving birth to their child. Her flashbacks act as a much-needed juxtaposition to the dreamy mood of the rest of the film. It would have been difficult to honestly portray the beauty of Colombian culture without mentioning the uglier aspects of its political history and multiple civil wars.
Disney’s children’s movies have a tendency to gloss over harsh reality, especially in their efforts to diversify their characters and stories, which in many cases has led to a startling romanticization of true events. “Encanto” is hopefully a taste of the company’s greater cinematic evolution, as it looks forward to the release of the animated film “Turning Red” in 2022.
“Encanto” would not have put quite the spell on audiences without its incredible animation. The artistic flair and attention to detail is what truly brought out the characters’ personalities, with special attention given to the largest personality of all: Colombia.
Each character is dressed in traditional, colorful clothing, right down to the fine embroidery on Mirabel’s blouse. The arepas con queso, a traditional Colombian dish, looks as if they had been made right in the theater, and the spilled vino could have splashed off the screen. The natural beauty of rural Colombia plays a starring role, with lush green trees, majestic mountains and large, vibrant flowers sparkling everywhere. Mirabel’s youngest cousin has the ability to speak to animals, showcasing the native wildlife of the South American country.
While the representation of Colombia is enthralling and the storyline is overall poignant, with its emphasis on themes of the value of family and uniqueness, the conclusion falls flat. Mirabel ends up the hero that everyone could have predicted she would become from the beginning of the film.
After a magical disaster, the community comes together to help the Madrigal family rebuild their home. Mirabel places the finishing touch — a door knob — on the house, sending a wave of magic over the town and proving that she has a supernatural gift after all. This fairytale finish fails to recognize Mirabel’s own mundane gifts — like her compassion, uplifting spirit and knack for sewing — ultimately saying the most important part about her was her magic.
With Mirabel’s character arc finding its conclusion as yet another magical member of her family, Disney undos the powerful message of the significance of being different. Throughout the film, Mirabel demonstrates multiple non-magical talents that allow her to become the hero of “Encanto,” so Disney’s decision to make her the same as everyone else undermines their message of the beauty of being the black sheep of a family and how everyone’s abilities — magical or not — are equally useful.
Nonetheless, the plot is charming, exciting and a wonderful reminder to be grateful for what we have and who we have in our lives.
Butterflies play an especially significant role in the film. They can always be seen perched on the Madrigal’s home, flying around the town, embroidered on Mirabel’s dress, or adorning the magical candle sitting in her grandmother’s window. One of the last scenes in the movie depicts Mirabel and Alma watching a yellow butterfly cross the river, perhaps a reference to Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez’s most famous work, “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” a book whose magical realism and familial themes are mirrored in the movie. This is a subtle hint to the book, but one that adds an extra layer of meaning to the finale.
Disney has certainly done it again with “Encanto.” The plot perfectly weaves together the prominent tragedies of violence in rural Colombia with the heartwarming story of a young girl trying to find a place in her family, all while keeping the story light-hearted and digestible for young viewers.