Review: The simple magic of Disney’s Encanto

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Each member of the Madrigal family is born with a special power, granted to them by the miracle of a magic candle. All except for our lead heroine and neglected granddaughter, Mirabel (voiced by Stephanie Beatriz). Mirabel is desperate to fit in with her family and be appreciated by her grandmother, but all her efforts seem to come to no avail. However, when Casita, their magical self-sufficient house, starts cracking, the Madrigals are threatened with a non-magical future. Mirabel decides to figure out what is wrong with the magic herself, leading to familial chaos and a revelation of secrets. 

The plot of Encanto is strikingly simple, with the movie’s power coming from its touching focus on family dynamics instead. The Madrigal family is portrayed in its entirety: Abuela, the matriarch, her three children, Julieta, Pepa and her ‘he who must not be named’ son Bruno, as well as their partners and their own children. The decision to focus the movie on a large family is certainly a challenge but it works exceptionally well to create funny memorable moments, recreating the magic of chaotic family dinners and featuring catchy personalised songs. 

Beneath the incredibly catchy songs and magical powers is a buried story of displacement

Encanto also marks Disney’s commitment to engagement and accurate representation of cultures, from the food included like arepas con queso, to the embroidery of the skirts, and the details of the village architecture. The directors, Jared Bush and Byron Howard, traveled to Colombia on a research trip and worked alongside numerous cultural advisers to ensure the cultural authenticity of the film. This commitment is also reflected by the stunning soundtrack written by Lin-Manual Miranda, which features traditional salsa and bachata rhythms. 

But what is most striking about Encanto right from the start is the rich physical diversity of the characters, accurately reflecting the diversity of the Latinx community. After the criticism received by Lin Manuel Miranda’s film adaptation of his Broadway musical In The Heights for its lack of Afro-Latino representation, it is refreshing to see a commitment to representation in his newest project. As an animated movie intended for children, the importance of seeing themselves physically represented on screen from their formative years cannot be underestimated. The movie features a range of skin tones, various hair textures, and body diversity — breaking the stereotype of a homogenous South American look. 

Like most Disney films, Encanto is an entertaining watch for all ages, but this movie particularly resonates with the old as well as the young, and successfully moves both Colombian and non-Colombian audiences. The decided reference to the country’s history of political strife often referred to as ‘La Violencia’, is shown in a beautifully composed flashback of Abuela’s past, ultimately revealing the death of her husband, Pedro, as they attempted to flee their village. Beneath the incredibly catchy songs and magical powers is a buried story of displacement. It is expressed through Abuela’s growing fear that they will lose their home again if the miracle disappears. The magic of ‘Casita’ is not only in its tapping tiles and self-decorating splendour but in the feeling of safety and belonging it brings. 

Encanto acknowledges the suffering that the people of Columbia have endured, but simultaneously dedicates itself to the possibility of healing and beauty

The violence of the country’s history is acknowledged, but it is not permitted to overpower the beauty and rich culture of the country. Perhaps it is not only because the movie is intended for children that the political conflict is not explored further: Encanto acknowledges the suffering that the people of Colombia have endured, but simultaneously dedicates itself to the possibility of healing and beauty. An appreciation for the artistic and cultural legacy of the country is woven into the fabric of the film – the mentions of the candles and subtle features of the yellow butterflies are a direct reference to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel One Hundred Years of Solitude. The song accompanying the flashback, ‘Dos Orguitas’, sung by Sebastian Yatra, takes influence from Colombian folk music and is one of the few songs that remain completely in Spanish. It speaks of the lifeline of connection in a world that keeps changing, daring to look forward to a hopeful future, beautifully encapsulating the film. 

In the touching scene where Abuela and Mirabel open up to each other on the dock, Encanto reveals the power of its message. Abuela’s past hardships are the root of her desire for her family to be perfect, trying to manufacture their happiness in an attempt to prove the family is worth this second chance at a home. But this ultimately causes her family more harm than good. Encanto shows that it is only through listening and talking with the intent of understanding that we can truly heal from intergenerational trauma. It is about recognising the burdens shouldered throughout generations and unlearning the toxic patterns internalised in ourselves. 

Image Credit: Budiey via Flickr

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