I Just Watched Encanto: Here are my Thoughts
Recently, I went with my family to see Disney’s new movie, Encanto. If I’m being transparent, my expectations in terms of entertainment weren’t high. I had already seen a good amount of spoilers and anticipated being bored, having already figured out the entire story. Being proven wrong has never made me happier: Encanto is a beautiful story about a Colombian family with magical powers, and the protagonist, Mirabel, is the only one with no powers. It is a story about acceptance and family, and it delves into topics such as generational trauma and managing expectations.
The first thing that stood out to me was the visuals. Each character and scene showcased aspects of Colombian culture, from the food to the outfits and music. In the media, attributes of the Latinx community are often conflated to one set features. The characters are almost always tan with straight or wavy hair and the same slim-downed body type. Encanto’s characters explore the complex workings of latinx genetics. Pepa’s family were afro-latinos, and Isabela had obvious Native-Colombian features, not to mention that every character displayed different body and hair types. This is the first time the Latinx community has been not only content with cultural depictions, but able to relate to characters in both appearance and personality. While examining the film, you can see the added details of the Madrigals’ clothing to match each respective gift. Besides the fact that Mirabel and Antonio wear traditional clothing, weights on Luisa’s skirt match her superhuman strength, and chameleons on Camilo’s poncho relate to his shapeshifting. The attention to detail in the most minor ways showed how much time the animators put into this movie.
The Madrigals are vibrant and personable, while still being relatable to the audience in their struggles. The three Madrigal sisters’ struggles are explored throughout the film. Most find Luisa relatable as she feels the need to carry every burden in the family―thinking she’s useless if she isn’t the strongest. My personal favorite, Isabela, is the golden child. She’s the most traditionally perfect person of the Madrigals, willing to sacrifice her happiness for her family’s. These expectations cause her to lash out at Mirabel, because everyone has little to no expectations for the youngest sister. The sisters’ issues contrast with each other, while still representing problems in real life. Directors, Byron Howard, Charise Castro Smith, and Jared Baker, did a good job in focusing on the cast and without creating an overly complicated plot. The audience gets insight into the lives of Mirabel’s sisters and get to see their insecurities with two new Disney bangers, written by successful songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda. At this point, who hasn’t cried to “Surface Pressure”? Personally, I loved seeing Disney’s approach with these characters―it made the movie all the more memorable.
After watching Encanto once, I watched it again. (Spoiler warning: we’re about to talk about the ending.) Mirabel was labeled the family disappointment, the only Madrigal without a gift. She continuously tells everyone and herself that she’s fine with her place in the family. After being left out of the family photo during Antonio’s gift ceremony, she finally breaks down in the song, “Waiting on a Miracle,” where she admits to wanting to be as special as the rest of her family. Mirabel has been made to feel like the outsider by her family, whether they meant to or not. This is because of Abuela Alma, who pushes the narrative that the Madrigals have a duty to help others with their miracles. When Mirabel doesn’t receive a gift during her ceremony, she is cast aside. This relates most closely to generational trauma, a cycle of abuse passed down through the generations. It turns out, Abuela is not as villainous as she appears. Her actions stem from the difficulties of losing her home and her husband, and she has been forcing hard expectations onto her family for fear of losing the safety they have. Alma is still an antagonist of sorts. She pushes her family into specific roles, shunning those who do not fit in. She gets to a point where she measures their worth by their usefulness to the community. These actions cause Bruno to leave, and Pepa to smother her emotions.
But the true villains of Encanto are the harmful actions of the guerillas. The issue is addressed minorly in Abuela’s backstory, but we see throughout the entire film how this affects her and quite literally tears the family apart. Forced displacement has been and still is an issue within Colombia that most have never heard of, so for it to be represented in a kid’s movie in an impactful way is incredibly meaningful.
Disney did a beautiful thing in creating Encanto. But like all good movies, it isn’t without its flaws. The issue most have with the movie is Abuela’s easily accepted apology. I agree, as the healing and forgiveness process depicted in the film is unrealistic and far too fast considering the harm caused. Watching Bruno apologize despite having done nothing wrong was frustrating. However, I don’t expect Disney to portray a message of non-forgiveness, and I am more than satisfied that the choice was made for Abeula to change and apologize. More could’ve been done for the ending, but I applaud the directors for working with the runtime they had.
A bigger issue is that there could’ve been more Colombians on the creative team. Encanto is a story that takes place in Colombia, yet it could easily be moved to another Latin country with little issue. This isn’t the case with movies like Coco and The Book of Life, which cannot be changed because of their emphasis on specific Mexican culture. For a film so heavily advertised as Colombian, Disney could’ve added more aspects of Colombian culture and tradition―which would have been easier with more Colombians present on the writing team.
If you’re looking for a movie to see with your family, I highly recommend Encanto. It’s fun and upbeat with a good message for all ages. You’ll fall in love with the gorgeous scenery and lively characters. As with most movies, Encanto isn’t perfect, but it’s made its way into the hearts of people all over the world and has everyone singing “We Don’t Talk About Bruno.”