“Encanto”! The Disney film set in Colombia has taken the world by storm. If you haven’t had some combination of “Pressure like a drip, drip, drip…We don’t talk about Bruno…Noche de Fiesta” stuck in your head for the last few weeks, I’m here to convince you that that needs to change.
I saw the film in theaters shortly after it came out but once it hit Disney+ and my 3-year-old’s daycare closed for two weeks, our daily viewing of “Encanto” somehow made those two weeks more bearable.
In an interview, Lin Manuel Miranda said he was striving to get the complexity of a multi-generational family into one film and, in my humble opinion, he nailed it.
The film explores the fantastical and magical Madrigal family. Set in the hills of Colombia, the story begins with Abuela, the matriarch of the family, and how the “Encanto” – the miracle that shielded her family and village from the violence they were fleeing – came to be. The miracle is kept alive by each member of the family receiving a gift – some type of power – when they come of age. The present-day storyline opens with Mirabel (voiced by Stephanie Beatriz, of “Brooklyn 99” fame), one of Abuela Alma’s grandkids and the protagonist of the story who is the only member of her family without a gift.
With music by Lin Manuel Miranda and a story that shifts far from the typical Disney Princess narrative, it’s no wonder “Encanto” has taken the world by storm. And while the film is set in Colombia and has been received extremely well by the Colombian community, there is so much of it that will resonate with anyone from the Latin American diaspora. Here are a few reasons why “Encanto” should be the next film you watch.
1. It’s Relatable
One of the very first scenes in the film has Abuela telling Mirabel, “Your Abuelo and I were forced to flee our home.” She doesn’t disclose why and the film does a great job of leaving that somewhat up to interpretation, while also making it relatable to any immigrant family who has been forced to leave their home for any reason. While the encanto is a magical place that springs up right where they’re leaving, the story is about a village of people who had to leave their home, and for those of us who are immigrants or come from immigrant families, we immediately feel seen.
2. The Details
From Mirabel’s espadrilles and the detailed embroidery on her clothes to the terracotta roof of Casita and the draping bougainvillea, no detail was spared to make this film look and feel authentic. And as a curly-haired Latina, I’m astounded by the animation of Mirabel’s, and her cousin Antonio’s, curly hair.
3. The Music
Topping all of the Billboard charts and breaking records left and right, the “Encanto” soundtrack is pure magic. With cumbia, salsa, tango, Latin pop, and more, the “Encanto” soundtrack is a veritable infusion of Latin culture. It is astounding and this definitely isn’t your typical Disney soundtrack. More importantly, there are two songs that are performed entirely in Spanish. While neither is performed by a character, both songs play an important role in the film. “Dos Oruguitas,” now nominated for an Oscar, is played over a very emotional flashback scene. I was struck not just by the beauty of the song and the scene, but the fact that it’s in Spanish. The other Spanish song, “Colombia, Mi “Encanto”,” is a love letter to Colombia and a song that will get anybody dancing within seconds. Disney hasn’t had the best track record when it comes to representation in their films, but this particular detail and the entire story of “Encanto”, give me hope that they’re on the right track.
4. The Role of Community
This is a film about family, but it’s also a film about community. Abuela’s strict hold over her family and preserving the miracle is ultimately about how the village will see the family if they appear to be weak. What she doesn’t realize is that the village reciprocates that. They celebrate the family’s triumphs, share their fears, and show up. The final scene is a really powerful demonstration of how family and community come together to lift each other up in a way that I think is unique to the Latin diaspora.
Colombia is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the Western Hemisphere. And “Encanto” does not shy away from that. The multi-generational Madrigal household is also a multiracial household. The Madrigals have been the inspiration for numerous “representation matters” posts across social media featuring people, especially kids, seeing themselves in an animated film for the first time. The creators of “Encanto” didn’t stick to one family in one shade, they created a large, beautiful multi-racial family that looks like many Latino families. I think this will go a long way in helping people understand that Latinos don’t all look the same way, and will open the doors to more Afro-Latin inclusion.
6. The Spanish Speaking
There is so much Spanish in this film! From the terms of endearment, “hombrecito” y “mi vida,” to Abuela’s use of “Oye” to get the family to listen, Spanish is woven into this film the way that it is in many bilingual Spanish speaking households. While it might not seem significant, it really is when you think about the lack of Spanish representation in film, but more importantly, in films targeted toward children.
7. The Understanding of Generational Trauma
This is a kids’ movie, yes, but it excels at achieving that balance of being enjoyable for kids as well as adults. “Encanto” shows how Abuela’s trauma – being forced to leave her home and shouldering the weight of her community – trickles down to her family. Mirabel is constantly trying to prove herself and her sisters, Isabela and Luisa, both struggle with the expectation the rest of the family has for them. It’s incredibly relatable. Mirabel’s journey to try to save the miracle, leads to her own self-realization of the pressure she’s under. Whether we struggle to fit in, carry too much, or feel a constant pressure to be perfect, this film is a lesson in learning how to love ourselves for who we truly are, and how to release those pressures. It’s really powerful.
In an interview, Lin Manuel Miranda said he was striving to get the complexity of a multi-generational family into one film and, in my humble opinion, he nailed it. I wish I had this film when I was growing up. It might have made it a little bit easier to fit in at school where I was the only Latina. It might have made my classmates more interested in me. That’s my hope for today’s kids. For now, I’m really enjoying how my social media feed is filled with kids playing dress-up as Mirabel, a fiercely strong Latina character who has taken the world by storm. We may have a long way to go in terms of representation in film, but “Encanto” is so good and so powerful that at this moment, it feels like we have it.