Movies

Disney’s Encanto is a Phenomenal Family Story

Co-written by P. A. Wilson and Ashley Ostrowski

We watched Encanto together over Scener this January. Disney movies haven’t been great lately, but this one had great reviews, so we decided to check it out. I’m so glad that we did. Encanto has stunning animation, a great soundtrack, well developed and likable characters, and portrays Columbian culture with accuracy. The movie also isn’t afraid to dive into serious issues like the effect of generational trauma on families. Encanto is available to watch on Disney+.

The story of the Madrigal family began when Abuela Alma and Abuelo Pedro were forced to leave their homes due to violence in their area. The conflict depicted in the film is likely based on the Thousand Days War in Columbia. Pedro sacrifices his life to save Alma and their triplets. A miracle manifested in a magical candle that builds them a gorgeous house and all their children and grandchildren–except Mirabel–are given magical powers. Their powers provide for the town around them and Alma puts pressure on the kids to use their powers to take care of everyone.

Generational Trauma

When Alma was young, she met Pedro on the Day of the Little Candles, a Columbian public holiday that occurs on the eve of the Immaculate Conception. The festival was first celebrated when Pope Pius IX announced that the Immaculate Conception was a part of Catholic dogma. People lit candles that night and the tradition has continued. In Columbia, Candles are lit on December 7th every year. Abuela lost her husband to violence in Columbia. and then a magic candle granted her family magical powers. They don’t know how the candle became magic, but they do know their powers can provide for the entire town. The town flourishes with Luisa’s strength, Pepa’s weather-controlling abilities, Julieta’s healing, Dolores’ hearing, and Isabela’s beautiful flowers that decorate the town. Their powers provide safety and security to their community. Alma believes that through hard work and determination, they can keep this town flourishing. Because the children’s abilities help everyone survive, Alma values her children’s and grandchildren’s powers more than the kids. She has high expectations because she is afraid of losing everything. The miracle is unknown and she desperately wants to keep the miracle going. Alma insists on perfection and is hard on Mirabel in particular, who didn’t receive magical powers. Alma repeats that her children and grandchildren must “Make your family proud,” but treats their efforts as unsatisfactory no matter how hard they try–especially with Mirabel.

Music

The music from Encanto is fantastic and it is topping the charts. The movie’s songs were composed by Germaine Franco and Lin-Manuel Miranda. Franco said that she read Columbian history, music, and literature to prepare to get inspiration. Both writers are of Latin American descent, and so are all the actors playing the characters. In addition, the songs “Colombia, Mi Encanto” and “Dos Oroguitas” were sung by two of Colombia’s current biggest artists, Carlos Vives and Sebastian Yatra.

We Don’t Talk About Bruno

We Don’t Talk About Bruno was #1 on the music charts, Remember when Let it Go was all the rage and felt super popular? Encanto‘s music tops Frozen, and for a good reason. The song begins with Pepa and Felix singing and then the song flashes to Dolores and then Camilo. The story of Bruno’s disappearance is told through the perspective of the Madrigal family and also the townspeople. People are also talking about Bruno when they say they don’t talk about him. The irony! Then the family gets ready for Mariano to come.

Dolores’ part makes Bruno sound mysterious, and we learn that she does hear Bruno. She says, “I always hear him muttering and mumbling, I associate him with the sound of falling sand.” Dolores clearly knows where Bruno is and can hear him, but the family doesn’t listen. It is also worth noting that sounds like footsteps are louder in Dolores’ part, emphasizing her hearing power.

Bruno is seen through the eyes of the family, and he’s basically a myth to the kids. “Seven foot frame, rats along his back, when he calls your name it all fades to black. Yeah he sees your dreams and feasts on your screams” is obviously exaggeration. The song is a hit, it makes you want to listen again. It also builds mystery about Bruno. The more we hear about Bruno, the more the myth builds and the suspense grows as Mirabel starts to regret bringing him up in the first place.

Surface Pressure

This song is relatable for many people, especially older siblings and those who feel like they are under a lot of pressure from their family. I love how the donkeys Luisa was carrying are incorporated into the scenes as spectators, dancers, or as part of the weight she has to carry. There are references to Hercules, who fought Cerberus, as well as Atlas, who held the weight of the world on his shoulders. Another familiar reference is one to the Titanic, as she imagines her family not swerving from danger even when they “heard how big the iceberg is.” This sense of impending doom weighs on her a lot. “I’m pretty sure I’m worthless, if I can’t be of service” is a line that hits so hard. People often measure themselves by how much they have accomplished for others, but for Luisa, this amount of service is never enough even if it is constant. I wonder if the donkeys are included because Luisa’s family treats her like some sort of beast of burden–or at least Abuela Alma does. This may not be at the top of the charts like We Don’t Talk About Bruno, but it is still remarkable as an anthem of the stressed.

What Else Can I Do

Isabela is supposed to be the perfect sibling. Abuela adores her and she has a power to grow gorgeous flowers. One youtuber noted that Abuela actually smiles in the portrait of her and Isabela. She is the golden child, so she has to be perfect. Isabela previously thought that she could only create pretty, perfect flowers. But she lives under her grandmother’s expectations and any deviation from that plan is a failure. She’s also suppressing her emotions other than total joy, “I’m so sick of pretty, I want something true, don’t you?” Isabela creates a cactus and carnivorous plants. She isn’t allowed to be angry, but here she can finally express herself. The line “I wonder how far these roots go down” seems to hint at the family trauma. How far do the roots of their problems lie? But just as Isabella talks about roots, she grows a giant palm tree over the roof of the house. It shows her potential, and Mirabel is amazed at first. She is jealous of her sister because her grandmother favors her the most, but really, Isabela feels trapped under the weight of Abuela’s expectations. She realizes that imperfect things are even more beautiful. Her powers are also fun when she doesn’t have to be perfect. Isabela discovers the joy of creating, of using her powers for her and for the first time, she can escape those expectations and truly live in the moment. With her powers growing so much, perhaps she could change the world.

Animation

The animation in this film is colorful. Everything is incredibly detailed and just gorgeous. It brings you into the magical world of the Madrigal family and the audience shares Mirabel’s excitement and wonder.

Psychology and Family Dynamics

The candle’s powers are a mixed blessing. The entire town is reliant on the candle, and therefore Alma starts to love the candle and the children’s powers. It has been an unimaginable blessing, and she desperately longs to keep it, but this comes at the price of her family’s psychological well-being. “But work and dedication will keep the miracle burning and each new generation must keep the miracle burning” Alma sings in the song “The Family Madrigal”. Our first impression of her is that she is someone who values hard work, but hard work isn’t just good, it is necessary for survival. She fears losing the miracle, and relies on her children and grandchildren to keep it going. She doesn’t have any powers herself, but she blames her granddaughter, Mirabel for not getting powers. Mirabel also tries to help on the day of Antonio’s gift ceremony, but Alma tells her it is best to step aside. Alma is being hypocritical here, since she is helping with the ceremony and has no powers herself.

Mirabel is the only child without powers, and Alma constantly reminds her of her disappointment. Mirabel thus decides that she will help everyone else in the family. She wants to help everyone else with their problems. She is running around on the day of Antonio’s ceremony. When she hears Alma’s wish to save the miracle, she decides that she will be the one to save it. She is a caretaker by nature, usually putting herself last. Her personality is very Type A–when met with a problem, she immediately tries to solve it.

Isabela is the oldest daughter in the Madrigal family. Mirabel resents her because she looks perfect all the time and Abuela adores her. But Isabela’s life isn’t as great as Mirabel imagines. Her body language tells us that she doesn’t want to marry Mariano and is only doing it for the family. While Mirabel has been defined by her lack of a gift, Isabela is defined by her ability to make pretty things. But in the name of being pretty, Isabela is discouraged from showing any emotions other than happiness and creating anything that doesn’t look perfect. She is jealous of Mirabel because without powers and she doesn’t have to live up to Abuela’s expectations. In her song, she realizes that she was repressing her powers, and that she is capable of much more than creating coronations. She grows giant palm tress and carnivorous plants. She is also free to express her anger and wear colors other than purples and pinks. She is free to be herself and can finally not try to fit a standard of perfection. When she breaks out of that standard, she is free to create and try and fail. There is also a beauty in imperfection.

Luisa is the strong one in the family, the one who has difficulty expressing emotion and showing vulnerability. So much pressure is laid on her shoulders, which she keeps all under the surface. The only giveaway is her twitching eye, which Dolores heard and brought to Mirabel’s attention. Luisa feels like she must singlehandedly shoulder the family burdens without accepting help from anyone. It was only a matter of time before she breaks under the pressure, and luckily when the cracks in Luisa’s façade begin to show, Mirabel is there to give her support.

Bruno is the black sheep of the family and the scapegoat. He sees prophesies that tell the family and town about the future. The problem is the that future isn’t often great, it includes a fish’s death for instance, but Bruno only sees the future, he doesn’t control it. Still, Alma wants him to go away because he interferes with her sense of control. Everyone else’s powers allow them to control the environment and create this perfect life for the town. He is a scapegoat–someone to blame for the all the toxic parts of their family–but Bruno leaving, as they discover later, only makes things worse.

Pepa is the emotional one in the family. She has the power to control the weather and often has storm clouds over her head. Abuela often scolds her when the storm clouds rise.

Dolores has a magical sense of hearing and she is the one who can hear Bruno talking through the walls. She tells Mirabel, but she doesn’t listen to her. It must be extremely taxing to hear everything around you all the time.

Why Mirabel Doesn’t Have Powers

Mirabel is the only member of the Madrigal family who didn’t get powers, and it is not a big dramatic moment the way it would be in another story. She cares deeply about her family and wants to help them out even if she doesn’t have a gift. Some fans theorize that she might not have a gift because she will eventually take the place of Abuela Alma as the next family matriarch.

She is the one who takes care of everyone else. She talks to her siblings and empathizes with them when they reveal the stress they feel in their role in the family. She is the one to bring them all together and bring Bruno back. Her power, it appears, is understanding people, which might be the most important gift of all.

Clothing Details

There are representations of the character’s powers on each of their clothes.

Bruno has an hourglass pattern that represents his ability to see the future.

Camilo has chameleons on his clothes that represent his ability to shapeshift.

There are sound waves for Dolores, representing her ability to hear well.

Louisa has barbells representing her strength.

Mirabel has representations of all her family members embroidered on her dress. A chameleon for Camilo, animals for Antonio, flowers for Isabela, weights for Luisa, a sun for Pepa, etc. Butterflies on her dress connect her to the candle and Abuela Alma also has them on her dress. We noticed the butterflies on Alma’s dress and on Alma’s outfit.

Observations

The line “Coffee is for grownups” isn’t accurate. Colombian coffee is super popular, and it is pretty common for kids to drink coffee there. Although the coffee the children drink is weaker, they still frequently drink coffee.

The film was partially inspired by Gabriel García Márquez’s book One Hundred Years of Solitude. In that book, a village is secluded from the rest of the world and gradually gets more contact with the outside. The family home sometimes behaves in mysterious ways. The book is about the downfall of a family. These are all aspects that One Hundred Years of Solitude has in common with Encanto. For instance, both use butterflies.

Every time Pepa had storm clouds above her on numerous occasions. Abuela Alma was always telling her that they were there, as if she didn’t know. It’s frustrating, kind of like when someone just says to relax to someone who is chronically stressed–not only is it annoying, it is also ignorant. The first time Pepa had a storm cloud above her head and Abuela did not scold her was at the end.

Pepa and her husband Félix are really cute together. Their relationship is sweet, and this was especially evident during the song We Don’t Talk About Bruno, where Félix played a supporting role to Pepa’s part. Their son Camilo is really nice to Pepa–he brought her a drink and tried to comfort her.

One parallel in the film is how Mirabel holds Antonio’s hand as he approaches his door in the beginning, and Antonio holds her hand to approach her door at the end.

Conclusion

We wholeheartedly recommend this film for all ages.

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