Have you ever felt like you are like the ordinary or oddball one in the family? As if all the gifts just skipped you like a game of duck, duck, goose when they were dolled out? Maybe you aren’t the “athletic” one or the tallest, but everyone has something of value – even you can’t see it with our surface-level frames of mind. The Madrigal family are all endowed with distinct powers by a magical candle. They live on a beautiful plot of land named Encanto within the mountains of Columbia, where a good collection of townspeople has joined them. Encanto‘s animation style is extremely vibrant – taking care of every plant and foliage to where you can almost smell the freshness through the screen. Every piece of fabric flows naturally. Even the food, down to the texture of the arepas, are treated with precision and care. It’s a tight-knit town; street markets and communal farmland are aplenty, with the Madrigal casita at the center.
As a member of the Madrigal family becomes of age, the town becomes abuzz with curiosity about what power they will get. At the center is 15-year-old Mirabel (voiced by Stephanie Beatriz), who was the unlucky member who didn’t receive any special gift on her fifth birthday. The audience finds this out through a catchy opening number, “Welcome To The Family Madrigal,” where all the abilities are explained at the behest of some eager neighborhood kids. For example, Julieta (voiced by Angie Cepeda) has healing powers through cooking. Her cousin Camilo (expressed by Rhenzy Feli) can shape shift to look like others, and her aunt, Pepa (voiced by Carolina Gaitán), controls the weather. Still, because of her ever-changing emotional state, it makes for some funny instances.
What Mirabel lacks in magical moxie, she makes up for her inquisitive nature and wants to help. Sometimes, that gets her in trouble, but it’s a genuine feeling when you want to show your worth to those you care about the most. One day, she gets visions of the magic running out – complete with earthquakes and the protected candle losing its flame. So, the film then turns into a quest to get to the bottom of this vision and if it hints at a darker prophecy. It leads to a venture of self-discovery, not only for Mirabel, but for the entire family itself. One benefit of having a film that concerns itself with family dynamics is that you can property investigate each character while giving more time to others. Mirabel is our navigator and the core compass, but each of her family members gets their own time in the sun. Given that dynamic, it plays to a stronger narrative about self-acceptance, heritage, and the needs to honor it.
A story point that elevates Encanto is how the film displays the pressure of having these powers – primarily when an entire community relies on them. Luisa (voiced by Jessica Darrow) has superhuman strength and is often tasked with any aspect involving hard labor, like moving an entire bridge from one side to another. She gets a full song named “Surface Pressure” to vent about how the stress of being excessively strong all the time gets to her. Isabel (voiced by Diane Guerrero) is the perfect child and can make flowers bloom wherever she goes. She and Mirabel have a rocky relationship given their standings in the family and have to rectify it. Even Isabel wishes of a time when she could color outside the lines, so to speak. In a world full of magic where nothing seems out of place, there is an internal struggle that each of the characters has. Thus, Mirabel’s “ordinariness” becomes a superpower in its own right. She’s the perspective of the audience.
Mirabel finds some solace in her ostracized uncle, Bruno (voiced by John Leguizamo) who can see the future. There was a vision that spooked him so badly that he vanished. Leading to the rest of the family to never speak of him (aptly showed in the catchy number, “We Don’t Talk About Bruno”). It’s satisfying that Bruno gets to show Mirabel that even having gifts isn’t a cure-all. If they sometimes go haywire, you’ll look upon as not good enough.
Abuela (voiced by María Cecilia Botero) is the family matriarch and has a sadder story concerning the origin of the candle in relation to her family. Encanto itself was born out of she, her widow, and three children were refugees that needed a place to go. However, the hurt of that loss impacts Abuela far into her life. Mirabel tries her hardest to gain her approval, only to be met with agitation. In fact, the Madrigal family all are wilting under the weight of her gase. It’s these heavier themes that directors Byron Howard, Jared Bush, and writer Charise Castro Smith are willing to tackle that separates Encanto from falling into the conventional Disney coming-of-age story beats. Abuela means well, but her brand of love molds into a strict regiment that the family has to follow.
The musical acumen of Lin-Manuel Miranda and Germaine Franco are an eclectic mix of Colombian style, hip-hop, and more dramatic, anecdotal numbers we’ve known from Disney. Self-doubt is a reoccurring enemy that we will all face, but self-acceptance is a power sword that we can yield to slay that dragon. Magic can be used as a crutch to hold up a deteriorating foundation, but ultimately, love will keep the bricks and floorboards together.
Photo Credit: Disney