Updated: Apr 13
Warning: contains movie spoilers
I admit it. I love Disney movies. At my big age of 25, you can still catch me watching classics like Tarzan, Mulan, and The Lion King, or more recent masterpieces like Coco and Luca. Don’t get it twisted though, Disney animated movies are not just for kids. These stories communicate beneficial messages for people of all ages. Tarzan tells us not to judge others just because they look different from us; Mulan tells us that ambition and hard work can take you far; The Lion King reassures us that although finding our sense of self can be hard, it can be done; newer favorites Coco and Luca teach the importance of family, friendship, and the power of following your dreams.
Even more recently, Disney’s Encanto has gotten many people talking. Encanto was released in November 2021, undoubtedly meant to be a feel-good movie option the entire family could enjoy during the holiday season. I watched it around Christmas and was probably indulging in a big plate of Christmas leftovers as I watched. The story takes place in Colombia and is about the protagonist, Mirabel Madrigal, and her family who possess magical powers. The twist is, everyone has an extraordinary gift… except her. The movie follows Maribel as she finds out their Encanto (miracle) is at risk of disappearing and tries to save their magical Casita (house) from literally falling apart.
One of the first things I noticed about the film was the animation. Pixar did not disappoint here. From what we can see of the house and the village, the Encanto blessed them with a large, beautiful home in a flourishing enclave. When talking about the visuals you also have to discuss the character design. The diversity of skin tones, hair colors, and textures is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a Disney movie. So far, I’ve had two family members tell me I look like Mirabel, making this the first time I’ve shared any sort of resemblance to a Disney character. Even the other Encanto residents are varied in appearance, showing the real-life diversity of the country of Colombia. I also loved the music - both the instrumental and lyrical pieces.
The movie is visually appealing and musically intriguing but unfortunately, the plot falls a little flat in my opinion. Specifically, the build-up to the main conflict, if you can even call it that, is easy to overlook. While it’s clear that the conflict is the impending (and eventual) collapse of the Madrigal Casita, the actual event happens almost in a blink of an eye. Shortly after, Casita is restored and the movie ends. There is barely any time for the viewer to process what has happened. Truthfully, after watching the movie for the first time, I felt that there were so few plot points that the movie must have lasted only 30 minutes. However, after viewing it two more times, I’ve come to realize that stuff happens, it just didn’t happen in the way I thought it would. Mirabel doesn’t develop a magical gift, Bruno (Mirabel’s uncle who mysteriously vanished) is barely part of the story, and there’s no traveling beyond the Encanto. There’s no archetypal “hero’s journey” and there’s no true villain either.
In reality, Encanto is one hour and 49 minutes long. Although I’ve grown to like the movie more over time, I still wish Casita and the outside community got more screen time. We get an introductory preview at the start of the movie as Mirabel sings the first musical number called “The Family Madrigal.” Here, you have to pay close attention to the lyrics to catch all the prerequisite details required before diving into the movie. As the song progresses, Miraibel divulges more and more information about her family tree. As she does so, the tempo increases as the pressure builds to the truth - unlike her fantastical family, Mirabel is powerless.
This first song sets the stage for the story, but it also reveals what future musical numbers will sound like. As someone who could not latch on to the plot at first, the music is where Encanto shines for me. Of course, we have “The Family Madigral” and the fan-favorite “We Don’t Talk about Bruno”. “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” is a catchy, salsa-like beat that can make anyone break into song and dance upon hearing it. Rightfully so, it became an internet sensation and is currently holding the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 list for the fourth week in a row.
As I said, the visuals of this film are quite stunning and the music can be fun, but Encanto has a darker side to it. In “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” we hear from the family that Bruno was dark, mysterious, and had a sinister gift for causing bad things to happen. We later learn that is false. Actually, Bruno and his gift for telling the future were misunderstood, as he was constantly blamed for causing misfortune instead of just stating it. So when he had a vision of Casita falling apart, he disappeared out of fear of backlash from his family. He loved his family but given how they typically responded to his visions, he felt the best thing to do for them was to leave. In this scene, we understand the real problem. The family Madrigal is under immense pressure to use their magical powers to ensure the success of the family, defined by their ability to protect their home, the Encanto, and their community.
Bruno is not the only Madrigal who feels the crushing pressure to perform. Antonio, the youngest of the family fears he may not develop a power like Mirabel. Very memorably, when little Antonio is about to receive his gift, his Abuela Alma asks him, “Will you serve this community and strengthen our home?” If I had to guess, I’d say Antonio could not be older than 10 years old, yet he is tasked with the heavy burden of looking after the well-being of others. Is that not a lot for a 10-year-old to deal with?
We later learn that Mirabel’s sister Isabela is being pressured to marry a man she does not love. Their matrimony is highly anticipated by Abuela Alma, who thinks this perfect-looking pair can strengthen the Encanto. Secretly, her cousin Dolores is in love with the same guy but must step aside for the sake of the family. In Mirabel’s case, all she wants to do is help her family but is constantly told that the best way to contribute is to do nothing. Without powers, she is deemed virtually useless by her Abuela.
If you scroll a little further down on the Billboard Hot 100 list, you’ll see another Encanto song that best summarizes the intense pressure felt by the second-generation Madrigals. The song is called “Surface Pressure” performed by Jessica Darrow as Luisa, the Madrigal with super strength. Now this song hits. Yes, it has a pretty cool beat drop but I really mean to say this song hits the heart. The lyrics are strikingly honest, sad, and painstakingly relatable. Crying at Disney movies is one of my favorite pastimes so, of course, this is my favorite song from the movie. Maybe it’s because I am the eldest daughter of my household but I definitely saw myself in Luisa. Lyrics like “I'm pretty sure I'm worthless if I can't be of service” and, “If I could shake the crushing weight of expectations / Would that free some room up for joy” speak volumes. Here, Luisa confesses that she may look tough on the outside but on the inside she questions her worth and ability to take care of her family the way she is expected to.
The part that really had me grabbing a tissue was when she clearly says she carries the weight of the entire family on her shoulders: “Give it to your sister, it doesn't hurt / And see if she can handle every family burden / Watch as she buckles and bends but never breaks”. Um… I am not okay, and neither is Luisa. However, the darkness in this song is covered up with the fancy beat drop and fast-paced visuals. Its importance is not fully understood until the end of the film when Mirabel stands up to her Abuela and states the actual problem.
Although Mirabel doesn’t travel beyond the Encanto the way I thought she would, she takes an emotional trip and ends up at one conclusion: the problem with Casita is not her, her siblings, or her cousins. The cracks in their familial bond, which are literally and metaphorically present in the toppling Casita, is because of Abuela Alma. Abuela Alma may be the head of the house, but let us not forget it was suffering through war and losing her husband that ultimately brought her here. In an effort to protect the Encanto and the Madrigal legacy, she became blind to the true needs of her family. Right before Casita falls apart, Mirabel stands in front of her Abuela and says, “I will never be good enough for you, will I? No matter how hard I try. No matter how hard any of us [the other family members] try.” At this point, Mirabel understands that her whole family feels the pressure to be perfect and that the way to her Abuela’s heart requires sacrificing your desires for the betterment of the family’s magic. That is a tough pill to swallow.
In the end, Abuela Alma realizes the damage she has caused, the immense pressure she has placed on her family, and apologies. With the help of the community, they construct a new Casita built on a stronger foundation of mutual understanding and support. Though not perfect, Encanto is a movie everyone should see at least once, if only to hear “We Don’t Talk about Bruno” in action. I’m hoping, however, that you’ll stick to it until the end to fully receive the underlying message. Feeling the pressure to constantly and selflessly give your 100% is extremely unsustainable, even if it’s to benefit the ones you love. Sadly, this lesson can get lost over time. Through the Madrigal generations, the trauma of Abuela’s hardship and loss has only snowballed. As much as you may try, perfect appearances can not cover up the deepest wounds.
Its storylines and themes like this that prove Disney movies are not just for kids.
Edited by: Ariana Jenkins