At its core, “Encanto” is a story about a multigenerational family in Colombia and how they revive the love that binds them together. Of course, it also adds an element of magical realism. The family has been blessed with a miracle, signified by a special candle that sits at the top of their magical smart-house Casita, and each member of the Madrigal family has some sort of special power gifted to them at a young age. “Encanto” begins with its opening song, aptly titled “The Family Madrigal,” as our main protagonist, Mirabel, walks us through each of her family member’s powers.
Mirabel, voice by Stephanie Beatriz, starts “The Family Madrigal” with her Abuela, the family’s matriarch and the person who the miracle was originally bestowed upon. Abuela had two daughters and a son: Tia Pepa, whose mood affects the weather; Julieta, Mirabel’s mom, whose meals have healing powers; and Bruno, who they “don’t talk about,” whose powers allow him to see the future. Pepa and Julieta each married men without powers and had kids, who are Mirabel’s cousins and sisters. Her cousins Dolores and Camilo have super hearing and shapeshifting abilities, respectively, and her youngest cousin, Antonio, is slated to get his gift at the beginning of the movie. Mirabel’s sister Isabela is graceful, with the ability to make flowers grow, and her other sister, Luisa, has super strength.
Every member of the family Madrigal uses their powers to help their community flourish. Camilo, for example, uses his shapeshifting powers to take the shape of a hardworking mother and cradle her baby so that the mother can finally get some rest, and Luisa uses her super strength to craft a bridge over a river.
What about Mirabel? On her special gift-revealing day, she didn’t get a gift — or, at least, not an evident one. This creates the central tension for the film: Abuela is terrified that their miracle is dying, so when Antonio’s special gift-revealing day arrives, she has a lot on the line. Mirabel, who desperately wants to be of service and prove her worthiness, tries to help, but her Abuela tells her to just stay out of it. That night, Antonio is gifted the ability to communicate with animals, and the whole town parties in his jungle of a room.
After feeling left out, Mirabel leaves Antonio’s party. When she does, she notices that their beloved Casita is cracking. The damage, paired with the fact that Mirabel didn’t get a power, seems to suggest that the family’s enchantment is fading. Mirabel runs to get Abuela, but when Abuela comes out, the house is completely intact. Mirabel’s finding is written off as a jealous attempt to dampen everyone’s mood.
Knowing better, Mirabel sets out to investigate the source of the miracle’s decline and try to fix it. What ensues involves absolutely stunning animation and charming, catchy songs as Mirabel reconnects with her siblings, cousins and long-lost uncle.
We also learn that these superpowers are not all they’re cracked up to be — Luisa faces pressure carrying other people’s loads, Isabela feels the need to always be prim and proper and Bruno exiled himself because his helpful warnings were misinterpreted by the family as evil manifestations. As these caveats are explicitly revealed, we can easily figure out how the other members of the family must also be burdened with their powers. Imagine being Julieta and having to churn out meals for the entire population of your town. Or being Pepa and having to constantly regulate your emotions — you literally would not have the option to be upset without it affecting the whole community. Dolores and Camilo must have had to work tirelessly to resolve conflicts between people in the town.
In this way, “Encanto” becomes an example of multigenerational trauma and the pressures that children of immigrants face. Abuela is not intentionally putting these expectations on her family; rather, it’s a more complicated and nuanced situation. After all the hardship she faced, she too feels pressure to ensure that the people around her never experience the same. In doing so, the family divides and loses some of its love. Depending on how useful they are, love feels conditional for everyone in the family — especially for Mirabel. But in the end, it turns out that the gifts are not really everything; in Mirabel’s case, it seems that she herself was the gift.
The journey of “Encanto” is relatively small-scale, with most of the big events taking place within Casita. Yet the varying skin tones and hair textures of each family member, the native Colombian flora and fauna and the songs featuring traditional folk instruments all contribute to making the Disney film a glimmering representation of Latinx culture.
Audiences were deeply moved by the portrayal of the love and familial struggle in “Encanto.” As we enter 2022, a tale of family reconciliation and learning to see your relatives for who they are rather than who you wish they would be is exactly what we need, and “Encanto” doesn’t disappoint.