Most classic Disney movies are rooted in the idea of a damsel in distress. A princess unhappy with her current situation seeking a knight in shining armor to save her from misery. Disney seemingly stepped away from that format to provide their audience with a film that can be entertaining, culturally educational, and heartwarming in a time when hope and magic are needed. Like the 2016 film “Moana” which strays from the conventional lead female character but instead portrays a modernist independent-no-prince-princess, “Encanto’s” protagonist Mirabel is no different.
“Encanto” is the story of the Madrigal family, their magic home named Casita, and the struggle to maintain their status as the saviors of the community. The matriarch Alma “Abuela” Madrigal tells her granddaughter Mirabel how the family received the blessing of protection, magic from a candle and the mountain area in Colombia, allowing her and her three children to escape after armed men on horseback took her husband. Enchanted by the candle, the mountains move to form a wall of protection, and Casita is built from the magic, creating a sanctuary for the Madrigal family and all who followed Alma.
Transported to the future, Maribel, now an adult, sings “The Family Madrigal,” which introduces each Madrigal family member, their blessing from the candle, and their magical room behind a magic door. She then explains that she is the only family member to not receive a gift exhibiting one of the story’s best cultural viewpoints, and allowing the audience to experience the family expectations of being a refugee’s daughter. The song also alludes to “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” the concept and song in the movie which introduces the family’s core issue. Performance pressure from receiving the family Madrigal’s magic, and obtaining perfection has clouded the matriarch and family’s true vision of what the blessing is. The expectation of being of positive service to themselves and their community has driven one of its family members away, Bruno.
Maribel then sees the destruction of Casita and the magical candle burning out in a vision, and tries to warn her family, to no avail; Abuela scolds her and explains that she is acting out due to not having received a blessing from the candle. She then seeks to find Bruno, to get answers to why he left the family in hopes that she can learn what can remedy the family’s issues. This story differs from Disney films in the past where the female lead would usually seek out a prince to fix her issues; Maribel believes in herself and is determined to save the day herself.
With Bruno’s help and magic, Maribel discovers that an embrace from her sister, Isabela, who she is jealous of, will save her family. We then find out that her sister’s image of perfection is making her unhappy and she is only going along with what everyone expects of her—unlocking another of the family’s dilemmas, and allowing Maribel to confront her Abuela. Maribel then explains that she is an essential member of the Madrigals, with or without magic, and loves her family. A taboo move in the Madrigal’s family dynamics, and culture, which allows Abuela to see what the expectations she has placed on herself and her family have done to them individually.
After a series of explanations from Abuela reintroducing the origins of the magic, Bruno’s return, and a song or two, we learn that the family’s true blessing was themselves all along. This movie captures the accurate pressure of family trauma and how a family can get lost in survival and often lose sight of why or what made them want to survive in the first place. Disney does a great job of capturing both the individual and collective never ending struggle of fixing and maintaining a grandiose family image.
Overall Rating: 9/10