Disney and magic go hand in hand. It’s like peanut better and jelly. Ben and Jerry’s. Soda and popcorn. I skipped lunch today.
Disney’s Encanto is full of enough magic to power three more Frozen sequels, but it surprisingly isn’t the main focus here. In Encanto, directed by Jared Bush and Byron Howard (Zootopia), we’re introduced to the Madrigal family. A family with magical powers like controlling the weather or shape-shifting, led by the matriarch Abuela Alma, voiced by María Cecilia Botero. Then there’s Mirabel, voiced by Stephanie Beatriz.
Mirabel doesn’t have any powers, simply never being granted them when she came of age like her siblings and cousins. But she doesn’t let this stop her from trying to contribute to the family, their sentient Casita, or their idyllic village in Colombia. However, things take a turn for the worst when a vision from her prophetic uncle, Bruno (John Leguizamo) reveals that she might have something to do with the family losing their magic.
What follows is a magical, musical journey full of beautifully visceral animation, heartwarming humor, and an incredible soundtrack written by Lin-Manuel Miranda. So you know, your standard modern Disney stuff. I could sit here and rave about the look of Encanto all day (this was a gorgeous movie), but what really strikes the eye and gets those tear ducts moving is the film’s heavy emphasis on family and how important it is to check in on one another every once in a while.
The first song in Encanto, “The Family Madrigal,” serves as a catchy round-up of every member of the magical Madrigals. But it also gives the audience a lot to think about by the end of the film. As Mirabel embarks on a journey to save the magic, she begins to see the cracks form in her family’s perfect lifestyle. Both literally and figuratively.
While the film doesn’t have a central villain, there is an antagonistic force that is responsible for the Madrigal’s trouble in paradise. The Madrigals themselves. Family isn’t perfect, but anyone who grew up in a big family knows the stressful expectations set to make it seem that way.
These expectations are what keep a certain distance between Mirabel and her Abuela. The beacon of the village, Abuela lives to ensure that everything is perfect in their Encanto, as well as in the family. The magic saved her life and the life of her children, so she values it highly. With Mirabel powerless, she seems to have no way of earning her Abuela’s admiration like the rest of her siblings and cousins.
But it’s these same expectations that ultimately lead to the near destruction of the family, as we learn that not everyone is able to withstand the role they were born to play. Mirabel’s older sister Luisa, voiced by Jessica Darrow, has super strength, but she’s also sensitive. She desperately needs a break from carrying the weight of the village on her shoulders. Mirabel’s other sister Isabela, voiced by Diane Guerrero, can create beautiful flowers out of thin air. She’s expected to be beautiful and perfect in every way and to marry someone who will strengthen their family’s influence. But this conflicts with her true ambitions and self-interests constantly being buried below the surface.
Encanto turns the magic on its head, teaching the Madrigals and the audience a valuable lesson in familial communication. Abuela isn’t a villain, she has no sinister motives whatsoever. But in her mission to achieve what’s best for the family, she’s forgotten to account for what’s worth fighting for. She doesn’t truly connect with her children or grandchildren, even leading to her only son, the aforementioned Bruno, mysteriously disappearing due to his disastrous prophecies threatening the family’s perfect lifestyle.
The lesson Disney wants Encanto to leave us with is deceptively simple. No family, even one with magical powers, is perfect, but that’s okay. What’s important is that family comes through for one another, especially when it’s time to pick up the pieces and build anew. Mirabel may not have powers, but what makes her special is that no one else is like her. She’s the Madrigal with the uncanny ability to see the pain affecting the family and heal it with her own humanity. There’s always at least one essential heart to every family, and that’s the true magic.
Encanto is now available to stream on Disney+. Watch the full trailer here.