[SPOILERS FOR ENCANTO BY DISNEY]
The new production from the entertainment giant Walt Disney (directed by Byron Howard and Jared Bush) titled Encanto, beneath the colourful animation of Colombian culture and catchy songs, douses anyone old enough to understand its message, with a family expectations and anxiety.
When, as a result of a hostile invasion, teenage Alma, her husband Pedro and three new-born children are forced to flee to the mountains, the fate of the Madrigal family is intertwined with magical powers emanating from a miracle undying candle. The man sacrifices himself for the family so that they can safely take refuge in a magical land. Years later, Encanto is a joyful place where family members receive superpowers such as superhuman strength, the ability to heal, or transform into another person. Only Mirabel, stories protagonist has not received any magical qualities, making up for the shortcomings with her contagious energy and love for others. However, when she spots the first cracks threatening the home, she decides to find out how she can save her family before the candle starts to burn out.
Seemingly, in Encanto Disney uses many superhero cinema schemes, or clichés from their own productions. The super strong Luisa is the female equivalent of Hercules, the effortlessly perfect Isabela behaves like the mean sister or cousin of any Disney princess, and the youngest Antonio has the ability to communicate with animals, which immediately brings to mind Snow White. But beneath this facade there are heaps of doubt, fear and trauma that bring the Madrigal family almost to the brink of a precipice. It quickly turns out that this is not a simple story with an inverted theme of a heroine who must fulfil her destiny and use all skills to save the magical world.
Though at first it may seem as if we are going to get the standard story of exclusion, trying to find your place on earth, with a compulsory lesson in tolerance. And in fact, that’s what we get, but in a much more extensive and more pleasant form, even for an adult viewer. When Mirabel is treated almost like a stone in a shoe of Madrigals, which, despite the constant willingness to help, must come to terms with her weaknesses and delegate tasks to more suitable people, when she begins her investigation to save the house and the weakening superpowers of her family members, the story begins to take on colours. And not just any, because together with the heroine we discover that the Madrigals hide their secrets, which negatively affect the whole family.
Despite her enormous strength, Luisa lives in constant fear that one day she may not be up to the task. In an increasingly expanding village, there is no shortage of manual labour that overwhelms the young girl. On her shoulders rests all the burden, including the metaphorical one of keeping the Encanto joyful. This is a big responsibility that leaves its mark on Luisa’s psyche. But her older sister Isabel also carries the emotional baggage that weighs her down, fulfilling everyone’s expectations, playing the role of the most ideal being in the world. Her capricious and selfish nature stems from her constant anger at not being able to go crazy and having to dazzle everyone with her delicate beauty and flora-controlling powers.
All this leads to the real break in the family, led by Abuela Alma. The family matriarch is far from a villain, even the role of an antagonist, but it is her actions and motivations that lead to tragic events. Alma is committed to honouring her deceased husband’s legacy as much as possible by proudly showing of the powers of her family members. No deviation from the norm (perfection) is an option.
In Encanto, Disney shows different shades of ‘functioning’ family, which may seem happy on the surface, but each member hides his own desires, feelings, and doubts under the surface. Therefore, the strength of the family lies not in the group of people itself, but in singular individuals who complement each other and show mutual respect and understanding. Just by meeting someone’s expectations, taking too much responsibility, or a lack of self-esteem lead to fractures that can end in the breakdown of relationships. After all, all the power that the Madrigals have themselves comes precisely from the strength of the family bond. When it is not there, even a magic candle will not help.
The ending is a classical Disney ‘happy ending’ however, it feels very optimistic and naive with the story that we are given. Generational trauma and the weight of family expectations and unspoken issues are not this easily dealt with. I believe that the film could have benefited with some more time to develop the ending better, but it is still a great film with a message and characters most people can identify with.