Sunday, January 16, 2022
Disney's newest films feature stories and characters from global cultures. In their new animated release, Encanto (now streaming on Disney+), the drectors Jared Bush and Byron Howard tell the story of the Madrigal family in Colombia. I watched it over the long weekend with my family and was taken by its vivid cultural details, wide range of characters, and complex music and story-telling. As one New York Times film review says, "the film has stunning animation, a beautifully composed story, and spellbinding songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda."
The characters in Encanto display a wide range of personalities, skin tones, and relationships. The protagonist, Mirabel (voiced Stephanie Beatrriz), loves her large family and appreciates her grandmother, parents, and many cousins for their unique gifts. She has an especially fun relationship with the family home, casita, which provides a magical gift and a door to a new bedroom themed around the special ability for each child's coming of age. Her cousins range from beautiful to brawny and bear a range of skin tones, hair styles, and accents.
The story centers on the maintenance of the family's magical gifts, which seem to be faltering after a streak of provisions that contribute to their village. Over the course of the film, we learn the family is displaced as a result of violent conflict in their home land and that they rebuilt their lives in a new place. They use their magical gifts to improve their community, and the community is grateful. This is the heartwarming side of the story, and it emphasizes the positive side of immigration. The internal family dynamics reveal another layer of complexity. The Madrigal family members focus on their strengths, but they sometimes struggle to find their place or keep being productive for their community. The community accepts them nonetheless, returning their efforts when the family needs new housing and loses its ability to contribute. This aspect of the story shows the value of the characters as persons and not merely economic contributors.
Vivid Cultural Details and Music
A defining feature of the film is its stunning computery imagery and vivid colors, recalling the magical realism of Latin American stories. This memoir shares the cultural details that stirred a viewer's Columbian father and explains the care the film makers went through to get the cultural details rights. The music is written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and blends musical theater, Columbian instruments, and rap; it has already been nominated for an Oscar, risen to the top of the Billboards 200 chart, and received critical and popular acclaim.