Months after its Thanksgiving premiere, Encanto continues charming audiences all over the world. “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” landed No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 — the first song from a Disney film to do so since Aladdin’s “A Whole New World.” Lin-Manuel Miranda’s music aside, what made Encanto an instant classic? Authenticity: the film features real conflicts we face and puts the solution in the hands of characters we recognize.
Primarily, Encanto’s gift lies in delivering stunning representation for viewers everywhere. Not only do we love to see ourselves in the media we consume, but it makes a profound impact in building a child’s self-esteem. It was moving to see a smiling Antonio, curls bouncing as he rode atop a friendly jaguar. Parents still struggle to find happy Black characters in their children’s media, let alone as protagonists. Joining recent movies like Soul and Vivo, Encanto was met with widespread commercial success as calls for more diverse films have finally been answered.
In collaboration with Germaine Franco (the first Latina to date to compose a Disney score), Lin-Manuel Miranda introduces Vallenato (a folk music genre from Colombia) to fresh ears, starting the film off on a vibrant note of the accordion. Each scene displays Colombia’s many charms with accuracy and endless attention to detail: from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s magical realism to beautifully animated biodiversity in flora and fauna, to culturally rich tradition represented in each embroidery and every buñuelo. The film features the Madrigals adorning each room of the house with candles, just in time for Colombian audiences to be celebrating Las Velitas in early December. Encanto pays homage to Colombian culture in detail and shares it with new audiences to experience it for the first time.
And yet, racial, and ethnic diversity in film is just one facet of representation. Encanto goes a step further by emphasizing familiar themes of resisting change and addressing generational trauma. We relate to these characters not only because they look like we do, but because they approach everyday struggles like we do. Every Madrigal keeps their troubles under wraps in an effort to meet expectations and maintain appearances. This idea alludes to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “100 Years of Solitude” but turns the same dynamic on its head; Encanto emphasizes the intrapersonal pressures of belonging and accommodating to a collectivist dynamic — making your problems small, so as to not draw attention to or burden others. Like the Madrigals, we all just want to keep our heads down and make abuela proud.
In true Latino fashion, the family upholds an implied rule of silence over taboo subjects — like Bruno! The true villain of the story turns out to be a refusal to communicate the very things we fear and misunderstand. To many families, avoiding uncomfortable conversations can seem the easier avenue, but it may come at the cost of losing loved ones. As the plot develops, we learn with Mirabel that her role in the Madrigal household is to bring to light what others refuse to see, affirming and uplifting the unique experiences of her family. We’re reminded that change is inevitable, that only dialogue can break cycles, and that our resilience is communitarian at its core. Disney took a risk with Encanto not in portraying diversity, but in ditching the traditional hero-cycle of storytelling. Mirabel doesn’t get her epic adventure by escaping Casita one night like Moana or Mulan. Sometimes the greatest adventures of all are interpersonal and in the home. And like Mirabel, we don’t have to venture too far to see ourselves.
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