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Disney’s ‘Encanto’ Is A Stunning Celebration Of Colombia And Cultural Identity – Review

Latinos are not a monolith. It’s been said many times before, but the more American audiences learn about the complexities and vastness of the Latin culture; the more relevant it becomes. The simplification of putting all Spanish-speaking nations under one umbrella has been a practice long overused. It’s been used in recent blockbuster films to justify casting choices, just recently with a Spanish actor playing a Native to the Amazon forest in the Marvel epic, Eternals. This is something that the majority of audiences wouldn’t catch but I knew right away. It’s a way of saying “Well if they speak Spanish, what’s the difference?” The truth is, there are a lot of differences. As much as it is important to celebrate our Hispanic similarities, it’s also important to point out our differences; to celebrate the traditions that our families were raised on. 

‘Encanto’ features the voices of Stephanie Beatriz as Mirabel; María Cecilia Botero as Mirabel’s grandmother, Abuela Alma; Angie Cepeda and Wilmer Valderrama as Mirabel’s parents, Julieta and Agustín; Jessica Darrow and Diane Guererro as Mirabel’s sisters Luisa and Isabela; Carolina Gaitan and Mauro Castillo as Mirabel’s aunt and uncle, Pepa and Félix; and Adassa Candiani, Rhenzy Feliz and Ravi Cabot-Conyers as Mirabel’s cousins Dolores, Camilo and Antonio, respectively. (Courtesy of Disney Studios)

When I saw the trailer for Encanto, I almost couldn’t believe it. Disney is making another Latino movie? My cynical brain asked, “Didn’t Coco fill their quota for the ‘Latino Disney movie?’” Here they were announcing that not only were they doing another Latino lead film, but it was about a family from the “magical” country of Colombia? I was baffled by the boldness of the announcement. It felt like a moment where Disney was recognizing that Latinos are rich with culture, music, and potential for compelling stories while also acknowledging a nation that has usually been depicted in Hollywood as “dangerous,” and “brutal.” I was ecstatic and immediately thought of my Colombian mother who is the biggest Disney fan I know. She raised me on Disney animated films during the 90’s renaissance, and religiously watches all the current films to this day. I’ve been watching Disney movies with her my entire life and now we get the chance to experience a film where they celebrate her culture, her beloved country? It was an amazing feeling. 

It’s safe to say, that my expectations were high going into Encanto, and thankfully, it delivered. Encanto is a colourful expression of Colombian culture and identity. The film centers on the super-powered Madrigal family, who live in a small village where their powers are used to help the community in any capacity. Their “casita” (or “little house”) is literally a light at the top of the hill signifying the strength of the town, like a lighthouse offering to guild help to anyone in need. However, as every movie fan knows, “with great power, comes great responsibility.” The Madrigal family must appear unshakable in the face of conflict, and the entire family holds the burden of never wavering in the face of personal trials. The leader of the family is the demanding, Abuela Alma, who received the source of their family’s power in the form of a special candle. She holds the family and community together with her efficient system of expecting the best out of her family. Yet, one family member stands apart; the only non-magical member, Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz), who has never received powers but is now a witness to the failing magic of their enchanted house. Mirabel makes it her mission to save her family’s magic in order to prove her worth in this extraordinary family. 

(Courtesy of Disney Studios)

Encanto is special because it deals with a lot of relevant topics in the Latino community in a clever and simple story that makes it digestible for children and adults alike. Growing up you often hear about being special and unique, and how that can be used to bless your family and the hard work of your ancestors. This belief is shown with the Madrigal family who, although they are blessed with exceptional gifts, often feel overwhelmed in the face of crushing expectations set by their legendary grandmother. Mirabel signifies a deviation in the family tradition, someone who isn’t like the rest of the family but still feels connected to the culture. The generational conflict between Abuela and Mirabel is all too common in Latin households with grandparents or parents, who are holding on to “the way things were” being put off by the upcoming generation who prefer change. 

The film evolves by showing each family member’s personal conflicts that they hide from everyone else. Luisa, the mega strong, unstoppable, sister is a stand-out with a song that spells out her fears despite being the “strongest family member.” This trend continues as Mirabel hears about the former family pariah, Bruno, whose eccentric powers and personality weren’t vibing with the traditional way of using your powers. Abuela’s obsession with keeping things the way they are leads to her turning a blind eye to the fading magic. Her minimizing of the issue is a way of appearing unshakable in front of the community who hold the Madrigals in such high regard. This once again reflects a generational divide that is all too relevant in Latino culture, where tradition and status quo, supersede progress and change. I greatly appreciate Encanto simultaneously celebrating Colombian tradition while also showing that change can be a good thing. 

The Colombian spirit is a huge part of the movie, with buñuelos, arepas de queso, the classic Colombian accordion, wildlife native to Colombia and so much more. This is all-important since the country is truly a natural wonder. This is the kind of depiction Colombian movie fans have been waiting for. Colombia es un país hermoso or, “Colombia is a beautiful country.” This is something that is said constantly, almost as a mantra to the Colombian people. We believe that our nation is blessed regardless of the hardships and conflicts that have infected it. It’s an adamant love and confidence in the country that has been longstanding. Being a Colombian movie fan for so many years means I’m fairly familiar with the Hollywood depictions of the nation and it hasn’t been good, to say the least. This is a refreshing change that has been a long time coming which cannot be overlooked. 

Something else that cannot be overlooked is the music of Encanto. This is a true Disney musical with songs that signify any emotion, story beat, or new family member. This could make or break the experience for the average movie fan since musicals have the tendency to go overboard with the use of the songs in important moments of the film, especially when dialogue feels more appropriate. Most songs feel correctly placed but there are moments where I felt like we could dial it back in favour of a subdued interaction. Some songs, however, are a blast and quickly get stuck in your head. Luisa steals the show in the first act of the film, with a song that showcases some incredible animated sequences, as well as a swagger that pops out on screen. Music and dance are not only important for a Disney animated film, but also for a film about Colombia. Colombia is known for stellar Latin music and some of the most well-known dancers in the world. This is a part of the film that I felt had to be in abundance. It feels right to celebrate the best way Colombianos know-how.

(Courtesy of Disney Studios)

Overall, Encanto is a blast! A cultural spectacle of music, magic, identity and the family spirit. This is a refreshing take on the traditional Disney animated musical. Latinos have all kinds of stories, traditions, and folklore. There is a world rich for future movies, shows, and any on-screen developments. There are nations all across Latin America with artists, innovators, and storytellers. Let’s continue to celebrate what it is out there. There is no limit to the depths that the Latino culture can go and it’s filled with potential films that can touch the hearts of young moviegoers all across the world.

Encanto is a bold example of Latino power, let’s hope we see more of that in the future.

Rating: 10/10

Encanto opens in theatres on November 24.

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