Picture this: an enchanted, mystical haven tucked away in the mountains of Colombia, home to a gifted family and charming Casita and where no one has the nerve to talk about Bruno. Every soul except for Mirabel Madrigal, that is.

Disney’s 60th animated film, Encanto, takes a major leap towards cultural diversity and inclusivity, portraying the vividness of Colombian culture and the intricacies of an intergenerational Latinx family experience. Atholton Spanish teacher, Mr. Morfoot, described the movie as “a beautiful, colorful film that combines music, family values, customs, and traditions into one masterpiece.”

The film revolves around the life of the complicated, but charming, Madrigal family who live tucked away in the mountains of Colombia. Each member of the family has been blessed by a miracle to possess a special Gift, except for Mirabel, our endearing and earnest protagonist. However, when the Madrigals’ sacred miracle turns out to be at stake, Mirabel discovers that she may soon be the family’s only hope.  

Though on its surface Encanto comes off as a whimsical, light-hearted Disney movie, the film captures the clashes between older and younger generations in some Hispanic families. Younger Latinx viewers may find themselves relating to the Madrigal’s frustrating family dynamics, including the pressure of having to fit in a certain mold, live up to expectations different from one’s own, and suppress your authentic self. 

The character of Abuela Alma in Encanto is shown to have very high expectations for her children and grandchildren, setting extremely high expectations for them and fixating so wholly on perfection that she loses sight of the true meaning of family. Similar familial conflicts exist for many first-generation Latinx millennials who conceal their true identities out of the fear of facing their family’s judgment. In the words of Mirabel Madrigal, “Sometimes family weirdos just get a bad rep.” 

Mr. Morfoot further commented on the portrayal of immigrant families in Encanto saying, “Although this film does not have a direct connection to immigration, especially how many might see it here in the US, it does explore the feeling of families having to move from one place to another and beginning all over again to build a better life.” When the Madrigal’s beloved Casita falls into shambles, the family must learn to heal and start from scratch, an experience that is familiar for many immigrants and first-generation Americans attempting to navigate life in a new country.

Aside from the film’s heavier themes of familial conflict, Encanto also manages to establish a genuine Colombian setting that transforms from the tragedy of the country’s violent history into a tribute to its rich and radiant beauty. Atholton student, Luciana Mendez, said, “I liked the film Encanto because I liked the representation. I loved how they chose to represent Colombia out of all the places because there isn’t a lot of representation for it here.” 

The colorful refuge in which the Madrigals live features a vast variety of flora and fauna that are native to the country, along with historical Colombian architecture. The idyllic landscapes in the film depict toucans swooping through pristine skies, palm trees towering over billowing, bright-green grass, and a village of whitewashed adobe homes and traditional red-tile roofs. The architecture of Encanto’s village closely resembles the historic hill-towns and colonial towns preserved throughout Colombia today (pictured left).                 

A prominent species frequently seen fluttering around in Encanto is la mariposa, or the butterfly. The heart-wrenching song, ‘Dos Oroguitas’, sung by famous Colombian singer Sebastian Yatra is featured on the film’s soundtrack and tells the doleful love story of two butterflies who realize that it is their time to fly apart towards tomorrow. In Colombia, there are a whopping 3,642 species of butterflies! The mariposas amarillas, or yellow butterflies featured in the world of Encanto, swathe areas of Colombia in clouds during the seasons of spring and fall when millions of them migrate north and south. 

In the film, the Madrigals’ golden child with a green thumb, Isabela, is granted the gift of conjuring exquisite flowers with a simple swish of her hand. In Colombia, flowers play a significant role in the country’s festivities and culture. For instance, in Medellín, the ‘City of Eternal Spring’, the Férias de Las Flores (Flower Festival) is held in early August during which crowds of farmers parade with ravishing floral arrangements on their backs. In Encanto, these farmers make a cameo appearance during the fantastic musical number, “The Family Madrigal”, passing by in the background with wreaths of exquisite flowers hoisted on their backs.                               

Las Férias de Las Flores (Flower Festival) held in Medellín, Colombia

For Mr. Morfoot the cultural representation of Colombia in Encanto was a true masterpiece. He said, “Throughout my studies and travels through Colombia, I can attest that everything that was portrayed in the film is a true representation of Colombian and Latino culture in general. The soundtrack even includes two of the biggest Colombian artists, Carlos Vives and Sebástian Yatra, who combine traditional genres such as Vallenato and Cumbia with more contemporary tunes such as pop and rap.” 

Luciana Mendez also expressed her appreciation for Encanto. She said, “I actually thought that they did a good job portraying Colombian culture in the film. I think this because they did a good job representing lots of Colombian things. An example was how they incorporated arepas in the movie. In Colombia, this is eaten very frequently and is very popular. Another example was how, when Dolores was singing “We Don’t Talk about Bruno”, she and Maribel were both doing traditional Colombian dances.”

The inclusivity and representation in Encanto is a groundbreaking step forward for the future of the film industry. In Mr. Morfoot’s opinion, films like Encanto, Coco, and Luca give people the chance to appreciate, value, and respect different cultures from the comfort of their own living rooms. “We’re seeing more and more Disney movies based on different cultures and countries other than the US. I think we will begin to see more actors from different backgrounds and countries,” he said.

The acclaim and heights of success that Encanto has reached today are well-deserved. The film gives viewers an eye-opening portrayal of the intergenerational Latinx family experience and the strain of rebuilding familial foundations. It also beautifully showcases the natural and cultural splendor of Colombia, from the wildlife to the music. In the words of Luciana Mendez, “All the colors in the movie blended really well together and helped paint a wonderful picture.” Encanto sets the precedent for future stories with which audiences can identify or gain an appreciation of a world far different from their own.

Posted by Shifa Shaikh

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