A report by Alexandra Moroca for CBR.
Disney’s attempts at including representation in its animated movies haven’t always been successful. The Princess and the Frog starred Disney’s first Black protagonist, Tiana, but its handling of racial issues may have been less-than-ideal. Similarly, if less pronounced, criticism was received by Moana for its approach to Pacific Islander communities.
Disney’s newest release, Encanto, is a real success in that field. Bright and well-structured, the movie brings up interesting themes of familial conflict, but at the same time, manages to include a genuine Colombian setting. The story’s magical realism is made all the more charming by the depth of its cultural background.
10. The Encanto In The Colombian Mountains Protects Its Flora & Fauna
The movie takes place in a magical settlement created through the family miracle of its main characters, the Madrigals. The settlement—referred to as the Encanto—is located in the Colombian mountains. The colorful refuge also provides shelter for fauna appropriate for the locale. For example, the youngest member of the family, Antonio, befriends a jaguar through his gift of speaking to animals.
This is particularly interesting in the context of the jaguar conservation programs now open in Colombia. In the aftermath of fire and conflicts between humans and big cats, over 93,500 hectares have been set aside through a zoning plan to protect the species. Similarly, the plants summoned by Isabela Madrigal, the protagonist’s oldest sister, include the Flor de Mayo, a type of orchid nominated as the national Colombian flower in November 1936.
9. Alma & Pedro’s Story Is A Nod To Colombia’s History Of Displacement & Conflict
While jaguars may happily live in the Encanto, the settlement is originally formed by people fleeing persecution. The matriarch of the Madrigals, Alma, is chased away from her home along with her husband Pedro. While the timeline of the movie isn’t completely clear, Colombia’s history has many wounds of displacement and conflict. From the war of conquest pursued by Spain to its own civil wars, the notion of violence is deeply rooted in its background, often affecting the most vulnerable social classes.
Alma’s husband, Pedro, is a victim of exactly this type of incident. He attempts to pacify their pursuers but is killed in the process. In the wake of his death, Alma’s grief at witnessing the incident creates the family miracle, providing her and the remaining townsfolk with shelter.
8. The Character Design Suits Latin American Traditions
From the very first opening sequence, it becomes obvious that the events take place in Latin America. Everything in the character design echoes their cultural legacy. The depictions of the Madrigals respect the Latin American image and spirit. The skin tones of the Madrigal family vary from light to dark, as is appropriate.
The hair textures can be both curly and smooth. The charming dresses of the girls contain embroidery that is a staple of their culture and often references their gift. For example, Mirabel wears a skirt with colorful butterfly prints, which is a nod to her important role as the protector of the family miracle. Meanwhile, her sister Luisa wears a skirt with free weights at the bottom and her cousin Camilo dresses in a yellow ruana—a Colombian type of poncho—with a chameleon motif.
7. Many Of The Songs Celebrate The Colombian Unique Spirit
Disney movies wouldn’t be what they are without their beautiful music. Encanto’s soundtrack is a triumph from creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also participated in the creation of Moana. With great additions like “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” “Colombia, Mi Encanto,” and “Dos Oruguitas,” the movie introduces its audience to the unique Colombian spirit.
In moments of celebration or in tragic flashbacks, the viewer is drawn in by each song, joining the characters on their journey through the sway of each note. It honors Colombia in classical Disney style—through music.
6. The Talented Cast Includes Colombian Actors & Singers
While the songs themselves play a big role in Encanto’s success, the movie is truly brought to life by the singers and voice cast. The talented actors behind the Madrigals are figures many viewers may be familiar with, and some have a Colombian background. Colombian singer Mauro Castillo voices Mirabel’s uncle Felix, while popular Columbian actress Angie Cepeda—known primarily for her works in telenovelas like Pobre Diabla—plays Mirabel’s mother, Julieta.
“Colombia, Mi Encanto” is sung by Carlos Vives, who is practically a Colombian legend, and “Dos Oruguitas” is beautifully brought into the story by Colombian singer Sebastián Yatra. Other notable names in the movie include Diane Guerrero, the voice behind Isabela, who is known for her role in Orange Is the New Black.
5. Spanish Endearments Are Part Of Day-To-Day Life
The Latin American spirit in Encanto isn’t contained in just the beautiful songs. It slides into everyday life, with the characters often using Spanish endearments to refer to each other.
Notable examples include the name that references the family home—casita (Spanish for little home)—and the endearment Mirabel uses for Antonio, “hombrecito” (little man).
4. The Meals Have A Genuine Colombian Flavor
Mirabel’s mother Julieta has an interesting magical gift. She can heal anyone with a meal. She uses her talent to heal many injuries, like a fractured arm, a black eye, and oftentimes, her husband Agustin’s injuries caused by bees.
On one notable occasion, she also heals Mirabel’s wounded hand. An interesting detail is the type of food she uses. In Mirabel’s case, it is an arepa con queso, a cheese-stuffed corn cake that is a popular Colombian dish.
3. The Story Of The Madrigals Shows That Colombia Is More Than Just Drug Cartels & Massacres
Because of Colombia’s history, many depictions of the country in various types of media have focused on negative aspects of the country. A popular example is Narcos, the gritty drama centering on the powerful and violent Colombian drug cartels.
Encanto goes in the opposite direction. While it doesn’t hide the background of violence the Colombian people have suffered from, it also displays the genuine beauty of the culture, in a way that clearly shows how special it is and how much its people truly value it.
2. The Importance Of The Casita Shows That All Colombian People Want Is A Home
One of the most powerful elements in the movie is the Madrigals’ sentient house, the casita. Created by the family miracle, the casita is practically a character in its own right, with its own reactions and relationships. The strain in the family—caused by the ostracization and disapproval some of its members are exposed to—leads to more and more damage to the casita.
Finally, in the wake of an argument between Alma and Mirabel, the casita is destroyed, leaving the Madrigals without their magic. But the loss of the family home isn’t permanent, and the family eventually makes amends and starts over. The importance of the casita proves that all Colombian people really want is a home, and that is where they find their particular brand of magic.
1. The Movie Is An Ode To Colombian People & Their Sense Of Community
Left without their abilities, the Madrigals have trouble rebuilding their casita. Fortunately, the townsfolk are there to assist. The ending of the movie is an ode to the Colombian people and their sense of community as everyone pitches in to rebuild the casita.
They don’t have magical powers but they don’t need supernatural abilities because they have each other. In the end, that is what really matters—supporting one’s family and friends through the darkest of times, and that is a message that echoes deeply within every Colombian heart.