There are few movies that are able to take heavy and complicated issues and explain them as well as the new movie, “Encanto.” Set in early 20th century Columbia, “Encanto” tells the story of a family unit in which each member was given magical abilities except for one: Mirabel, the protagonist. When Mirabel discovers that the magic that gives the family their abilities is starting to disappear, she takes it upon herself to “save the miracle.”
While this may look like another normal Disney movie with a killer soundtrack and stunning visuals, there’s a lot more going on behind the poster. “Encanto” is rooted in magical-realism, which is an incredibly important genre to Latin American culture and history. As a genre, it shares an equal mix of realistic and fantastic elements, like how the family’s magical gifts exist freely without question among the community. In fact, the community depends on the family and their gifts to help them accomplish certain tasks.
Instead of being set somewhere inspired by a real location, “Encanto” is set in the country of Columbia, giving it that much more ground as a magical-realistic story. A common theme in magical-realism is a character’s normality being what makes them just as special as everyone else.
“Encanto” is bursting with color symbolism, detailed animation and rich music that all assist in bringing the movie to its vibrant state of life.
The two families are dressed in different color palettes, Pepa’s in amber tones and Julieta’s in blue tones. Both Luisa’s and Isabela’s songs have significant nods to the colors of the Columbian flag within them during each song’s turning point. When writing the score for the movie, Lin-Manuel Miranda sought to keep as close to the rich nature of Columbian music as possible.
Alongside all of this is the use of yellow butterflies at significant points of Mirabel’s journey. Columbia has about 3,500 different species of butterflies. The yellow butterfly used in the film is specifically giving a salute to magical-realist author Gabriel García Márquez, who is known for the use of yellow butterflies in many of his novels.
Included in the plethora of details are subtle nods to each main area of design. Each character has details in their costumes indicating what their magical gift is. The music, as noted above, is modeled after Columbia’s actual music styles and common instruments used. The architecture in the Madrigals’ town bears remarkable resemblance to Columbian towns of the era that the movie is set in. Even the lighting in several scenes bears significance. During “Surface Pressure,” many of the light sources are placed directly behind or above Luisa. Both angles are commonly used to evoke an encroaching feeling or a feeling of pressure coming down upon the character.
However, within the sea of details lies an enlightening story about generational trauma, especially within Latin cultures and households. The magic which gives the family their abilities was bestowed upon Abuela Alma and her three children after her husband, Pedro, was killed by Spanish invaders. Abuela attempts to keep things perfect, which she believes will keep the family worthy of the magic.
However, the illusion of perfection is only kept alive with the emotional walls the family has built up, making the family disjointed. When the whole house starts to break apart as the magic starts to fade, it forces the family to come together. This is an ingenious way of explaining the heavy issue of generational trauma to young kids and people who have never been exposed to the idea. Generational trauma can only be fixed with hard work, forgiveness and resolution. In the sea of details and nods to significant cultural elements, the movie seamlessly ties in a tear-jerking story that has all of its viewers simultaneously singing and reaching for the tissue box.