Earning a whopping $246.5 million in the box office worldwide since its November release, “Encanto” has become a Disney classic for families across the globe. However, within the funny and light-hearted scenes of the musical film, there lies a deep message for the Latinx community across the world.
“Encanto” tells the story of a teenage girl named Mirabel Madrigal (Stephanie Beatriz). Residing in a small town in Colombia, each member of her family bears unique magical powers. Unlike their other family members, Mirabel and her grandmother, Alma Madrigal (María Cecilia Botero) or “Abuela,” do not possess any special abilities. Yet despite not having any explicit magical powers, Abuela is the matriarch of the Madrigal family, the widow of Pedro Madrigal (who was murdered by implied imperialist soldiers or Spanish conquistadors). After the death of Pedro, Abuela escapes into the mountains with her three children and finds an “Encanto,” a cluster of nonphysical sparks of magic that imbue a candle she carries with power. The candle blesses Abuela’s descendants with magical powers that they ultimately use to help protect a town near the Madrigal family’s magical “Casita.”
As the years go by, the Madrigal family continues to grow when Abuela’s daughters, Julieta (Angie Cepeda) and Pepa (Carolina Gaítan), marry and give birth to children. However, Abuela’s son Bruno (John Leguizamo), who is gifted with precognition, disappears after his sister Pepa’s wedding day. Years later, Mirabel discovers cracks in her house and sees the magic candle flicker uncontrollably. Mirabel realizes that the cracks are omens of the downfall of the Madrigal family’s magic, which Bruno had foreseen long ago.
Mirabel decides to find the truth about Bruno, who disappeared after predicting the family’s downfall. He felt ashamed and decided to leave for the sake of the family’s survival. Thus, Mirabel embarks on a journey to save her family and the entire village from collapse. Mirabel, however, is shunned and blamed for the family’s misfortunes, resulting in a confrontation with Abuela that leads to the collapse of the “Casita.”
Although “Encanto” shows the beauty and loving emotions that come with having a big family, the film does not fail to show the audience the potential for toxic repression that could arise from Latinx families.
Latinx culture is known for putting a strong emphasis on family as a collective group that protects its members from the hardships of life. While it sounds loving and caring on the surface, family in Latinx culture is much more complex. Like Mirabel’s family, Latinx families usually consist of abuelos, abuelas, tios, tias, primos, primas, and of course, your hermanos and hermanas. And if you’re lucky, you have your “primos” and “primas” from your “tios” and “tias” who are nowhere near your bloodline but are still part of the family; it’s just natural to have thousands of “cousins” from close family friends in Latinx culture.
Like in Mirabel’s family, all of the sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts, and uncles in many traditionally organized Latinx families have roles that must be fulfilled in order to maintain family structure and balance in the household. A majority of the time, it is the eldest members of the family, the abuelos or abuelas, who are the heads of the household. If any family member disrespects or fails to recognize the family structure, it can lead to conflict or dissatisfaction.
In “Encanto,” Mirabel and Bruno are shunned because they question the family and fail to help their community. Hit songs like “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” clearly show how Bruno’s precognition conflicted with the family’s views, even though he spoke the truth and warned them of their downfall. He feels that the “Encanto” unfairly gives preference to the powerful members of the family. Similarly, Mirabel is brushed aside by Abuela and her sister Isabela (Diane Guerrero) for “hurting the magic.” It is no surprise that both of them eventually leave the family at some point in the movie.
At the same time, fulfilling family roles keeps the household together, often at the personal expense of the family members. Luisa (Jessica Darrow), another one of Mirabel’s sisters, has the role of being the “rock” of the family because of her gift of super strength. Without her, the entire family and town would collapse since she’s seen as the most reliable one in the family. However, Luisa carries the community’s burdens to the point of feeling vulnerable and drained. She mentions in her song “Surface Pressure”: “I’m pretty sure I’m worthless if I can’t be of service … Who am I if I can’t carry it all?” She explicitly tells Mirabel that she’s scared of being weak and that her greatest fear is letting her family down.
Isabela, who is the “golden child” of the family because of her beauty and ability to turn surfaces into flowers, is also expected to fulfill a specific role even though she is favored by Abuela. The family calls on her to show “perfection,” and she is forced to marry Mariano, a local town member. Yet again, the movie presents a song that expresses doubts to the audience, called “What Else Can I Do?” Isabel does not want to be perfect all the time, but she feels like she must.
It’s clear that characters such as Luisa and Isabela depict what can result from a toxic practice of “familismo.” I define familismo to be the importance of strong family loyalty, bonding with and contributing to the wellbeing of the nuclear family, extended family, and kinship network in Latinx culture.
Characters like Luisa struggle to come to terms with the pressure of being the “rock.” She can’t cry or talk about her emotions, which many Latinx families see as unnecessary when dealing with the hardships of life. Such a value is called “marianismo,” which gives women the role of showing inner strength while sacrificing their needs for others.
Isabela’s character dynamic is also a product of machismo, which sets gender roles on women that expect them to be perfect in beauty. Isabela is forced to marry Mariano despite not loving him, resulting in her pent-up emotional struggle.
The messages for the Latinx community in “Encanto” seek to bring light to the toxic practices of our culture. Even with the beauty of having a strong family community, deep issues still lie in many Latinx family dynamics that must be addressed.