Reflections on Encanto

Encanto is all the rage right now. Everyone is talking about the music, creating an Encanto reel or TikTok, and even Peloton is offering two Encanto-themed workouts this week. It could be because I’m a Latina, or maybe because of how my glasses resemble those of the lead character, Mirabel (see the photo attached for evidence), or for some other valid reason everywhere I go people have been asking me, have you watched Encanto? My daughter’s dentist, doctor, the grocery store clerk, everyone has asked. Yes, I reply, we saw it in theaters back in November and my kids have been obsessed with the songs ever since. The album has quickly become our favorite Disney album of all time (I know, sorry Aladdin, Lion King, Toy Story and the likes– you’ve finally been outdone). Even with all this hype and love, we were still surprised to hear that “We don’t talk about Bruno” hit #4 on the Billboard charts, surpassing “Let it go” (which peaked at #5). I mean, that’s HUGE, right?! Lin-Manuel Miranda is a genius and I’m grateful to be alive to witness and enjoy his art.

We’ve been listening to the songs in various languages (Spanish and English, of course, but also in Mandarin, German, French, etc.)– bilingualism begets multilingualism, mi gente. It’s been so fun to see how these songs really work in any number of languages. Robin Arzón said it best in the cycling class: “It doesn’t matter what language you listen in. You don’t even need to know what they’re saying, you can feel the messages of these songs.”

The music from the movie is definitely resonating, but today I want to share a few reflections about why the storyline and the movie itself is such a hit. There are 3 things that I think are making Encanto so relatable to so many:

  • Mirabel isn’t self-involved
  • We see ourselves in the family issues, the black sheep, and the hero
  • Everyone rebuilds together

Below, I’ll expand on each of these.

Mirabel isn’t self-involved

We all know it’s hard to be around people that are overly self-involved. Self-pity is not endearing. We like people who are over-comers, people who–against all odds– do or become something amazing. The movie opens with background on where the magic came from, and with a wonderful song about the Familia Madrigal where Mirabel shares with a group of local kids about each of the family member’s special gifts. The song is upbeat. Mirabel is full of rhythm and spunk. Towards the end, the kids ask “but what about your gift?” and Mirabel tries to change the subject, keeping things upbeat and exciting with a family round up! Throughout the movie, we don’t necessarily get a sense that Mirabel is sad she didn’t get a gift. The sense I get is that she is just genuinely unclear about why she didn’t get one. But there is this inner hope that is a torch inside of her for the whole family. This inner hope is what drives her to be helpful and to contribute where she can. This inner hope is what compels her to set out to save the magic after she witnesses the flicker of the candle and the cracks throughout casita. An individual who is sad or depressed suppresses hope, but in Mirabel hope is alive and well.

Disney’s phenomenal triumph in this film is that they have created a hero in Mirabel who is at once centered in her own reality (I’m the only family member that didn’t get a gift) and at the same time is others-focused (I want to help my family and make them proud). Mirabel isn’t selfish, and it’s delightful to witness! My favorite moment of the entire movie is when Mirabel goes into the nursery to find Antonio before his gift ceremony and party. She sits on the bed, and starts to talk to him, and then goes under there to meet him there. And they exchange this dialogue:

Mirabel: “Nervous? (Antonio nods) You have nothing to worry about. You’re gonna get your gift and open that door and it’s going to be the coolest ever. I know it.

Antonio answers: “What if it doesn’t work?

Mirabel replies: “Well, in that impossible scenario, you’d stay here in the nursery with me. (Whispers dramatically) FOREVER. And I’d get you all to myself.

Antonio answers: “I wish you could have a door.

Mirabel replies: “You know what? You don’t have to worry about me, ’cause I have an amazing family and an amazing house. And an amazing you. And seeing you get your special gift and your door, that’s gonna make me way more happy than anything.

This is the stuff of true heroism. The selflessness Mirabel embodies is endearing, inspiring, and heartwarming. This selflessness makes her a stronger leader than Louisa (her older sister who’s special gift is strength but who breaks down as soon as her gift starts fading) or Isabella (her other sister who is too sad about being forced to marry the town hunk to help anyone else). While everyone in the family is overly concerned about what they’ll have to give, Mirabel is happy to see others flourish. A conversation that could have been really hard for Mirabel (after all Antonio was basically saying he didn’t want what happened to her to happen to him), ended up being a crowning moment for Mirabel. She lets Antonio off the hook by saying “You don’t have to worry about me.” She wants him to step into his glorious moment and gift, without any remorse or guilt.

Mirabel is someone we want to know, someone we want to work for and with, someone we want around. The hopefulness and joy she carries are the true Encanto of the movie.

We see ourselves in the family issues, the black sheep, and the hero

There are some serious family issues in the Madrigal clan. Abuela is harsh and has extremely high expectations for everyone. The gifts seem burdensome to all of the family members (except perhaps for Julieta, Camilo and Antonio). In a multi-generational household, there is no privacy (especially with Dolores’ gift of hearing everything!). There have been plenty of articles breaking down how so much of what we see in the Madrigal family is a reflection of the struggles of the multi-generations within the Latin American community, but I think the movie is resonating so profoundly because the family issues, black sheep and hero are so relatable.

I want to believe all families have a black sheep– someone who has had a hard time understanding how to fit in with the rest of the bunch. Bruno left home because he felt his gift caused more heartache and trouble than help. Maybe he felt he couldn’t process the complexities of his gift with anyone else. We can all relate to that feeling of wanting to run, of feeling misunderstood, of feeling like we keep messing up.

Mirabel’s non-giftedness reminds us that we all have something to contribute. We’ve all felt like the normal person in a sea of extraordinary, right? Mirabel didn’t receive a gift, but she has a will to belong, to help, to participate and I think so many of us feel that same way. We’re all figuring out what our contribution will be, and the act of not giving up is inspiring and also reflected in so many of us.

Encanto, while a beautiful celebration of Colombia, Latin culture, incredible beats, and so on, is also a universally relatable story and that’s what’s making it another timeless Disney treasure.

Everyone rebuilds together

At the end of the movie, once the candle has gone out and casita has completely fallen apart, the Familia Madrigal finds the whole community armed with tools and willingness to help them rebuild their home together. It turns out that the magic they were providing to the community wasn’t the only thing that bound them together. The community had gifts to give, too, and they were excited to dive in. This is a beautiful picture of how family life intersects with community life. Regardless of the brokenness within the family (no family is perfect!), coming together with other families for help, encouragement and support can help rebuilding to take place internally within the family. That’s the beauty of belonging to communities– everyone gives and gets! The same community Abuela was so worried about letting down ends up coming through for the Madrigals and they are ALL the better for it.

One of the big things I repeat over and over again in my role as Founder and CEO of Lelu is that community is critical for success with Bilingualism. Languages are relational and they thrive and take-on life in communities. There has been a decades-long struggle with maintaining bilingualism in the US, and thriving bilingualism can only be rebuilt in community. There is a role for us ALL to play. We can’t sit back and rely on some magic, we all need to get in and build juntos. Just like they did in Encanto.

I could go on and on… We absolutely love this movie and will be enjoying it for years to come! So now you tell me in the comments, what’s your favorite part of the movie? How do you connect with the storyline and characters? What stood out most to you?

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Founder and CEO of Lelu (www.lelu-usa.com). Writes about all things bilingualism. Mom of two, wife, first-gen grad of Princeton, Stanford GSB and GSE. @lelu_usa

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Ana Leyva

Ana Leyva

Founder and CEO of Lelu (www.lelu-usa.com). Writes about all things bilingualism. Mom of two, wife, first-gen grad of Princeton, Stanford GSB and GSE. @lelu_usa

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