Beyond the musings of the drug cartels in “Narcos” and the occasional PBS documentary on the Amazon Rainforest, Colombia is not well known for its appearances in present-day media. However, on Nov. 24, 2021, Disney released its 60th animated film, “Encanto,” a playfully magic film inspired by the Cocora Valley in Colombia’s department of Quindío.
With award-winning Lin-Manuel Miranda as the songwriter, the amazing Madrigal family and their Casita display Colombian culture through the lens of a musical, magical realism — a feat that is unique, family-friendly, and worth a watch.
Magical realism is a heavily influential concept in Colombia, stemming back from Gabriel García Márquez’s literary masterpiece “One-Hundred Years of Solitude.” Magic is a quiet, mysterious part of reality tightly woven within people, traditions, cultures, and practices.
“Encanto” prominently displays this type of magic in each of the Madrigal’s powers, in the Casita and in the ever-present butterflies fluttering about with peaceful, mundane mystique.
After the tragic relocation of her town and the loss of her husband, Alma Madrigal and her triplet babies were gifted with a miracle originating from a magical, ever-burning candle. The miracle provided the Madrigal family with a home, an “Encanto,” a lively sentient “Casita,” and magical powers to help those in need in the growing community.
Several years later, Mirabel Madrigal, Alma’s powerless granddaughter, now wishes to save the miracle from extinction and prove that she is as special as the rest of her family. She is accompanied in her adventures, misunderstandings and victories by the lively cast of her family, the townsfolk, “Casita” and a troupe of various animal friends.
The movie itself can be reviewed by dividing its elements into four parts: plot, characters, cultural accuracy and music.
The plot may seem to be another coming-of-age musical Disney flick, but in reality, that cannot be farther from the truth. This movie evidences that frequent displacement due to violence can be an unfortunate reality for families in Colombia. The trauma that this causes is real and affects family dynamics and goals.
In the end, familial love may be distorted into a desire for perfection and achievement to prove the worthiness of belonging and hide the immense fear of loss. Though the solution of communication, emotional processing and forgiveness seems simple, it is an arduous process for families to go through — it may even take a whole movie to complete!
All the characters of the Madrigal family hold to tropes common in Latino families — including my own! Alma Madrigal is the stronghold, the confident matriarch of the family, while her children and grandchildren hold respective “gifts” equipped to help those in need. This particular view on magic and “talents” aligns with the selfless, Christian view of charity the University of Dallas holds.
It is also quite interesting to see their powers reflect their inner emotional talents, struggles, and identities; Luisa’s gift of strength, while incredibly useful, causes her to only see validation in carrying more than she can bear, for example.
As a Colombian, Encanto accurately reflects Colombian culture, aside from a few small discrepancies. The colorful, colonial-style architecture of the town, dotted with wax palms and verdant mountain ranges is a fairly common sight for that particular region of the country, more affectionately known by natives as “La Zona Cafetera.”
The enormous diversity of Colombia’s flora and fauna, shown by Isabela’s and Antonio’s powers respectively, is something beautifully arrayed through the animation — there is nothing wrong with an extra capybara or two! And, “Encanto’s” food is particularly mouthwatering; ajiaco, panela, tinto, arepas con queso, huevitos revueltos, empanadas, buñuelos are all Colombian staples that I love to sample whenever I visit my extended family.
Finally, Lin-Manuel Miranda did an impressive job of melding traditionally Colombian musical genres such as Bambuco, Salsa, Merengue, and Vallenato into fun Broadway-like musical numbers that align perfectly with the colorful settings and emotional scenarios.
Not to mention, the voices of Carlos Vives and Sebastián Yatra, famous Vallenato and contemporary Latino pop singers respectively, add a perfect touch of artistic representation of what plays on a present-day Colombian’s car radio.
Overall, as the reviewer, I would give this film a 4.8 out of 5 stars, and would recommend it as one of the more successful Disney movies of this decade, ranking above both “Luca” and “Raya and the Last Dragon.”