Review: Disney’s ‘Encanto’ has the Latine representation we’ve all been waiting for
Released on Nov. 24, Disney’s new animated film “Encanto” presents a welcome depiction of vibrant Colombian culture.
December 3, 2021
Say what you will about Disney, Lin-Manuel Miranda or musicals — there is finally a movie representing me, a Colombian woman, so you know I had to see it.
I don’t even know where to start. “Encanto” has everything I could’ve wanted — top-notch animation, vibrant colors, realistic representation, heart-tugging and upbeat music, expert attention to detail and love for Colombian culture.
Disney princess Mirabel Madrigal (Stephanie Beatriz) — yes, I’m referring to her as a Disney princess since Latinas have been long overdue for a real one — is a tough and authentic heroine. The story follows her magical family, the Madrigals, who all received various enchanted gifts or abilities after Abuela Alma (María Cecilia Botero) fled her home and lost her husband due to political violence. Mirabel, the only family member without a gift, is left with the task of saving her family’s fading magic. Mirabel’s devotion to her family and determination to prove that she is just as special as them is a predictable way to drive the plot and reach that Disney happy ending. However, the movie’s themes and specific representation of magical realism — a literary genre popularized by Colombian writer Gabriel García Marquez — pushes “Encanto” in a new direction.
“Encanto” stands out from other Disney movies. It has complex, diverse characters involving an intimate mystery within a magical world. What piqued my interest was learning how the magical world functions as well as about the complicated familial relationships. Plus, there was so much attention to detail in the animation and storyline. Everything was executed to perfection.
Despite the spontaneous jumps into songs, “Encanto” wasn’t as childish as I thought. Especially after “Raya and the Last Dragon,” I was expecting a similar tone that catered to a younger audience. But the jokes were genuinely funny, while the movie’s plot included real problems and darker undertones, offering an unanticipated contrast.
Throughout the movie, viewers are immersed in the personal pressures that are a part of the Madrigal family. Each character struggles with the pressure to meet expectations. Mirabel is an outcast for not having powers, while her relatives have to use their powers for the good of the family. There is a crushing weight on their shoulders to make Abuela proud and a constant pressure to be good enough. According to Abuela, they each have a responsibility to use their gifts to help the town. But in the case of Tío Bruno (John Leguizamo), his gift hurt the family and wasn’t useful to the town, causing him to be ostracized. Mirabel is the one to first suggest the family free itself from the pressure to be perfect all the time, challenging the way it’s always been.
As much as I hate to love Miranda, I can’t deny how good the music is. He paid special attention to Colombian music genres — salsa, merengue, vallenato, guaracha and cumbia — and there was even a moment where they played the beginning of “En Barranquilla Me Quedo,” a song by Colombian singer, songwriter and composer Joe Arroyo. The original orchestration is enough to give you chills, with strings swelling in the end credit music. Sebastián Yatra’s “Dos Oruguitas” had me in tears, and Carlos Vives’ “Colombia, Mi Encanto” is a bop. The music was created to pay homage to the Latine sound, and I was fully left in awe.
Not only is the music accurate; so are the Colombian architecture, landscape, flora, food, clothing and more. There were so many tiny details, from hand gestures, to the Colombian sombrero vueltiao, to Mirabel’s father, Agustín Madrigal (Wilmer Valderrama), using the word “miércoles,” the version of “mierda” that Colombians use around kids. Also, there were little moments where the colors of the Colombian flag — yellow, blue and red — were hinted at.
The representation is beyond me. The movie has a mostly Latine cast including Maluma, Diane Guerrero and Wilmer Valderrama. We got the whole spectrum of Colombians, from darker- to lighter-skinned, and from straight to textured hair. Mirabel’s sister Luisa (Jessica Darrow) is physically and visibly strong. And Mirabel herself is just a girl with glasses who doesn’t possess overwhelming beauty or strength.
It’s one thing to represent Latine people and culture, but it’s another to empower Latine people to craft their own narratives. “Encanto” does just that. There are so many Latine people in both the cast and the production. It has given them the voice and platform to celebrate both Colombian and Latine culture.
There are no words to express how grateful I am for this movie. After so many years of associating Colombia with Pablo Escobar, drugs and “Narcos,” “Encanto” finally allows for a celebration of Colombia — its people, culture, family and love.
Growing up, the only person who somewhat resembled me in the media was “Betty, la Fea,” or “Ugly Betty.” I was that little kid with glasses, braces and tangled curly hair. I was never considered pretty according to the entertainment industry’s standards. There were no heroines who looked like me that weren’t deemed ugly.
On top of that, movies and shows always had protagonists and characters who weren’t Latine or Hispanic. Latine people were only portrayed as stereotypical cleaning ladies and other one-dimensional characters. Latine representation has existed, especially with movies like “Coco,” but they’ve typically portrayed Mexican culture. And outside of “The Emperor’s New Groove,” there’s consistently been a need for representation of Central and South America. “Encanto” is special to me, as a Colombian, because it was about time that a movie accurately portrayed my culture and heritage.
Please, please, please go see “Encanto,” I haven’t seen a Disney movie this good in years. Despite whatever you may have against Disney, it’s worth supporting the first crumb of real Colombian representation.
Contact Lorraine Olaya at [email protected]