Encanto

Encanto

Over at arkhaven, it was mentioned how, badly Disney messed up by not promoting Encanto

The good:

I think it actually is a better film than Frozen - and I mean that no matter how high or low a bar you think that is. It’s certainly more coherent, as there are no scenes with the inherent disconnect of “Let it Go”. It focuses on the importance of family. It pays a lot of attention and respect to cultural motifs, architecture, flora, fauna, and details. There is no in-your-face surface woke. The melodic and instrumental music is mostly on spot, and the song performed by Carlos Vives is pleasant - I’m reliably told they are pretty popular in Colombia.

An aside - I generally like harder rock, but Carlos Vives is worth a listen. I recommend one of his older albums Dejame Entrar

So why don’t I continue to sing its praises?

The music

Let’s start with the music. Specifically, the musical numbers. The melodies and instruments are often but not universally authentic, but the lyrics make a lot of it feel like bog-standard broadway musical with a veneer of ethnic music bolted on. The millennial-speak of Miranda in the movie, and particularly in the opening number, are particularly grating.

So yes, it is overall competently done and manufactured-catchy, but it was hardly a surprise to see Lin-Manuel “Hamilton” Miranda’s name in the credits - other than not slipping in any really obvious and gratuitous political digs.

Characters

For the rest, it helps to bear in mind that while there’s a strong macho/patriarchal streak in the culture, the movie very smoothly undermined much of traditionalism while lampshading or camouflaging much if that through it’s fairy tale / magical realism structure. Also keep in mind that, especially among the upper middle class and elites, there’s more than a few leftist assumptions - they unironically think Gabriel Garcia Marquez deserves his Nobel. The presidential palace was originally designed to have its back to the church, after all.

Pedro, Alma the matriarch’s husband, is effectively ‘fridged” - only seen through flashbacks and portraits. On the plus side he is a guiding light and source of strength, not just a trigger, and his sacrifice is critical in enabling his family to escape. Of the four adult male main roles, his is the only one that comes across as noble. He is also safely dead.

After Pedro's sacrifice, Alma received the first "gift" - the candle that lit the way to safety, and the animate, self-built home that grew up to house the family. This is where many of the cracks appear in the overarching plot, as she is claimed to be too perfectionist and overbearing - many of the family problems are supposedly because she expects too much from her children and grandchildren, though I'll note this isn't demonstrated very well. Especially when you compare that to how Latin culture, especially women, puts more relative weight on appearances.

Each of her direct descendants has their own gift.

Of the three children of the next generation, the lone man is Bruno. He's not seen much because his gift is precognition, but since so much of what he delivers is bad news, it had been taken as causing the bad events, and so he ran away to avoid shaming the family. But he didn't, instead living single, neurotic, and in the walls with his mice.

Speaking of neurotic, Pepa controls weather, which matches her emotional state. The problem being that she has no emotional self-regulation. Her happy-go-lucky and "cool" husband Felix apparently balances her out somewhat. His being black is somewhere between reality and tokenism, as the culture is both more diverse and prone to intermarriage than here in the states - and far more class conscious than the elites who take pride in said diversity would care to admit. Considering the literal power she wields and her lack of self-control, I shudder at the thought of dealing with Pepa.

The mention of Pepa's wedding and accompanying outside view of a church is the closest one gets to religious iconography, an odd "oversight" given how overtly catholic much of the culture is. If there were statues of saints, or pictures of Jesus or Mary, I missed them. But then, again, because it's not directly relevant to the story told, and especially because a number of elites hate the church, something easily overlooked.

The last of the three siblings is Mirabel's mother, Angie, who can literally heal with her cooking. Her husband is the only whitebread guy in the cast, and has no special abilities beyond attracting bug bites via clumsiness, to which he is intensely allergic. He's caring, but there's so little display of competence here that one wonders why Angie married him.

Bluntly, both husbands were effectively forgettable. One at least was portrayed as "cool and fun."

Of the third generation, we'll start with Felix and Pepa's children. This is also where the most woke divergences start taking place. Dolores has supernaturally good hearing. Antonio, the youngest and newest member to acquire his gift, speaks to animals. Camilo, though, is a shapeshifter who can change into other people, and "doesn't quite know who he is yet". He's more than happy to change his appearance into that of his sister to grab an extra helping.

All by itself it would be kindof funny, and is played straight, not for overt trans brownie points, so it isn't in your face like a 2x4, but the net choices do add up.

Of Mirabel's siblings, Isabela, the eldest, is beautiful, with a gift for making flowers instantly grow/appear. She of course struggles with the pressure of having to appear glamourous. Imagine that - a conflict that came straight out of feminist talking points. She also feels the pressure to be "perfect" and has never in her life created/grown other plants than pretty flowers, or "failed."

Update: John C Wright quite fairly points out that her conflict was also not demonstrated through the movie. The fact that the conflict even exists is almost entirely undemonstrated, and once discovered, resolved almost immediately.

Luisa has super strength. And is lampshaded by also being made to have a physique like a cartoon male bodybuilder. Leaving aside the choice to subvert expectations for the role of "strongest" no matter how excused, she is also one of the few characters who's anxieties appear justified - that if she doesn't tackle everything, she will let people down; the villagers are repeatedly shown relying on her strength instead of dealing with issues themselves. In addition to a persistent visual theme of lazy men leaning on / relying on strong girl to really get things done, there's a bit in her song where she slays Cerebrus, taking the honor away from Hercules.

Again, in character and actually woven in, but, hey, yet another set of talking points slipped in.

And so we get to Mirabel. The annoyingly millennial "clever and quirky" girl who has a generally upbeat disposition despite feeling left out because she disappointed the family by not not having a special gift when she came of age. She is the only one who sees the cracks developing in the self-aware house - which are a metaphor for the family coming apart because Alma the matriarch won't accept them as they are and constantly expects everything perfect.

In trying to save the house and family, she finds Bruno and helps steer him to reconciliation. What she learns from Bruno results in her completely accidentally triggering a realization in Isabella that she doesn't have to be perfect. But everything comes apart anyway because granny Alma thinks Mirabel's actually at fault for the problems and is ruining everything. The house comes apart. Running off, Mirabel is discovered by Alma, who then confesses to not being accepting enough, and Mirabel learns to accept Alma's flaws from some understanding of where those came from and the loss of her Grandfather.

And so the house is rebuilt, in large part by the villagers as the Madrigals are now powerless, and the power is restored when Mirabel places the last doorhandle - it turns out her gift was to continue/be the heart of the family by accepting everyone as they are.

Oh, and Luisa learns to not try to do everything.

There is a degree to which you can see the importance of several themes as good things : family, the need for the prior generations to let go as you can't control your kids forever, the attention and respect to surface-level cultural details, and a story that doesn't crush your face into overt woke B.S.

That said - the glossing over of something as foundationally central as church, the thematic inversion of tropes of strength, of needing to accept arbitrary change and more to the point be accepting period, the use of feminist tropes like how unfair it is to have to appear glamorous, and more are all there. The choices in presentation are subtle and well woven, but consistent.

In the end, it is pretty but shallow. Throwaway lines in The Incredibles did more to explore the tension between perfecting your gifts and not being used and abused by people who become infantalized relying on you. It focuses on acceptance over all, without asking what it is you're accepting, or what limits and boundaries one should still set.