Enchanted with the charm of Encanto

I saw the trailer for Encanto last year; at our only trip to the movies, which was such a non-event I can’t even remember what we watched. I hated the trailer, as it looked like yet another generic Disney Princess story. Something happens, they make a journey through peril, plot twist (!), another journey, conclusion, all wrapped up with a bow, songs and saccharine.

Encanto has been on at least four times in the past week, twice at my request, and again last night, because I can’t get enough of it. The trailer is so misleading, if you’ve only watched it and gone ‘meh’ please get thee over to Disney+ and watch the movie.

I don’t know why they cut the movie into the same old fairy tale trope trailer, when the story is so much deeper. I’ve been mulling this over for a couple of days, I hope I can do my thoughts justice.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s command of language is extraordinary, running words together that don’t belong, but work due to the staccato enunciation. The performers of any of his songs deserve a huge amount of kudos; many people will have seen The Rock working his butt off to sing ‘You’re Welcome‘. But have you heard Jessica Darrow sing ‘Surface Pressure‘ yet? (I can’t find a video of her singing it yet, but if I do, I’ll update this post).

The amount of Mamas on Instagram and TikTok seeing themselves in the lyrics of Surface Pressure as they try and hold everything together, knowing that one more thing could unravel them:

Under the surface
The ship doesn’t swerve as it heard how big the iceberg is
Under the surface
I think about my purpose
Can I somehow preserve this?

Line up the dominoes
A light wind blows
You try to stop it tumbling
But on and on it goes

But wait
If I could shake the crushing weight
Of expectations would that free some room up for joy?

Or relaxation? Or simple pleasure?
Instead we measure this growing pressure
Keeps growing, keep going
‘Cause all we know is

Pressure like a drip, drip, drip that’ll never stop, woah
Pressure that’ll tip, tip, tip ’til you just go pop, woah-oh-oh
Give it to your sister, it doesn’t hurt and
See if she can handle every family burden
Watch as she buckles and bends but never breaks
No mistakes, just

Pressure like a grip, grip, grip, and it won’t let go, woah
Pressure like a tick, tick, tick ’til it’s ready to blow, woah-oh-oh

Surface Pressure, Lin-Manuel Miranda

The characters actually look like people, as opposed to twigs with bobble heads and too-big eyes. The characters are also a variety of shapes, sizes and colours, all in proportion, for the first time in forever. The animation is beautiful, but it’s been taken up to a whole other level. When Antonio whispers, ‘I need you’ to Mirabel, the look in his eyes; the yearning they were able to convey as he holds out his hand to her, made me weep.

If you’ve not seen the movie, here’s a spoiler alert. It’s about family. It’s about learning your foibles, swallowing your hubris and recognising that having too high expectations in one area, makes you blind to your behaviour in other areas of your life.

The gifts given to, and the Madrigal family, are held in high esteem in their local village. The matriarch of the Madrigals, Abuela Alma, is worried about keeping the magic strong, petrified she might lose her home again if it weakens. Instead of letting the magic run freely, she places restrictions around behaviour on everyone in the family, in the misguided belief it will keep them and the villagers safe. All the family are struggling under the pressure of the restrictions in different ways. Mirabel learns that the magic, particularly in her two sisters, Luisa and Isabela, is stronger when they’re allowed to relax, have fun and goof off. But this realisation comes at a high cost, culminating in Abuela ostracising Mirabel. Her uncle Bruno had previously been forced out the family, We Don’t Talk about Bruno, again under the guise of protecting the magic.

But they lose their house and the magic. The family and villagers work together to restore the foundation of their lives, rebuilding the house that crumbled underneath them. There is no fairy godmother, there is no magic wand, there is no do-over, or a Greek Chorus of a (oftentimes talking) animal side-kick. Until the Family Madrigal stop, admit their faults, learn from their mistakes, apologise and start over, the characters were stuck in an endless loop of perfection. Which was running the family into the ground, despite all appearances to the contrary on the outside. Only then does the magic return through Mirabel, to the house, to the family.

Enjoy the movie for what it is, then go back and take delight at Easter Eggs, the visual and musical clues, and symbolism throughout. The layers of work on screen are more than matched by the volume of work in the score, using traditional instruments and motifs. It’s a stunning achievement.

Lastly, representation matters, particularly with the Disney logo preceding it. Latinx, including Colombian, (where Encanto is set) children, are beside themselves to see people who look like them on the screen.