What a treat this movie was. In the early days of 2022, I found the message at the core of this charming new Disney animated release to be incredibly relevant to my life as a 34-year-old living through two full years of a pandemic.
The story is one of a magical Colombian family that’s been given a blessing in the form of an eternal flame. The flame’s magical properties transfer over to the family, and at a particular age, the family members go through a ceremony during which a seemingly random magical power is given to them. The powers, which range from super-powered hearing to superhuman strength to the ability to change into the appearance of anyone else to the ability to heal any ailment with a cooked meal, are all used for the betterment of their village. The family’s matriarch teaches her family members that the powers are a gift in exchange for which they are supposed to use the powers to help their neighbors.
The hero of the film is a young Mirabel, who, as it turns out, is the only member of her family to have been passed over when it came time for the bestowment of her gifts. At the magical moment of her ceremony, she was disappointed and embarrassed by the dissolution of her dreams in a public setting. Since that moment, she’s struggled with feeling overlooked by her village and an outcast to her own family.
After another magical ceremony for her younger cousin, we see there is something wrong with the magic. It goes on the fritz, and when the family members realize what’s happening, the blame for whatever is happening falls at Mirabel’s feet.
To discuss much more is to rob the viewer of the plot of the film, which proceeds without a big bad evil force to confront or anything like that. It’s a much more internal film than that.
The film is supercharged by relentlessly catchy songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda, and it’s just a lot of fun to get lost in this world of magical realism for a while. Where the 2022 comes into play is the ultimate message of the film, which is that those magical gifts given to the family should have never been viewed as a matter of whether the recipient was worthy of them. Mirabel’s young cousin was told after his gift is revealed that his gift was deserved and a result of how special he was.
Mirabel clearly sees and hears all of this, and there’s only one way to process that kind of reinforcement to her cousin: Magical gifts are only given if one is special enough, and I have was given no gift, therefore I am not special.
This is the message reinforced by every interaction in her life, from the family members who don’t necessarily want her non-magical help and somewhat cast her aside to the patronizing comments she gets from villagers who know she’s the odd woman out. Her outlook is relentlessly positive, the practiced responses of someone who’s spent her life defined by what she’s without.
Again, without spoiling the exact ending, one can imagine that this isn’t the message that a Disney movie is going to project for very long, and sure enough, the ultimate resolution comes from the family realizing a fundamental truth: Those magical gifts were given to them as just that, gifts. They had very little to do with them being worthy or deserving of them in the first place, and once the family began to internalize that truth, their lives turn around for the better.
What better message could come to a person on the second day of the new year, when new years are so often associated with goals and resolutions of betterment which stem from some form of dissatisfaction for one’s self? What better time for self-care and grace and leeway than entering the third calendar year with the reality of COVID-19 in our lives, and the Omicron variant rapidly spreading infections far and wide?
Encanto is a movie that strives to enshrine a deep love for the intrinsic self-worth in all of us, and that, in accepting something that seems so radical in this day and age, there can be something magical in store for us all.