By Seun Olowo-Ake
Encanto is the story of the magical Madrigal family, their sentient casita and the people in their community that they have taken it upon themselves to protect. Written by Jared Bush and Charise Castro Smith and featuring music by Lin-Manuel Miranda the Great (Incidentally, that’s how I shall be referring to him henceforth), Walt Disney Animation’s 60th film brings us magic, familial love, bright colours and Miranda’s conversational music style.
As the only person in the family Madrigal that was not blessed with a magical gift, Maribel (Stephanie Beatriz) compensates by helping her family out in any way she can. However, she soon discovers that, rather than aiding it, her efforts put her in the way of the family’s efficiency. This doesn’t deter her though, as when she discovers her family’s magic is in trouble, she decides that she will be the one to save it. Cue awkward dinners, ‘bigger on the inside’ adventures and making amends.
I really love my family and the idea of family in general so, even though it shocked me, I was not surprised to find myself teary eyed by the end of the movie. Seeing the Madrigals siblings, cousins, parents, tias and tios–all led by the graceful Abuela (Maria Cecilia Botero)–helping each other out made my heart very happy.
Encanto conveys different themes: from the importance of family (where the true magic lies) to the weight that comes with having to be perfect/having nothing go wrong with you to finding and understanding your gift when everyone around you seems more exceptional than you are, as seen in Maribel who is determined to prove her worth to the rest of her family.
However, by the end of the movie, I found myself asking an important question: what is good leadership?
Abuela and the Madrigals are the centrepiece of the community, and it is their magic that keeps it running. But when that magic starts to fade, the problem is not just that their family is losing their magic. It is that they are leaving their community vulnerable. Abuela understands this and tries to sell the illusion that the magic is okay for as long as possible. To me, she exemplifies the type of leader that feels they must always project strength, even when that strength is lacking. This need to show strength has been passed on to the rest of her family who eventually crack under the weight of that pressure, forcing them all to reckon with the fact that though they are the “strongest”/“most gifted”, they need their community. The film tells us by the end that good leader doesn’t just do everything in their power to take care of those in they lead. They also empower those under their influence to become leaders themselves.
A good leader understands they can’t do everything alone, and a good leader is not afraid to ask for help when they need it.
Now, I’m going to listen to the soundtrack on repeat because, believe it or not, this fast-talking rap music lover could not fully understand what was going on in some of the songs. Personally, I blame that on the fact that I watch everything with subtitles. (Or maybe I’m getting up there in age. Lol)
Encanto is premieres in theatres on November 24th, 2021.