Identity labeling detracts from the message of Encanto

Spoiler Warning for the movie Encanto

Photo credit to Disney

Encanto, at its core, is a movie that somehow combines generational trauma and magical powers with beautiful Colombian representation at every turn. Colombian culture and its vibrant environments permeate the scenery and backgrounds. Even the rivers in Encanto are reminiscent of the Caño Cristales river!

Encanto is the newest Disney animated movie directed by Byron Howard and Jared Bush, premiering on November 24th, 2021. After Encanto premiered, the two main discussions surrounding the movie were the actual content and applying LGBT+ labels to the characters. If you’ve ever been in any sort of internet fandom, you would know it isn’t uncommon to see people assigning LGBT+ to characters, such as labeling Keith and Lance from Voltron as gay or bisexual. While this usually isn’t that big of a deal, many Latino people found this behavior in the Encanto fandom very harmful.

Encanto provided representation for people of Colombian descent that has been majorly lacking within western media. By assigning LGBT+ labels to these characters, many people felt like their representation was trying to be taken from them. For example, many labeled Isabela as a lesbian because she had no interest in the man she was supposed to marry. Critics of this idea argue that her sexuality had little to no impact on the situation. Her issue was the fact that she was being forced to marry him rather than being allowed to marry out of love. Making her issue rooted in her sexuality takes away the actual issue of her being forced to do anything to please her family and uphold their family name. This is less of a Colombian issue and more an issue in Spanish-speaking countries in general. The issue in this situation is that assigning LGBT+ labels to these characters steals representation from Spanish-speaking people. Other characters in Encanto have been labeled as different LGBT+ labels, such as Mirabel. This caused people from the other side of the situation to express their discomfort with the labels.

Apart from the internet drama, the movie itself was pretty interesting. The story follows Mirabel as she tries to save her family’s magical gift and, in the process, mends their relationship. However, the actual plot of the movie moved quickly with few explanations. I’m still unclear on how Bruno’s gift, which appears to be a penchant for appropriately muddled predictions of a future no one wants, resulted in any plot clarity at all. But in Encanto, everyone gets a spotlight, so misfit Bruno spends just as much time on screen as any other member of the family, plot-relevant or not. This left the audience wanting to understand aspects of the magical world more. How did the candle grant magical powers? Why doesn’t Mirabel have any powers? Does she maybe have powers after all? Who knows! Certainly not viewers of Encanto. While this uncertainty was a bit unsatisfactory, this movie was heavily inspired by a genre popular in Colombia called magical realism. Magical realism is a story in a realistic fictional setting with elements of magic. While the world of Encanto is mostly magical, the realism coming from the characters shares the “this is how it is” attitude. 

Unlike other Disney movies, there was no big bad villain in Encanto. Instead, there was the complicated character of Abuela. While she did force her children and grandchildren to conform to her unrealistic standards, she was understandable. It’s clear that after losing her home and husband, she would do anything to keep and preserve what she now has, even if her security is fickle and imaginary. 

It would be hard to mention Encanto without recognizing Lin Manuel Miranda’s phenomenal work. His upbeat music definitely carried the emotional parts of the movie, allowing you to sympathize and understand each member of the Madrigal family. From Lusia’s burden of trying to keep the family together to showing Isabela’s wanting to be her true self, Mirabel is able to tell these stories in a catchy way in 3 minutes and 30 seconds of song.

Despite the discourse within the community, many can agree that this is a great movie. Encanto is a 4 out of 5 movie (a point being taken out for the fast moving plot), not only for Colombian representation, but for representation of the complexities of family issues.