Disney’s Encanto was Refreshingly Underwhelming


Disney via CNBC

Jenn Uche ’22 tells us her opinion on Disney’s newest movie Encanto.


Now, I know what you’re thinking. Underwhelming? Am I insane? I must be— because from the moment my siblings and I huddled together, pressing play, eyes wide, we were enraptured by the brilliant colors and characters— the magical music moved us and motivated feet tapping, hip-swaying, and bubbling laughter as we were introduced to the Madrigal family— and we were long since invested by the time we were included in the drama with Black Sheep Bruno— we were shocked as Mirabel sat, tousled and teary-eyed, in the midst of crumbled Casita.

If you don’t already know— and in that case, I salute your spartan soul for reading spoilers before watching the movie— the story opens with Mirabel Madrigal introducing her uniquely gifted family. The Madrigals possess incredible blessings. Ranging from super-strength to seeing the future, the family does their best to assist the town of Encanto. Mirabel is different, however; she, unlike the rest of her family, was never given a gift by Encanto. No talking to animals, no shapeshifting, no healing people with an arepa con queso. Nada.

I understand that the title of this article may have aroused several stunned gasps from those who have already watched this movie, and it’s likely to have also raised a few eyebrows at those who’ve only heard good things about Encanto. How could someone consider this enchanting movie underwhelming? There are two reasons.

Admittedly, at the end of the movie, when the family came together to build Casita back up, Maribel’s door (etched with her and her family— so so so cute!!!) finally lit up, and the family took a picture together, and the credits rolled… and rolled… I was feeling a little underwhelmed, but no less satisfied. 

Reason number one for why I was so very happy to be underwhelmed: There was no Big Boss.

I think I’ve gotten too used to our everyday action-packed-Hero’s-Journey Disney story. Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Hero gets pushed out of their comfort zone. Hero goes on a quest. Hero, when all hope is lost, goes through their Darkest Hour™. Hero and Big Baddie have a big Showdown. Hero Wins! 

Yeah, we’ve seen this in Moana, we’ve seen this in the Avengers, we’ve seen this EVERYWHERE! But what’s unique about Encanto, is that there’s no easy-to-point-out villain. At first, we were led to believe that Bruno (We don’t talk about Bruno, no, no…) was the antagonist (but, no! He was a red herring). We can point fingers at Abuela, the one who encouraged and cultivated the idea that you had to have a beautiful gift to be a true part of the Madrigal household. Putting into context her background: fleeing her home from armed attackers, losing her husband, and being blessed by Encanto with a miraculous house with magical children— it isn’t too difficult to empathize with the desperate obsession she has with keeping the magic, keeping her family perfect, and becoming offensive to anything (or anyone) who could threaten the stability of their miracle. She admits she lost her way, forgetting the entire purpose of the miracle was to bless the family, not the other way around. With her apology and the family’s new mindset, we see the family heal.

Encanto is a call out to families everywhere. Most people can relate to the difficulty of measuring up to the large expectations put on by the respected matriarchs and patriarchs of their families. Metaphorically, the heads of the family care for the candle of their household, stoking the flames, making sure exhaustion never sets in. Literally speaking, sometimes, keeping everyone up to expectations can put a harsh strain on a family. The Madrigal family had a strain. Tia Pepa restrains her emotions for fear of thunderclouds, Luisa overworks herself because she’s expected to be the strongest, Isabela hides her true feelings for her betrothed because she’s expected to be perfect, and Bruno’s vilified precognition gifts cause him to flee and hide. The feeling of not being able to hold a candle (no pun inten… actually, yes that was intended, sorry, not sorry) to the expectations your elders have for you is an almost universal experience. And Maribel addresses this problem, which leads to my second reason.

Reason number two for why I was so very happy to be underwhelmed: There was no Showdown. The solution was simple. It was communication. The best solution for most things is communication. The tender scene at the end with Mirabel and Abuela talking in the fields, with Abuela’s apology, with Mirabel’s understanding— this was the Showdown-that-wasn’t-a-Showdown. This was a Solution. A very tangible solution for audiences filled with Moms and Dads and Grandméres and Abuelos and Tias and Uncles and Cousins and Matriarchs and Patriarchs and their children. Encanto not only gave the Madrigals a gift but to the hundreds of families in theatres or on Disney+ — Encanto reminded us of the beauty of family. We don’t have family to make miracles happen but miracles happen because we have family.

Jenn Uche ’22, Creative Writing Editor