A spoilers free review
For the first time, Disney has dived into South American culture and unavoidably stumbled upon the coffee traditions of the countryside. Here is everything you need to know about their take on our favorite subject.
For starters, have you heard of Magical Realism? It is a literary style traditional of Colombian literature, but widely common throughout the world. It was popularized by one of Colombia’s most famous writers Gabriel Garcia Marquez, locally known as Gabo, after he won the Nobel Prize in 1982 with his most renowned novel One Hundred Years of Solitude. There is even some talk that Encanto is loosely inspired by Gabo’s novel.
Magical Realism is all about telling the truth and facing reality with notes of magic that bring a sense of divinity or fantasy to the mundane aspects of reality. All while keeping the core of the story based on reality and not explaining the magical details.
Encanto is Disney’s take on Colombia's countryside and it is told as stories are told in this region of the world -with Magical Realism.
Women are Strong, Nurturing, and Beautiful.
The women in the story are all quite different in personalities and styles; which is quite a reflection on the fact that Colombia’s official race is mixed-race. Nonetheless, they all stand out for their inner and outer beauty, their strength, and their genuine care and love for everyone around them. They are the ones taking care of the details that keep everyone together. From the nurturing qualities of the mom, Julieta, who heals bodies and hearts with food. Then there is Luisa, who is physically strong and always willing to help the local church, the neighbors, and anyone else who may need her. And Isabella who represents grace and femininity and has the unique power of making flowers appear. At last, there is Mirabel, she is different only in the sense that she feels mundane, but that is the point, being mundane can still be quite magical and special.
The dresses worn by the women in the film are typical of Chapoleras; a term coined to describe the women who collect coffee beans during harvest season. The term Chapoleras comes from a type of butterfly called the Chapora, which also visits coffee plantations during the period of harvest. This is an important association. Butterflies are important in Colombia, the country that currently holds the record for having the largest variety of butterflies in the world. Perhaps as a consequence, butterflies are important in Colombian Magical Realism and appear throughout the film as decoration around the home and simply flying around the characters. The Chapoleras’ dress speaks loudly about the role of women. They are meant to be beautiful, flattering, and feminine; but they are also comfortable and practical enough to be worn to work. That says it all about the women of the region.
Also, it is a matriarchal structure, and grandma is always in charge.
Homes are Important and Families are Crucial
In the film, the home is depicted as a character itself, with its own role in the plot. It is also depicted as magical, unique, and a gift to the family. A gift they treasure and strive to protect. This is the general attitude to homes in the Colombian countryside. It would be safe to say that it is the attitude everywhere, but the unique thing here is that the instability created by violence, earthquakes (it is one of the regions with the highest seismic activity in the world), and other harsh realities of the countryside in developing regions result in making these homes a highly cherished shelter. It is a place of belonging and love, not only for immediate families but communities at large. The movie revolves around family, but it is clear that the definition of family involves a whole community, instead of the immediate members of nuclear families.
This is Disney’s largest family cast to date and it is no surprise as it is a requirement for the authenticity of this film.
Coffee is Part of Everyday Life
The film starts with children running around town with a cup of coffee in hand, which explains their physical energy and the fact that they keep talking fast. This is perhaps an exaggeration, but it is not inaccurate. Some children drink coffee daily in this region of the world, some only on special occasions (read: when grandma makes it for them). This is crucial to the setting. The Madrigal’s home is located in a small town in between the Andes mountains, and across the film, the audience enjoys in the background coffee fields, with even coffee cherries appearing as wild plants.
Bonus: The magic in the story comes from a candle. There is a holiday in Colombia called Día de las Velitas (Little Candle Day). It is not about small candles, using diminutives in Colombia is a sign of affection. For example, in the film, they refer to their large house as “Casita” which actually means “Little House.” They do it not due to humility about the proportions of their house, but as a sign of affection towards their home. Back to the candles-- Día de las Velitas, is a Catholic feast day. It celebrates Mary’s immaculate conception and Colombians celebrate it by lighting candles with petitions or intentions. It makes sense, that in the film, it is the grandma who holds the candle and brings the family together. She is the matriarch, not for her monetary power, but due to the fact that she is the family’s moral and spiritual guide.