Thursday, March 17, 2022

We Don't Talk About Disney Movies...Usually

OK, we talk about Disney movies all the time.

How about: normally I avoid reviewing Disney movies. Because of my genetic predisposition to find them all awesome and wonderful, the write ups would get pretty redundant.

Encanto, however, is different, being that:
It takes place in a Latin location filled with Spanish language,
It contains criminally catchy songs by none other than Lin-Manuel Miranda,
It is almost entirely focused on the themes of extended family dynamics,
And most importantly,
It is freakin' brilliant.

Above and beyond the amount other Disney films live in our home, this one has become entrenched.
What makes it brilliant?  Among other things, the story has a whopping DOZEN main characters. Thanks to the first of many songs that will stick in the audiences' heads forever, by the time the opening number is done they've all been introduced, identified and explained.

Another part of the brilliance is making the main character and identification point feel like an outsider in her family, something everyone goes through at some time in their lives. This allows an immediate connection. Then it builds on that by having two of the characters closest to Mirabel, her sisters, be secondary focuses, and have equally identifiable problems.
The feeling of only being worthwhile by taking on too much responsibility.
And the feeling of only gaining approval by meeting others' views of perfection.

I know I've seen it at least a half dozen times, and Anabelle has far surpassed me. Rosa's probably tied with me, though some of her viewings with Anabelle were separate from mine, and in other languages.

With this film becoming a part of our lives, (and all the songs constantly stuck in my head at once) I feel the need to address memes and commentaries going around by people who clearly have missed the ENTIRE POINT of the film.

But first, a random tangent.
Because it's me.

I think my favorite character is Felix.
(The non-powered husband of Pepa, Mirabel's Aunt who controls the weather, and the one Anabelle has uncontrolled favoritism of, for those whose families have not become completely obsessed with this story.)

The reason is- whatever happens, Felix is there for it. 
However, it isn't in a passive, "roll with it" kind of way. 
It's with a totally action based, positive "lets go!" attitude. 
I admire those who are that truly alive, its something I strive for but rarely achieve.

The creators acknowledged Julieta and Agusti'n (Mirabel's parents) got together after getting to know each other over all the times she had to heal her accident prone eventual husband.

Felix straight up fell in love with the woman who has constant storm clouds over her head.

Whatever happens, Felix leaps in joyously.

"Oh, we're dancing now? I'll lead!"
"Hey, you started singing about a forbidden subject out of nowhere? I've got the harmonies."
"Huh, the house magically rearranged the breakfast seating? I'll move the plates."
"Uh oh, there's a hurricane on our wedding day? What a joyous day...but anyway."

When the house is collapsing, Casita saves everyone in it...except Antonio, because Casita knows Felix is right there and will take care of it.

He's always so upbeat, and his style works. Usually, a single hug from him, and Pepa's cloud shrinks to negligible  or vanishes completely. However, that's not his goal. He has an easily missed line in "All of You."  Right after Bruno's Elsa impression when he's encouraging Pepa to "Let it gooooooo," if the film has been seen it often enough to not have the next moment covered by laughter, Felix's quick line can be heard, "That's what I'm always saying, Bro."

Not that Agusti'n is a slouch. Sure he's a bit of a goof, but mess with his family and the iron in him comes out.

With that out of the way, watching this film a ridiculous number of times brings clarity. Anabelle pointed out Bruno dancing in the background to me during the song about not talking about him. However, she also noted his eyes were glowing, which only happens when he makes a prediction, therefore it is probably Camilo prepping for his verse.  (The script writer refuses to comment either way, because he thinks the debate is fun and interesting.)

The real foreshadowing that Bruno still around is when Dolores sings about hearing him, it is in the present tense.
Also, another Anabelle note, Dolores describes short bursts of falling sand, when his room has a continuous sand flow. That's probably him constantly throwing salt (or whatever) over his shoulder.

Aside-  For anyone not from a large Latin family (or an Italian one for that matter) a huge production number about a family member they've agreed not to discuss is totally unsurprising.

Other Aside- Bruno's painted on table setting joins the list of Disney's most heart rending moments.

For the key point I wanted to make: (See? As usual, I get there eventually.) Based on memes, and other online reviews and notes, there are a bunch of folks casting Abuela as the villain of the piece. These people are missing THE ENTIRE POINT of the film.  (Yes, I said that already, but I meander and wanted to make sure everyone was on the same page.)

This is not a story about blame, and who's fault things are.
This is a story, at its core, about the importance of communication, empathy and understanding.

First of all a bit more background, while Pepa is the most obvious because weather is extremely volatile by nature, ALL of the family's gifts are based on emotional states.

The perfect flower girl makes her first cactus when truly enraged.
Camilo loses his shape when surprised by the secret of Bruno's prediction.
Even for those where it is far from obvious this applies. Julieta has to bake her healing items with intent and love for them to work.

Therefore Luisa isn't losing her confidence because her gift isn't working. Her gift isn't working BECAUSE she's losing her confidence. (Just like Gladiator in the Shi-Ar Royal Guard, for the other deep cut Marvel Comics geeks out there.)

Mirabel talking to Luisa reveals the symptoms of the family's problems but doesn't resolve them. Luisa is still focused on doing too much, and worrying that she's only valuable when she does.

Mirabel finds more understanding with her sister and Bruno as well. But her decision that SHE alone will save the magic is problematic.  We also learn, in Bruno's hide away, that Casita has far more hidden cracks than it does on its visible surface...just like the rest of the family.

Casita doesn't start to heal then. But it does when Mirabel and Isabella feel empathy for each other's position,  really start to understand what the other is going through, and give their sister credit for helping them. ("What Else Can I Do" for those playing the home game.)

Then comes the giant confrontation with Abuela.
The downfall begins when Mirabel says "can fix the magic." 
This is followed by the full collapse is at the point where the two openly blame one another for being the cause of the Encanto failing.

Those two are the lynchpins of the magic and the family. 
They have no "super powered" gift, but both of their purposes involve relating to and guiding others.  Mirabel has already started to take on Abuela's role of psyching him up and escorting Antonio to his door at the start of the film.
This can be seen by the designs on Mirabel's outfit containing all the colors of each branch of her family.
(I noticed this on my own. Then I pointed it out to Anabelle and she said, "Duh!")

Abuela is the Matriarch. This can be a massive strain. I've seen it multiple times in my own family. That role is hugely important, but it comes with the stresses of all three sisters:
Feeling like an outsider
Feeling the pressure of never doing enough
And feeling everyone expects you to be perfect.

It's not only about leadership, but about facilitating communications and passing around information.

It's subtle, since she's almost always shown ordering folks around and running the show, but on the rare occasions that she isn't performing Matriarch duties...and is sure no one is looking at her... Abuela is ALWAYS beaming with pride looking over her family.

Becoming the Matriarch is not an elected or sought after position.  It happens because everyone depends more and more on the one person capable of fulfilling the spot.

After the Casita Crash, Abuela is the one who finds Mirabel. 
To do this, she has to go to the location where the darkest part of her life happened. No one else in the family or town was brave enough to leave the valley. 

Want proof of how the Encanto works?
If "It's all Abuela's fault!" was the key, when she took the blame for the family and Encanto being broken, it should have fixed everything.
But when she takes full responsibility for all of the problems that we've seen, what happens?

Stuff happens only afterwards when Abuela and Mirabel reach an understanding and empathize with one another's positions. Most importantly it is when they give THE OTHER ONE credit for being the source of the family's strength and magic. This is when the crapstorm of enchanted butterflies launches to bring them home.

Another important point in that scene: (And another thank you to Anabelle for pointing it out.)
Abuela is keeping stuff secretly inside that's defining and damaging her just like everyone else in the family.
The movie opens with the "standard story" of how they got the Encanto, officially told as part of family Door Day tradition.  It leaves out the emotional destruction of the horrific heartbreak, grief and pain Alma (for that is her name) felt that she tells Mirabel about during the "Dos Oruguitas" number near the end.

Every single thing Abuela has done, and every single rule she's had over the years has been to prevent anyone else in her family and community from reliving the horrendous and traumatic experience she lived through. She is overly hard and strict on her charges because she's trying to protect them and others while keeping her own pain deeply buried.
She's basically Batman in a shawl.
(Oh and the shawl is a symbol of her grief. Note when she wears it and when she doesn't. Another point out by Anabelle, whose obsession levels with this movie is off the charts.)

There's a couple other important Matriarch points.

1) The transition from one Matriarch to another is a rough one. Everyone involved knows what is going to, and should happen. However, it can lead to HUGE amounts of friction during moments where it's clear the role is changing, not only by person, but by their style of doing things.  This is why Abuela and Mirabel have the largest dust ups, (and sadly makes it easy for them to figure out the most hurtful things to say) but also end up with the closest bond.

2) The Encanto, the candle, Casita, whatever the family's magical blessing is called...its Abuelo Pedro's spirit. I will entertain no arguments on this. One thing the most functional Matriarch's have is an "Abuelo" in the background. He's the one who subtlety passes hints to the family when the Matriarch is under too much pressure, and also passes hints to the Matriarch when she needs to unclench a bit. The really good ones have done enough groundwork that their magic (or lessons as the case may be) continues to do this, even after they're gone.  Mirabel has no "magical gift" because Abuelo sent her with the gift of the ability to help, and eventually take over the Matriarch position for, Abuela

Some other key bits:
As soon as Bruno shows up (and falls off of a horse, because we all needed to stop crying there) Abuela immediately embraces him mid sentence. There's no repercussions, and no hostility, only an instant of surprise followed by total acceptance.
They "Don't talk about Bruno" not because of his prophesies, but because she incorrectly thought he abandoned the family.

The Encanto fully comes back when the family and village all work together in a way that allows them all to understand each other, and how they can support and help each other. Blame and even admission of blame is not important in strengthening the magic when the family really cares about each other, communication and empathy are the most important things in this film...

And in real life.

Final thoughts:
Diane Guerrero (Isabella) is an awesome singer with a distinct style. We know Larry can sing.  I'm sure Mr. Pricklepants can carry a tune and I think I remember Brendan Fraser doing a song and dance in a film.  We need a Doom Patrol full musical episode.

I have no idea why "dead fish lady" is dancing around the family dinner table with the rest of the Madrigals. (Yes, that's who she is, her name is actually, Señora Pezmuerto.) 
I shall default to Anabelle's answer, which matches the answer I give her for many of the strange and silly films I've introduced her to:
"Because it's funny."


Dina Roberts said...

I haven't seen the movie yet but LOVE the songs!! I read about half your post then realized it will probably make more sense to me once I see the movie. I mean all the Abuela stuff. Without seeing the movie and without reading your whole post...I can still see you have some really intense and interesting insights.

Jeff McGinley said...

Many thanx. I've got some experience with the big ethnic family thing. The songs are amazing, and they're used outstandingly well to not only tell the story but to add huge levels of emotion to it. It adds a whole other level.

Thanx for reading and I hope you enjoy it.

Jesse said...

Some great thoughts and insights! Thanks for sharing!

Jeff McGinley said...

Many thanx, glad you enjoyed it!