How well is Colombian culture represented in Disney’s Encanto?

Photo Credit //

Photo Credit //

Matilda Trudell, Head of L&D

Encanto, directed by Byron Howard and Jared Bush was released to theaters on November 24, 2021, as the 60th animated Disney movie. Encanto is the story of Maribel Madrigal, a girl who has no magical gifts despite everyone else in her family having a special gift, such as strength, grace, and the ability to talk to animals. These gifts come from an enchanted candle that enchants everything around them, including the Madrigal house. When the candle starts to fade, the family’s powers become weak, and the house starts to slowly crumble. The whole town, which revolves around the Madrigal magic, starts to fall apart as well. 

Encanto takes place in an imaginary world that represents Colombia and its culture. Seeing Colombian food, colors, animals, and more is incredibly important for the Colombian representation in film. This is the first time this culture is represented in such a widely known platform like Disney. However, this is not the first time that Disney has explored different cultures. One example is Moana, which demonstrates the many cultures of the Polynesian Islander’s. Another example is Coco, which showcases Mexican culture.

In Encanto’s case there are many examples of Colombia’s customs and traditions. The first one is the traditional food that the characters eat. In one scene Mirabel is upset and is talking to her mom. Her mom gives her an arepa and because of her mom’s magical powers the food cures Mirabel. Arepas are a cornmeal cake sometimes served with cheese and eaten by Colombians on a daily basis. Another dish featured in the movies is ajiaco (a·hia·ko) which is a broth-based soup with potatoes, chicken, and toppings such as avocado, corn on the cob, capers, crema, cilantro and other variations depending on each family. The Madrigals eat ajiaco to celebrate an important event as a family, which is the same way many Colombian families eat this dish.

The scenery of the movie is a tropical land full of palm trees and other native wildlife. There are a variety of animals such as jaguars, toucans, capybaras, coati, and tapirs along with other animals native to the region. Antonio, the youngest member of the Madrigal family has the gift to talk to these animals, so the audience really sees the importance of the native creatures and their personalities.

All the characters are dressed in traditional Colombian outfits which are very colorful and decorated vividly with lots of ruffles. The most common colors are yellow (amarillo), blue (azul), and red (rojo), because these are the colors of the Colombian flag. They also use traditional Colombian shoes, alpargatas (al·par·ga·tas), which are similar to slide-on sandals made of canvas material and rope. Maribel Madrigal’s shoes are pink. Both men and women carry mochilas (mo·chi·las), a hand-woven bag, easily recognized by their fun patterns and colors.

Encanto follows the long tradition of Disney musicals. All the music in this movie is written by famous Lin-Manuel Miranda and Colombian singer Carlos Vives. The songs mix English and Spanish, and there are even two songs exclusively in Spanish which is a rarity in these family movies.

The most important element in Encanto is the candle that holds everyone together. Candles are present in Colombian, and most Latin-American cultures, representing life and what families hold sacred. Candles are lit for every occasion of importance. The Dia de las Velitas, (Day of the Little Candles) is a religious holiday celebrated in Colombia, on December 7th, the eve of the Immaculate Conception. On this day, families gather outside with neighbors to light candles during the unofficial start of the Christmas Season.

Besides all these physical elements, the story is also rooted in Colombian culture at a more abstract level. All the gifts that the Madrigal family have, although in the movie they are considered “magical”, are actual personality traits that Colombians pride themselves in having. One example is Mirabel’s mother’s gift: she can cure others with the food she prepares. In Colombia, women see bringing their families together to have a delicious homemade meal, as almost a magical gift. Women are also very graceful and strong; both of these characteristics are displayed by Mirabel’s sister’s gifts.

Encanto follows Magic Realism, a genre in which magic is found in the real world, as do many other representations of Colombian art, literature, and music. This is unlike fantasy where the stories take place in a completely magical world. Magic Realism is about finding the magic when and where you are, and Encanto follows the magic of Colombian tradition beautifully.

The message of Encanto is that family is a gift of its own, and that all individuals, regardless of how strong, graceful, or traditionally talented they are, have something to offer their loved ones.