Spoilers for encanto and mention of political violence.
“The marvelous begins to be unmistakably marvelous when it arises from an unexpected alteration of reality (the miracle), from a privileged revelation of reality, [...] perceived with particular intensity by virtue of an exaltation of the spirit that leads it to a kind of extreme state [estado limite]. To begin with, the phenomenon of the marvelous presupposes faith.” Alejo Carpentier.
When Jared Bush & Co. decided to set the next Disney hit in Colombia they met with Alejandra Espinosa; principal consultant of history and culture of the country. Amongst all the things she shared with them so that this movie wouldn’t be the disaster that was Raya and The Last Dragon (watch: How Disney Commodifies Culture), there was the subject of magical realism.
She told them, “Stop,” when they started talking about the genre, “Magical Realism isn’t taking free magic and putting it in a wild context”. Instead she asked them to look at the Marvelous Real of Alejo Carpentier, “Understanding our identity from our hispanic, indigenous and african roots”.
It is no secret then, that Encanto takes inspiration from magical realism to craft their own world, but where can we see this influence? And how does it contribute to the narrative?
First of all is the origin of the magic. It is presented as a miracle given to Alma in order to combat the violent forces that took her husband, as the quote at the beginning of the article says: an unexpected altercation of reality that is brought upon by an extreme state and ends up being recognized as a miracle.
The fact that it talks about violence that is specific to Colombia -people have deduced that the flashback with Pedro takes place in the Thousand Day’s War around 1900- just brings home the fact that this cannot be any other thing.
Secondly is the way that the characters interact with the magic. I was reading a fanfic based off the movie, and in it Agustín marks as weird or unnatural that there is a breathing-house and that his family has magical powers and it just felt out of place.
Now, we do see Agustín telling his daughter how he also felt out of place with all the magical people in the movie, however he never questions the fact that the Madrigals have magic or that Casita is alive. The same goes to the people from the town, even though the first scene is exposition about how the magic works, no one ever asked “well, why are you the only ones that have magic?”
Unlike in Frozen, for example, the townsfolk don’t fear the magic (though there is a case for Bruno and his gift) but rather is treated as normal. The Madrigals are magical and that is just a fact of life, same as the sun rises every day.
Thirdly. In my opinion, the way that magical realism utilizes its fantastic elements is by having them be a tool for a character study, or a ensamble study like in the Drown Giant by Gabriel García Marquez. In the same way, the writers of Encanto utilize the story's magic to visually and thematically represent the character’s persona, mental health and struggles.
Through this fantastical allegory the writers are able to explore generational trauma -a pretty heavy topic- in a movie which is primarily marketed to children.
There are other obvious factors like it is set in Latin America from which some of the most popular works in the genre are from, or the little easter-eggs of the golden butterflies that appear in One Hundred Years Of Solitude however, but I want to focus on these three because for me this is what puts Encanto apart from other disney properties.
This is a movie without a villain (though it has an antagonist), whose quest is not going in a grand adventure but rather knocking on our family’s doors and is more character-focused when blockbuster movies tend to lean to a more plot-focused story.
The writers, by using elements of magical realism to craft their own magic system continue this idea, when we see the movie we are not going to a far away land (which is nice since is a slippery slope to exoticism) but a deeply personal magical journey that can happen to us all.
Ari Ochoa Petzo
is a Mexican-Venezuelan bi genderfluid writer. They like dancing to old music and history. In their free time you can find xem trying to coerce their friends to participate in another of their crazy projects.
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