“Did Disney Just Make the Most Christian Movie Ever?”
Teacher and author Jessica Hooten Wilson, sitting next to her children in the theater, found herself ‘completely shocked’ by the animated film Encanto unfolds in front of her. It wasn’t about forcing its protagonist to become fully self-sufficient or preaching a need to save herself as she’s seen in past Disney films. Instead, she found an abundance of Christian symbolism.
Encanto, nominated for two Oscars, “Best Animated Feature Film” and “Best Original Score”, tells the story of Mirabel, a young Colombian woman who faces the difficulty of being the only member of her family without magical powers. In her attempts to love her family well, she confronts the seemingly wavering strength of her family’s magic and the judgment of her. abuela (Grandmother).
Directors Byron Howard and Jared Bush knew they didn’t want the story to expand beyond the home and the multi-generational family within it.
“The idea of bringing these gifts, of telling the story inspired by magical realism, allowed it to elevate, allowed us to visually do something that only animation could do,” Bush said, according to Deadline. “And it was really exciting more part. But this foundation in a real family dynamic was the most important thing.
In a clip included in a home video of the film, songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda spoke about the crucial themes of family in the story.
“We really wanted to say, ‘What if we can capture the complexity of a family?'” Miranda, from hamilton fame, says. “I think, especially in Latin cultures, family is so important. I come from a big family, everyone I know comes from a big family, so we wanted to be able to capture that complexity in an animated world.
Father Juan Ochoa, director of the Office of Divine Worship for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and pastor of Christ the King Church, also pointed to the film’s authentic depiction of Latin family culture.
“When we talk about family, especially in the Latino community, we’re not just referring to our immediate family. We talk about our uncles, aunts or grandparents,” Father Ochoa told the Register. “Two thousand years ago, this was Jesus’ context about the family.”
The first times Encanto played in the home of author and radio host Katie Prejean McGrady, she did chores and paid little attention to them. When she sat down to watch it in its entirety, her 4-year-old daughter by her side, she was struck by the film’s family intensity.
“It was the story of a family, all living together in this magical house, acutely aware of each other’s gifts and flaws, and it was intensely relatable, even with the magical gift element,” McGrady said. in the Register. “I found myself understanding and understanding the conflicts and resolutions of the film far more than I have with any Disney princess film.”
She loved what the film showed her children: they can thrive, heal and grow, all as a family. She enjoyed seeing a story that resembled her own family on screen.
“Messy, flawed, but fiercely protective and trying to figure it out as best we can,” she said.
The portrayal of married couples and the portrayal of men, in particular, also differed from what Disney typically displays. In their limited screen time, married couples point to a strong, loving dynamic within their relationships that allows them to complement each other well.
The grandfather sacrifices his life to save his family from physical danger, an uncle encourages his wife while challenging her, and Mirabel’s father defends his daughter when Abuela sends her away. Their roles are bigger and more serious than you usually see in Disney media, which often turns the male characters into punchlines.
Discovery of identity
Father Ochoa pointed out that the film also shows the generational trauma caused by Abuela refusing to deal with the shock she suffered after the death of her husband, which then affects her children and grandchildren.
“Being able to save anyone, even yourself, doesn’t work in this movie,” Wilson told The Register. “Everything starts to fall apart when someone tries to do that, when grandma thinks she can work to earn a miracle and earn grace.”
This theme runs counter to the typical cultural narrative, Wilson explained, that pushes a kind of “dignity of the workspace” — the idea that what you do gives you value as a human being.
“The miracle is you,” Abuela sings at the end of the film. “Not a gift, just you.”
“We need these kinds of movies to show us a life worth living,” Wilson said. “And if we continually have movies that lie to us, that the only life worth living is the one in which we consume the most, we are selfish, we only care about ourselves, we write our our own stories – all these lies, these kinds of movies and books – we’ll have the culture we have now: we’re polarized. We’re divided; we’re selfish; we’re violent.
The miracle behaves like an allegory of grace – given freely, the Madrigal family can receive it and cooperate with it, but when they try to win it, their attempts cause a rift between them and the “magic”, as well as between them.
“That’s something we can say about this film, from a Catholic perspective: it doesn’t ignore the spiritual life of people,” Fr. Ochoa said. “We only focus on what we are able to perceive through our five senses, but in this film, we recognize that there is something more to life than the functional and mechanical.”
In connection with Encanta, Wilson, who teaches at the University of Dallas, referenced a line from a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, the Jesuit priest-poet: “For Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places.”
There is a diversity and multiplicity of gifts within the Church, Wilson explained.
Not everyone can be hands, or eyes, or heads, because that causes a loss of the whole Body of Christ. The relationships within the film indicate the need for everyone to have a different role.
love of neighbor
According to Wilson, Encanto depicts Abuela and Mirabel carrying the flame of something beautiful and necessary for the next generation, rather than just writing their own stories.
“That’s where it starts: family,” Wilson said. “That’s where your knowledge of who you are, why you’re here, and what you do in the world comes from.”
Wilson observed that when Mirabel helps her family figure out how to see themselves, they do so with the understanding that identity cannot be entirely defined apart from others.
“We often forget that we belong to other people,” Wilson said simply. “We are responsible for each other.”
McGrady admired the character of Mirabel, who continually portrays the importance of being supportive, loving, and stable for the people she loves.
“It’s a beautiful snapshot of empathy and the gift of presence and the virtue of kindness that we can bring to the lives of others,” McGrady said, “and how often it is when we are present to those that we know best, our family, we can come to nurture you and to love you well.
Many children’s films focus on main characters whose quests require them to somehow solve the problem themselves, McGrady said, but Mirabel’s burden requires the help of the community.
“The Madrigal family is the anchor of the community. Families are the anchor of society,” McGrady said. “If our families are healthy and holy, we can only hope that seeps into the world and the culture we are creating.”