How ‘Encanto’ helped me further connect with my own family dynamics

A scene from the film 'Encanto.'
A scene from the film 'Encanto.'
Courtesy of Walt Disney Animatio

Like most children, I grew up watching Disney movies. I kept a collection of DVD’s above my bedside packed with my favorites — “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Alice in Wonderland.”

As much as I enjoyed sitting through these films, I knew deep down these movies were all entirely fictional and drawn from fantasy situations. I could relate to their personalities and personal experiences, but was aware of the inherently fictional basis.

But upon watching Disney’s latest film “Encanto,” I could easily relate to Stephanie Beatriz’s character, Mirabel. The movie, set in Colombia, follows a magical family known as the Madrigals. Their house is also embedded with magical powers.

Written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the movie focuses on Mirabel — the only member of the family without magical powers. The rest of her family received a wide range of powers, like turning objects into flowers and super strength.

But when a dark force comes to threaten Mirabel’s home, she has to seek a key that will protect her kin. Going through this journey helps her realize that she doesn’t need magic to be great.

I saw myself in Mirabel as she compared herself to the talents and powers of those around her, and that in turn made it so much more engaging to follow along with her journey of discovering that it doesn’t make her any less than her family members.

Growing up, it was easy to compare myself to my cousins and other family members — whether that meant they were doing better academically, socially or were just overall more attractive.

As the only cousins without siblings, we felt like the odd one of the family mix. I often felt like I didn’t have the same connections, resources and support than my other cousins who had each other.

That’s why I think it was easier to relate to Mirabel than other Disney characters. As I grew up, I had to come to find my own strength in the family and not compare myself. It can be a hard lesson to learn — and I saw that as Mirabel went on her journey throughout the movie.

Although she is bright, joyful and optimistic, she is also inherently flawed, and that helped me see the humanity in her and connect to her experiences.

I also saw so much of my own family’s dynamic in Madrigals. Although I don’t have siblings, I have cousins that I’ve shared similar experiences with.

Abuela Alma, the matriarch and glue that holds the family together, resembles my grandmother in a lot of ways. She is easily the person in our large family that keeps everyone coming to family reunions and helps us whenever we need it.

When I saw Luisa, the middle child gifted with super strength, come onto the screen, I immediately thought of my eldest cousin, who I looked up to as a child as someone who was infinitely smarter, stronger and wiser than me.

Making family such a focal point in the movie helps me further connect with this film as a whole, and I feel like it’s such an important dynamic when telling Latino stories. Family and togetherness is so embedded into Latin American culture, and it’s been expressed in several other Disney adaptations. “Coco,” the 2017 Disney/Pixar release by directors Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina, is just one example.

Overall, this movie was a fun watch. Beatriz’s portrayal of Mirabel was show-stopping and was delivered in such a way that I truly connected with her thoughts and emotions.

“Encanto” (2021) is available to watch at select movie theaters across the nation. The movie will be available through Disney+ on Dec. 24.

Heidi Pérez-Moreno is part of the reporting team for La Voz De Chatham, a bilingual reporting project through the Chatham News + Record. She is a senior studying journalism at UNC-Chapel Hill.