Colombia seen through the prism of “Encanto” by Disney Global Voices Français

Madrigal family. Photo: Disney, taken from Wikimedia. Authorized use.

A few months after its theatrical release, Walt Disney’s new film, “Encanto, the Fantastic Madrigal Family” is undoubtedly a huge success in Colombia. Although Disney films have long been associated with princesses and fairy tales, thanks to the wonderful work of directors who have immersed themselves in Colombian culture and traditions, “Encanto” is a film that Colombians can be proud of.

“Encanto” tells the story of a matriarchal family who lives in an enchanted house in the heart of Colombia. Each of its limbs possesses a magical ability ranging from superhuman strength to healing power to prediction of the future. Only Mirabel Madrigal, the matriarch’s nephew, has not received any donations and wonders what her place in the family is.

The film’s two directors, Jared Bush and Byron Howard, have been conducting research in Colombia since 2016 together with a Disney committee.

Disney movie “Encanto” poster. Photo: Disney, taken from Wikimedia. Authorized use.

They have also been recommended by Colombian experts including anthropologists, botanists, architects, musicians and linguists. Interestingly, the Spanish dub of the film was done by an almost entirely Hispanic crew, including Colombian singers and actors such as Carlos Vives, Sebastián Yatra and Maluma.

The filmmakers were inspired by the sublime but often overlooked aspects of Colombia. Colombians themselves marvel at the references to magical realism by Gabriel “Gabo” García Márquez, Colombian writer and winner of the Nobel Prize for literature.

With his songs of various genres (cumbia, salsa), the film invites us to see Colombia as a multicultural country. This richness is also expressed by the presence of traditional symbols such as the accordion, the ruana, mochila, espadrilles, hats and other typical costumes. Below is a video of the famous Colombian singer, Rubén Dario Salcedo.

“Encanto” also celebrates the country’s diversity thanks to the physical and ethnic diversity of its characters. All are in fact very different both in the color of their skin, their eyes, their size, their physiognomy or their type of hair.

As for sports, the film refers to tejo (a traditional Colombian game that consists of throwing a metal disc at a small explosive target located about 20 meters away) and soccer, two very popular sports in Colombia. Luisa Madrigal’s character pays homage to María Isabel Urrutia, a Colombian weightlifter who won her country’s first gold medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Luisa’s muscular build could also be a nod to painter Fernando Botero and Colombian sculptor from Antioquia.

Screenshot of the athlete María Isabel Urrutia on the Señal Colombia / YouTube channel

As for Colombian popular culture, the film refers to several superstitions. The scene in which Bruno throws the salt over his shoulder therefore refers to the belief that salt offers protection against danger. The character of Dólores Madrigal alludes to gossip. In fact, in Colombia it is not uncommon to see people from all walks of life gossiping and peddling rumors.

The gastronomic richness, represented by different regions of Colombia such as the Coffee Triangle, the coast or the heart of Bogota, is illustrated on pottery painted and produced in El Carmén de Viboral, east of Antioquia. In 2020 the ceramics of this village considered “cradle of handcrafted ceramics” were classified as an intangible heritage of the nation.

Screenshot of a craftswoman in the village of El Carmén de Viboral, on Comercial Vivoral Cerámica / YouTube

The film refers to coffee, arepasCorn, buñuelosto theajaco (chicken and potato soup), in addition to the medicinal plants that Mirabel’s mother, Julieta Madrigal, keeps in her pocket for their therapeutic properties.

Colombian buñuelos. Wikimedia commons (CC DA-SA 2.0)

The film brilliantly describes this megadiverse country where fauna and flora mix with the luxuriant Amazonian vegetation beautifully represented. The mountains surrounding the Encanto are inspired by the landscapes of the Cocora Valley and its famous wax palms.

Cocora Valley. Photo by kzoop on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Mirabel’s sister, Isabela Madrigal, has the power to grow plants and carries an orchid, the national flower of Colombia, in her hair. This profusion of flowers is reminiscent of the saddles, these floral compositions made by the horticulturists of the town of Santa Elena. The saddles they are wooden structures decorated with all kinds of flowers. They are fitted with a rope so that farmers, silleteri, can carry them on the back. These creations are then presented at the Medellín Flower Festival to pay homage to the peasants of the time who walked long distances with flowers on their backs to sell them at the Medellín market.

Young “silletera”. Wikimedia Commons (CC DA-SA 2.0)

The film features different animals such as the scarlet macaw, the donkey, the capybara, the jaguar, the hummingbird. The yellow butterflies are a direct reference to the novel “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel García Márquez, Nobel Prize for Literature.

Capybara. Photo by Cloudtail the snow leopard on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Personally, I think there would have been more interaction with the Madrigal family neighborhood to illustrate the country’s social problems. It is true, however, that at the beginning of the film we see that the family was forced to flee their village, which is quite credible as Colombia is the country with the largest number of internally displaced persons.

The film offers a positive image of Colombia where everything is in abundance when in reality, according to a report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a large part of the Colombian population is suffering from hunger.

Indeed, “Encanto” (which means “charm” in Spanish) is literally fascinating. This film offers the viewer the opportunity to relax and feel emotions, be it admiration, laughter, anger or sadness. But above all it allows you to dream; because it reflects the positive and luminous image of Colombia that we have always dreamed of having and showing to the rest of the world.