This text accommodates spoilers for the film Encanto. My due to Alan Jacobs for recommending Studio Ghibli’s From Up on Poppy Hill, which helped spark the comparability on this article.
Disney’s newest animated success, Encanto, has been taking on houses, hearts, and minds since its launch in late 2021. The movie options lots of the staples that Disney followers have come to count on: mesmerizing colours, an endearingly imperfect protagonist, and a jammin’ soundtrack. (Our residence whiteboard has a bit labeled “Days since ‘Bruno’ caught in head.” It’s completely set to zero.)
However in different methods, Encanto departs from the well-established recipe of Disney’s animated hits. In truth, Encanto approaches the spirit of Studio Ghibli’s movies—which have lengthy been contrasted with Western-style animated motion pictures—in some hanging methods. For instance, Encanto’s setting in a rural, conventional Colombian village is paying homage to My Neighbor Totoro’s nostalgic setting. Equally, the magic of Encanto will not be place-less however attracts respectfully on Colombian tradition and people faith, a lot as My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, and different Studio Ghibli movies are rooted in Japanese people beliefs and practices.
But there’s one other, much more attention-grabbing means through which Encanto imitates Studio Ghibli fairly than following the norms of Western animation: the entire absence of a villain character.
The primary time I watched Encanto, primed by a lifetime of watching animated Disney movies, I first anticipated the villain to be Bruno. Certainly, the primary half of the film, and particularly the tune “We Don’t Discuss About Bruno,” performs instantly into viewers expectations for animated villains, and I wouldn’t be shocked if this was intentional.
However virtually instantly after the tune, we truly meet Bruno, and after we do, we discover out that the tune offers us the different characters’ perceptions of the household misfit, not an correct portrayal of both his demeanor or his intentions. Even the “rats alongside his again” aren’t a sign of his evilness however fairly, the one companions remaining to him in his self-imposed exile. Bruno could also be a villain within the eyes of a few of his relations, and for some time, within the eyes of the viewers, too. However by providing a seemingly easy musical introduction to the character after which “pulling again the curtain,” so to talk, Encanto gently teaches us to not depend on our first impressions, both in movie or in actual life.
Having been foiled in my first tried identification of the (presumed important) villain character, I subsequent assigned the position to Abuela. Much more than Bruno, Abuela clearly stands in the best way of Mirabel’s double aim of saving the household miracle and discovering a spot for herself within the household Madrigal. But simply as quickly as Abuela emerges as the most effective candidate for Official Villain, we uncover that her protectiveness and controlling stance stem not from a hatred of Mirabel however fairly, from the trauma of dropping her husband so a few years in the past, which fuels a deep (if misguided) love for all of her household and the concern of dropping them, too.
As soon as once more, we’re given the prospect to re-evaluate our assumptions a few supposed villain’s motives. By the film’s finish, Abuela even confesses her failings (i.e., prioritizing the miracle and the group service it allows over the person individuals who’re members of her household) and asks for forgiveness, one thing villain characters merely do. Not. Do.
Thus, virtually as quickly as they’re recognized, all of Encanto’s potential villains1 are revealed to be flawed but sympathetic and sophisticated, performing out of their very own traumas and loves, all of that are deeply relatable. This lack of a transparent villain locations Encanto nearer to Studio Ghibli movies than to traditional Disney ones.
Whereas Studio Ghibli villains do exist, reminiscent of Yubaba in Spirited Away and the Witch of the Waste in Howl’s Transferring Fort, different movies are capable of inform attention-grabbing and thought-provoking tales with none villain in any respect. The protagonists of My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Supply Service, The Secret Lifetime of Arrietty, and From Up on Poppy Hill encounter numerous obstacles to their objectives, together with each human and non-human opponents, however none of those might be recognized as evil or villainous. They’re all motivated by their very own objectives and wishes, which occur to battle for a time with these of the protagonists.
In distinction, Disney villains are fairly notorious. From Peter Pan’s Captain Hook to Little Mermaid’s Ursula to Lion King’s Scar, these characters are portrayed by means of a constant visible and auditory language as evil, twisted, and malicious. And immediately recognizable villains aren’t restricted to Disney’s “golden period” of animated movies: Tangled’s Mom Gothel and Frozen’s Prince Hans are simply as clearly recognized as their two-dimensional precursors. Even the newest wave of animated Disney motion pictures, which (like Encanto) strive to attract extra respectfully from non-Western cultures, proceed to function clear, unmistakable villains. Moana’s Tamatoa and Coco’s Ernesto de la Cruz are self-centered, grasping, and above all, completely unsympathetic.
We’re not invited to relate to those characters, to see their motivations and flaws as reduce out of the identical fabric as our personal. With a distinct narrative perspective, Bruno or Abuela may very well be the hero of Encanto simply as simply as Mirabel. Scar, Mom Gothel, and Tamatoa might solely ever be villains.
So Encanto departs from commonplace Disney animations and as an alternative displays the ethos of Studio Ghibli movies in each its respectful portrayal of a selected panorama and tradition and the absence of a purely evil villain character. Nevertheless, Encanto lacks one key a part of the Studio Ghibli particular sauce. Studio Ghibli protagonists are sometimes embedded in what many thinkers, following Wendell Berry, have referred to as a “membership.” They inhabit full-fledged relationships with associates and neighbors which might be solely briefly featured on display screen.
The clearest instance is From Up on Poppy Hill: Umi’s home boarders and Shun’s mother and father play solely a minimal position in the primary plot of the movie, however the temporary glimpses we’re given of their relationships with the protagonists reveal them to be multi-faceted and mutually caring. Umi is even recognized by identify to the city’s fishmonger, who seems in a single scene. Equally, My Neighbor Totoro’s Satsuki recruits her neighbors—each human and spirit—to assist discover Mei when she goes lacking, and Kiki of Kiki’s Supply Service bids goodbye to associates and neighbors who know all about her coaching as a witch and need her effectively on her new journey.
Regardless of Encanto’s deep situatedness in place and tradition, Mirabel and the household Madrigal are a part of no such prolonged internet of relationships. In truth, their lives typically unfold other than the remainder of the village. Aside from just a few males who “fall in love” and so develop into “a part of the household Madrigal,” the villagers’ interactions with Mirabel’s household are restricted to in search of miracle-gift-fueled help with particular duties. Or, within the case of Bruno’s “victims,” having the consequences of the miracle’s “presents” imposed upon them, willingly or no.
In truth, the Madrigal household is to date disembedded within the village as an entire that Mirabel has to spend a whole tune introducing the native children to her relations and their presents. Whereas the tune successfully and catchily serves its true function of introducing the household Madrigal to us, the viewers, it nonetheless inadvertently reinforces the gap between the Madrigals and the villagers.
In fact, belonging to the membership of a local people will not be the ultimate phrase for Christian faithfulness, or for human flourishing extra typically. Along with the essential name for disciples to depart their houses and unfold the gospel all through the world, communities themselves aren’t inherently virtuous or incubators of advantage.
As one more Encanto earworm, “Floor Strain,” reveals, subordinating the wants of the person to these of the group might be simply as dangerous as pursuing particular person success on the expense of connection and interdependence. In truth, Encanto’s finale fantastically illustrates what’s arguably one in every of Christianity’s best presents to Western tradition: the irreducible and inviolable value of each particular person, no matter giftedness or capability to contribute to the bigger group. One would possibly even say that this inherent value and dignity of the person particular person is what calls forth our mutual service. Actually that is the villagers’ conclusion, as they bring about their non-magical skills to assist rebuild the Madrigal household’s casita.
In the end, particular person and group wants should exist in constructive rigidity, and we are able to all too simply jeopardize human well-being in both path. On this regard, Encanto affords a welcome counterbalance to the well-worn method for Disney animated movies, with their clearly recognized villains and (comparatively) individualistic heroes. If Encanto represents a primary step for Disney in transferring towards a extra Studio Ghibli-esque sensibility, will probably be thrilling to see the place future Disney animated movies would possibly go subsequent.
1. A 3rd candidate is Isabella, notably after she reveals up in Bruno’s new prophecy for Mirabel.