Viola Levy

Encanto is a very Jewish Disney film

The family may be Colombian in Disney's latest, but its dynamics are thoroughly Jewish

January 04, 2022 08:46

The new Disney film Encanto is worth a watch. Like last year’s Soul, there’s a lot to unpack and adults can get as much out of it as the kids. Not only does it feature the first Disney heroine with glasses, Encanto is a clever comment on close-knit South American families - and it says a lot about Jewish families, too.

Set in Colombia, the story centres around a family whose matriarch has built a new life after escaping persecution. The candle she escapes with becomes enchanted and conjures a big magical house for the family to live in. But years later, said house starts to crumble and its inhabitants have to confront their dysfunction. (Pretty epic for a Disney film… they’ve come a long way since Cinderella.) 

Many of its themes will hit home for those of us raised in a culturally close-knit family, whether Colombian or Jewish. (My school friend’s mum was Colombian and the only one who worried about her children as much as my own did.) Whether Latino or Jewish, such families have many universal components and ‘Encanto’ tackles them all. The estranged relative no one talks about. The eldest daughter expected to carry the weight of the family (*raises hand*). The younger generations expected to over-achieve to compensate for everything their grandparents went through. And there’s that one family member whose moods affect the weather – or so it feels like – so the whole household scrambles to soothe them. And, most poignantly, if you don't have a discernible ‘gift’ you're made to feel like the film’s heroine, Mirabel, that you’re somehow lacking and have let the family down. 

The enchanted house at the centre of the film stands for everything minority communities like ours try to build: business empires, big houses, strong family dynasties – places of power and safety to make up for the past. And when those start to crumble, what are we left with?

Encanto is also a powerful commentary on how close-knit, outwardly warm and loving families can also be suffocating and smothering – assigning each family member a role where you're not allowed to break character, even for a minute.

This film serves as a colourful reminder that you are more than just your gifts and achievements, and more than just your role your family has assigned to you.

It’s that mindset that I’m taking into 2022 – cheers Disney.

January 04, 2022 08:46

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