This text incorporates spoilers for the film Encanto. My because of 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 properties, hearts, and minds since its launch in late 2021. The movie options most of the staples that Disney followers have come to count on: mesmerizing colours, an endearingly imperfect protagonist, and a jammin’ soundtrack. (Our house 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 reality, Encanto approaches the spirit of Studio Ghibli’s movies—which have lengthy been contrasted with Western-style animated motion pictures—in some placing 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 folks faith, a lot as My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, and different Studio Ghibli movies are rooted in Japanese folks beliefs and practices.
But there’s one other, much more attention-grabbing manner wherein Encanto imitates Studio Ghibli moderately 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 Speak About Bruno,” performs immediately into viewers expectations for animated villains, and I wouldn’t be stunned if this was intentional.
However nearly instantly after the tune, we really meet Bruno, and after we do, we discover out that the tune supplies 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” are usually not a sign of his evilness however moderately, 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 members of the family, and for some time, within the eyes of the viewers, too. However by providing a seemingly simple 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 purpose of saving the household miracle and discovering a spot for herself within the household Madrigal. But simply as quickly as Abuela emerges as the perfect candidate for Official Villain, we uncover that her protectiveness and controlling stance stem not from a hatred of Mirabel however moderately, 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 couple of 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, nearly 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, comparable to Yubaba in Spirited Away and the Witch of the Waste in Howl’s Shifting Fort, different movies are in a position to 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 needs, 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 via a constant visible and auditory language as evil, twisted, and malicious. And immediately recognizable villains are usually not 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 latest wave of animated Disney motion pictures, which (like Encanto) attempt to attract extra respectfully from non-Western cultures, proceed to characteristic 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 minimize out of the identical material as our personal. With a unique narrative perspective, Bruno or Abuela could possibly be the hero of Encanto simply as simply as Mirabel. Scar, Mom Gothel, and Tamatoa may solely ever be villains.
So Encanto departs from normal Disney animations and as a substitute 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 mates and neighbors which are solely briefly featured on display.
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 transient glimpses we’re given of their relationships with the protagonists reveal them to be multi-faceted and mutually caring. Umi is even identified 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 mates and neighbors who know all about her coaching as a witch and want her nicely 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 net of relationships. In reality, their lives usually unfold aside from the remainder of the village. Aside from just a few males who “fall in love” and so change 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 “items” imposed upon them, willingly or no.
In reality, the Madrigal household is thus far disembedded within the village as a complete that Mirabel has to spend a complete tune introducing the native youngsters to her members of the family and their items. Whereas the tune successfully and catchily serves its true goal 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 usually. Along with the essential name for disciples to depart their properties and unfold the gospel all through the world, communities themselves are usually not inherently virtuous or incubators of advantage.
As yet one more Encanto earworm, “Floor Stress,” 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 reality, Encanto’s finale superbly illustrates what’s arguably certainly one of Christianity’s biggest items to Western tradition: the irreducible and inviolable price of each individual, no matter giftedness or capability to contribute to the bigger group. One would possibly even say that this inherent price and dignity of the person individual is what calls forth our mutual service. Definitely that is the villagers’ conclusion, as they bring about their non-magical skills to assist rebuild the Madrigal household’s casita.
Finally, particular person and group wants should exist in constructive stress, and we are able to all too simply jeopardize human well-being in both course. On this regard, Encanto affords a welcome counterbalance to the well-worn system for Disney animated movies, with their clearly recognized villains and (comparatively) individualistic heroes. If Encanto represents a primary step for Disney in shifting towards a extra Studio Ghibli-esque sensibility, it will likely be thrilling to see the place future Disney animated movies would possibly go subsequent.
1. A 3rd candidate is Isabella, notably after she exhibits up in Bruno’s new prophecy for Mirabel.