One of the most striking things about Disney’s Encanto is how much all of us have probably, at one point or another, felt like Mirabel Madrigal, the lead of this adventure.
Being a teenager is basically feeling inadequate every second, and though pop culture offers us many depictions of young heroes, and Disney itself is riddled with princesses who are way too young to be doing what they’re doing (often without adequate parental supervision), that ends up being more of a problem than anything. After all, all those characters are young and special, somehow.
They save the day; they get their happily ever after and more often than not, they go on to even more exciting adventures.
And then there’s Mirabel, the “regular” one in a special, magical family that lives in a special and magical house. The one that has nothing but her wits and her good heart to guide her. And the one that proves to herself, to the Madrigals, and to us, that you don’t need any magic to be a hero. All you need is to try.
This is a particularly powerful message when you consider Mirabel’s background. She’s part of a large, loving family that cares for her, but never truly appreciates her. In Mirabel’s family, being different equals not as useful, and Mirabel is the only one who is. Her experiences serve as a powerful metaphor for the very familiar feeling of growing up believing that you don’t fit in, anywhere. And if Mirabel can somehow, despite her lack of magical powers, be the hero of Encanto and the one that ultimately saves the day, who says we can’t?
Who says we won’t?
Growing up I didn’t have anyone like Mirabel to remind me that it was okay to not be perfect, to not be special in the ways society dictated I needed to be. No one I could point out to and say, “See, it’s okay to just be myself, whoever that is.” And the fact that Disney’s Encanto allows us – and more importantly – kids to see Mirabel for all she is, even if that never seems to line up with what other people expect, will have a big impact on the way an entire community thinks about what it means to fit in, going forward.
There are many things to celebrate about Encanto, from heartwarming music, to the sense that the story is being told in a place I recognize, one that looks like the streets I walked in as a kid, and the characters are people that look and feel very much like the ones I used to talk to. And yes, there are many more stories to be told, specific stories about voices that have yet to see themselves represented.
But as a first step of many that need to be taken, Encanto isn’t just a placeholder until better stories come. Instead, it’s a powerful reminder that we’re all important, and we can all be the hero, not only of our own story, but of the story.
Encanto is available in theaters now.