Disney has again found a hit in Encanto, the story of a Columbian family endowed with magic. As with any cultural phenomenon aimed at children, Christian parents want to know: Should I watch this with my child? If so, what should I say about it?
What We Watch Matters
What we watch disciples us. Therefore, parents need to be engaged with the media they put before their children. This is why I recommend asking two questions when assessing something you may allow your child to watch. First: what can we commend? God has made himself known to the world (Rom. 1:19-20). Everything good comes from him (Rom. 11:36). Therefore, even stories told by people who do not agree with Christianity can’t help but shine a light on what is just, pure, and lovely (Phil. 4:8).
However, we must recognize the limitations on “common grace”—what God allows all people to see of his goodness. Without the authority and revelation of Scripture, the truths in any media will be incomplete. Second, what is the message? No movie has one singular message. Yet all of us carry assumptions, or a “worldview,” into everything we do. When considering anything we view, including Disney’s Encanto, we must ask: what is this movie teaching?
What Can We Commend About Disney’s Encanto?
I was happy to find that there is much to commend about Encanto. The story centers on a family, the Madrigals. As we watch, we learn that the matriarch, Abuela, was forced from her home fifty years prior. However, a magical candle appeared. The candle saved Abuela and her village, creating a magical house. It also bestowed on each future member of her family a unique gift—except the protagonist, Mirabel.
The gifts are meant to build up the family and the village. However, over time, the gifts have become burdensome. Each family member senses that their value to Abuela is wrapped up in their ability. Eventually, these cracks in the family cause a physical rupture in their home. The house falls apart, all the family members lose their powers, and the candle goes out.
The climax is reached when Abuela, faced with the ruin of her family and her home, repents—evidenced in the song “All of You,” Abuela repents. Her fear of losing the “miracle” led her to crush what she most hoped to protect: her family. At this realization, the Madrigal house and gifts are restored, and their new perspective allows them to use their gifts for the good of others without bowing to the curse of perfectionism.
A Biblical View of Disney’s Encanto
The most notable connection parents can make is to what the Bible calls idolatry. As the New City Catechism explains, “Idolatry is trusting in created things rather than the creator.”
The perils of idolatry are all over Encanto. The crushing expectations Abuela places on the family resemble what each of us does when we love something more than God. Many members of the family experience this same dilemma. They have become reliant on their gifts to form their identity, yet the gifts can’t withstand that weight. Luisa, blessed with inhuman strength, laments: “Who am I if I can’t carry it all?” Isabela can make flowers appear at will, yet her power comes with the expectation she will make everything beautiful always. She wonders, “What can you do when you know who you want to be isn’t perfect?” Mirabel, on the other hand, feels like a secondary family member because of her lack of gift. Bruno also hides because the family rejects his gift of prophecy. His identity takes a hit for the same reason as the others: he can’t meet expectations.
Yet, Encanto not only helps children see the perils of idolatry, it also gives them a positive picture of what to do instead. Idolatry clearly crushes everyone it contacts. But the family finds joy when each character learns to use their gifts as a means to serve others rather than themselves. Only when they loosen their grip on their idol are they able to use the good gifts they have received to bless others. Because of this, even Mirabel can find acceptance and contribute.
This theme should resonate with Christian parents because it has biblical undertones. First Corinthians 12-14 speaks of spiritual gifts, and this is a good connection point with Disney’s Encanto. Encanto puts its finger on something the Bible teaches: some gifts seem more important than others, yet all come from God and are meant to build up the body of Christ.
What Is the Message of Disney’s Encanto?
Many movies directed at children feature fairly explicit, non-Christian worldview assumptions. That is why parents must be aware of the overall messaging behind what their children (and they themselves!) are watching. Songs and imagination have a powerful way of capturing our attention and influencing our motivations.
That being said, I was encouraged by the relative lack of evident anti-gospel worldview in Encanto. While much of modern media aggressively encourages casting off restraints in order to express our true selves (see: “Let it Go,” “Show Yourself,” “How Far I’ll Go,” etc.), Encanto’s characters function differently. Instead of running from heritage and obligations, they lean into family and community. Likewise, we might expect the characters to either reject their gifts as unwanted encumbrances hiding their true identity, or else lean into their gifts to show the world how great they are. Instead, by the end of the movie, the characters learn how to use their gifts to serve others.
This is not to say that the popular, individualistic worldview is absent. A preference for authenticity over duty shines through the cracks from time to time. Mirabel’s two sisters each sing songs that highlight how much happier they would be if they were released from the expectations that come with their gifts. For instance, in the song, “What Else Can I Do,” Isabella wonders, “What could I do if I just grew what I was feeling in the moment?” Also, Disney’s tendency for killing off and villainizing parents continues. Often, children are portrayed as pure and reasonable, and adults are either absent or foolish. Encanto is no exception to this trend.
Yet, these expressions of worldview do not seem to me to be as insidious and worldview-shaping as they are in many other children’s movies. This is partly due to the level to which these themes show up. Some movies turn up the message to full blast. Disney’s Encanto tones them down. More importantly, the ending does much to redeem the message. I expected the ending to feature the characters casting off the burdens of family and expectations to reveal their true selves. Instead, Encanto extols the goodness of self-sacrifice for the sake of others, even when the “duties” of giftedness and families are placed on you. It is notable and commendable that a modern movie—one that does not explicitly affirm Christianity—sees the inherent value in a life of service within traditional family structures.
How Should We Watch Disney’s Encanto with our Children?
So, back to the original question: how do you watch Disney’s Encanto with your child? I would recommend either debriefing after the movie or commenting during the movie on the following. First, commend what should genuinely be commended. Tell them how great it is that the characters want to serve each other. Ask them whether their focus on their gifts is making them happier.
Second, capitalize on the unfulfilled longings Encanto creates to point your child to something greater. Ask them, “Where can we find an identity that doesn’t put pressure on us? How do you think these characters would act differently if they knew Jesus?” Or help them consider, “Wow, that’s such a fun family. But they aren’t perfect, and neither are we. Did you know that God promises to adopt you into his perfect family when you trust in Jesus?”
Of course, there will be moments to correct in Encanto. We should always address unkind language and disobedience by asking something like: “Do you think that pleases God? Is that something we want to do?” However, the true merit of a movie is in how easily we can be pointed to Jesus. In watching Encanto, parents have many opportunities to do just that with their children.