If you have clicked on this article then you have seen the animated musical about Mirabel and the Madrigals, and you are wondering, why didn’t Mirabel get any powers? Much of how the magic in Encanto is left unexplained. To answer this question, we look at the inspiration and cultural references in the Disney’s colourful and fantastical and mystical world of Encanto.
The Unexplained Gift
Encanto, in addition to being a colourful animated musical, belongs to the magical realism genre. A literary genre that is frequently associated with Latin American literature. Magical realism stories are set in a familiar world to the reader that is infused with magic and fantasy. It incorporates a myriad of fantastical elements not found in the real world but are presented as normal. The Madrigal family are endowed with magical abilities and live in house that comes alive. Additionally, the town of Encanto is magically established overnight. However, except perhaps that it was from a miracle that came to be one day, there is no further explanation of the lore underlying the magic in Encanto. This is because, in order to normalise magic in their stories and reinforce that it is part of daily life, magical realism authors deliberately leave the magic in their stories unexplained.
As the creators of the film left the question of Mirabel’s powers or lack thereof up in the air, there are various ways to elucidate this conundrum. We believe that we have found the answer to the mystery of Mirabel’s power by looking through the film’s many cultural and literary references. Thus, we present our theories…
MIRABEL the MIRACLE
Mirabel does not possess magical gifts like the other Madrigals, rather she is the embodiment of the candle. In other words, Mirabel has the power of the miracle in the candle. The miracle candle is a symbol of hope for the Madrigals and the town of Encanto. It is the source of the Madrigals’ powers and the magic that created Casita and the town while also protecting it. Likewise, Mirabel is relentlessly hopeful despite the challenges. A key moment that inspired this theory is at the end of the film, after the reconstruction of Casita. As Mirabel walks up to the front doors holding the golden doorknob with her initial “M” in her hands, Bruno says, “You are a real gift, kid” On the surface, the statement is metaphorical, but it can also be perceived in a literal sense. When Mirabel inserts the doorknob, the golden light from the magic radiates throughout the house, bringing Casita to life once more. But how could there be magic when the candle is snuffed out and gone? Simply, the magic came from within Mirabel. How did she come to possess it? The night of her gifting ceremony, when she touched the doorknob that is supposed to dictate what her ability is the door disappears. Everyone believed something went wrong, when in reality, the glowing magic from that door entered her the moment she touched the doorknob. The same miracle magic she releases into the recreation of Casita.
There’s plenty of evidence why this could be true!
In the first act, in preparation for the Antonio’s ceremony, she voluntarily decorates Casita by placing colourful candles in front her family’s doors, hinting at her connection to the candle.
Occasionally, the candle reacts to Mirabel’s emotions, especially when her hope wanes. During Mirabel’s inner monologue song “Waiting on a Miracle”, she sings despairingly “Am I too late for miracle?” that is when the first cracks begin to appear on Casita and the candle flickers. When she reconciles with Isabela, the candle burns brighter, its flames fortified. However, in the climactic confrontation with Abuela, her anger and confrontation, the candle flame dies, and the house is destroyed.
Now let us look at other film and literary references for evidence!
Allusion to One Hundred Years of Solitude
Encanto heavily alludes to, or even takes inspiration from, a canonical South American novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, written by the famous Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The novel follows the Buendía family through several generations. The film echoes parts of the plots in Marquez’s novel for Abuela’s backstory and the founding of the town. In One Hundred Years of Solitude, the patriarch of the family, José Arcadio Buendía, was forced to flee his town with his wife Úrsula Iguarán. One night, they come across a riverbank where José Arcadio dreams of a city of mirrors called “Macondo”. When he wakes up, he decides to construct this utopian town by that riverside. Similarly, in Encanto, it is the matriarch of the family, Abuela, and her husband Pedro who had to flee their hometown, together with their community, as it was raided. Just like José Buendía and his wife, they come across a riverside where Pedro sacrifices his life to protect his family and community. His sacrifice gives birth to the miracle in form of a candle, and it is from the magic of this candle, the town of Encanto is established and the magical Casita is built by the riverside.
The Yellow Butterfly
In the musical number where Mirabel introduces the Madrigal family to the kids, one of the girls asks, “What is your gift?” Mirabel does not answer, but an accordion with a butterfly on it is thrown at her. This was a subtle hint to Mirabel’s connection with the miracle and candle (and answers to the little girl’s question!).
Another commonality between Marquez’s novel and Disney’s Encanto is the yellow Butterfly motif. In the novel, yellow butterflies appeared and followed the patriarch wherever he goes. It is said to be symbolic of his energy and spirit. Likewise, the presence of the yellow butterfly in Encanto can be perceived as Pedro’s spirit.
Yellow is a colour with a lot of connotations. On the one hand, it connotes bodily death as well as destruction. It represents Pedro’s death and the destruction of their village. It also foreshadows the destruction of their home. However, yellow can also allude to change. Similarly, the butterfly is a symbol of metamorphosis. This foreshadows and hints at the shift that the Madrigal family will undergo. There used to be a hierarchy in place, as well as segregation. The matriarch favoured gifted family members because of their abilities. Unwanted family members were either exiled, as Tio Bruno was, or excluded inadvertently, as Mirabel was. When their home is destroyed, a meaningful transformation begins to occur. They reconciled and grew more unified. Not only is Casita and the town rebuilt, but also their familial bond. Just like how a caterpillar turns into a butterfly. Since the butterfly represents metamorphosis, the butterfly motif follows Mirabel suggesting that she is an agent of change.
Understanding the significance of this symbol is an integral part of explaining Mirabel’s lack of powers. In Encanto, the yellow butterfly is a predominant symbol Encanto.
It can be seen on Mirabel’s clothing, as well as in the house’s design. It is on the miracle candle, appears in Bruno’s premonition, and a slew of them flew around when Mirabel and Abuela reconciled. It is simply impossible to overlook. What does it signify?
In Marquez’s novel, the yellow butterfly is portrayed as a symbol of infinite love and hope, which also ties into the theme of the movie and Mirabel’s character. Symbolically, the miracle candle brings hope and security to the Madrigal family and the town of Encanto. It is also the product of Pedro’s sacrificial love. Likewise, Mirabel shows unconditional and indiscriminate love towards her family. Just as the candle saved and protected the Madrigals. Mirabel aims to do the same. She compassionately listens and comforts her cousins Luisa and Isabela when they could not bear the weight of pressure from Abuela’s expectations. She indiscriminately accepts Bruno despite the rumours and warnings from her family. She accepts them and tries to bring hope to everyone amidst fears of losing the miracle and their home. Both the miracle candle and Mirabel play a similar role in the story. Hence, Mirabel is a physical extension of the miracle candle.
History Repeats Itself
One of the major themes in One Hundred Years of Solitude is how history inevitably repeats itself. Repetition occurs as well in Encanto, not just in the plot but also in the characters, specifically Abuela and Mirabel. Amongst the Madrigals, only Mirabel and Abuela do not possess a gift, however they share a common role within the family, that is looking after the wellbeing of the family as a whole and a beacon of hope.
If you notice the clothes they wear, the design relates to the specific gifts each member has, excluding those who married into the family. For instance, Luisa has barbels on her skirt representing her strength. Julieta has herbs on her dress. Dolores’s dress is decorated with sound waves patters for her ability to hear sounds from a distance. Peppa’s dress resembles the sun while Isabela’s has a flora-like style.
Both Mirabel and Abuela have the butterfly motif on their apparels, the same butterfly on the candle. This resemblance suggests that Mirabel is Abuela’s successor in a new generation who fulfils her duties and role, which we see as the plot unfolds.
Interestingly, Mirabel’s room is directly opposite of Abuela’s room. As Abuela favours those whose gifts are useful in helping the community, Mirabel’s room is positioned farthest from hers. Not only does it show the distance between them but also forces them to face with other like a mirror.
In Abuela’s youth, she lost her home to invaders and had to bring hope to her family and community in the form of a candle. It was her job to ensure the safety and wellbeing of her family and community. In return, they rely on her for strength and guidance. In the present, Casita is on the verge of destruction, and the magic is fading, putting their home in jeopardy once more. Throughout the film, Mirabel strives to save the miracle, restoring hope to the family, repairing a dysfunctional family, and leading everyone to reconcile with the exiled Bruno. In doing so, she reunites her family and the community, and together, they rebuild Casita. Mirabel secures a home for her family once more, just like Abuela did before.
Nevertheless, the repetition in history also leads to the necessary transformation as aforementioned. The casita in Abuela’s version was heavily focused on gifts. Everyone was split. The gifted members of the family had their own rooms, each with an image of themselves on the door. However, in Mirabel’s version of Casita, instead of their bedroom doors, a glowing image of everyone is etched on the front door, demonstrating a more united Madrigal family with no exiles.
Connection to Frozen
There are many instances when the film references the Disney hit film Frozen to be coincidental. The most obvious is when Bruno sings “Let it rain, let it snow, let it go!” while throwing a fistful of snow in the air. Many similarities exist between Frozen and Encanto, particularly in the underlying message and theme — familial love.
It is no surprise that Encanto makes a cheeky remark about familial disputes being rectified with an embrace, given that both films’ climaxes are resolved with a hug. Just as Elsa embraces Anna to save her from an icy death, Mirabel embraces her cousin Isabela, which fortifies the flames of the miracle candle, and embraces Abuela to reconcile and mend the family.
Additionally, both films have prominent characters who are curtailed by their fears, namely Elsa and Abuela. Elsa’s fear of her powers caused them to become uncontrollable, whereas Abuela’s fear of losing her home and the miracle blinded her to what was more important, namely her family. In the iconic song “Let it Go,” Elsa throws away her cape, denoting her freedom from the social pressure that forced her to restrain her powers, thereby allowing her to be herself.
For Abuela, the shawl is a symbol of both her grief and her fears. She wears the black shawl during the moments when she feels the most anxious or must act like the strict matriarch, such as during Antonio’s ceremony and the dinner with Mariano’s family. She is also seen wearing it during her confrontation with Mirabel, when the cracks are more prominent. In the final act, Abuela leaves the black shawl on a rock by the river while reconciling with Mirabel, inferring that she has let go of the past fears that had blinded her, allowing her to open her eyes to the true miracle.
Both films include a non-magical family who is unrelenting and wishes to bring the family together again with unyielding love and hope. It was Anna in Frozen and Mirabel in Encanto.
So, why bring up Frozen? This allusion is necessary to recognise that the other film conveys a similar message. Both films share an underlying message about the value of family and unconditional familial love. Acceptance of those who are excluded despite their differences. Bruno, like Elsa, has powers that everyone fears, but they are eventually accepted for who they are rather than what their powers can do.
A Frozen reference also suggested Mirabel’s connection to the miracle candle. During her solo number, “Waiting on a Miracle”, there was a scene where she stomps her foot on the ground and out of it came Casita, a move remarkably familiar Elsa made while constructing her ice castle in Frozen.
You may agree or disagree with our theory about Mirabel’s gift. You might even have your own ideas. Regardless, it is vital to recognise the intentions of keeping Mirabel’s powers a mystery. Simply put, the lore surrounding the magic is not important. At least not as important as the moral of the story.
The beauty behind magical realism, is that the spotlight is not on the fantastical and the magical, but on the characters’ journey, specifically how a dysfunctional family learns to valuing one another above everything else, especially miracle gifts. In fact, the words “gift” and “miracle” are used to describe the magic in the film. A miracle, by definition, is an inexplicable favourable phenomenon. Perhaps, the mystery of Encanto’s magic and Mirabel’s gift is meant to be just that — a mystery.
What do you think?
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Photo Source: Encanto. Byron Howard and Jared Bush. Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, 2021. Film.
Disclaimer: Any views and opinions expressed are personal and solely belong to the authors. They are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club organisation, company, individual or anyone or anything.