The new Disney film Encanto features the Madrigal family living in Columbia. This movie promotes the celebration of diverse cultures and various gifts, and beautifully illustrates several Biblical truths.
“God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another,”1 Peter 4:10 (NLT)
Each member of the Madrigal family typically receives a “magical” gift when they come of age. (Encanto uses the word “magical” to refer to a concept similar to spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12.)
Gifts benefit the community
The Madrigal family’s grandmother, Abuela, teaches every member of the family to use their unique gifts to strengthen not only their family, but also their community. This is strikingly parallel to the apostle Paul’s teaching that spiritual gifts are meant for the benefit of the community in 1 Corinthians 12:6.
1 Corinthians 12:12 – 24 stresses the value of interdependence on a community of people with diverse gifts who are led by Jesus. It is refreshing to see characters with diverse gifts honoured in Encanto especially because it is very common for faith communities and even broader communities to lose sight of this. One member of the Madrigal family tells the future. One changes the weather. Another heals with the meals she cooks. One has a keen sense of hearing. Another is super strong. One can grow beautiful flowers. Another receives the gift of understanding animals. Encanto honours a wide range of gifts including those of an impressionist.
You might be tempted to dismiss the gifts of the Madrigal family as strictly make-believe or fantasy but there are real people who receive the gift of prophecy, cooking, excellent hearing, or understanding animals. The gifts of excellent hearing or understanding animals may be most commonly attributed to people with visual impairments or autistic people respectively.
Gifts may not be obvious
Mirabel Madrigal does not have a visible disability but many people with disabilities may relate to her in some ways. Mirabel believes she was not blessed with a gift when she came of age. She is infantilized. She continues to reside in her family’s nursery even though she is an adult because, neither she, nor her family, nor the community around her recognizes that she is in fact a mature individual who has valuable gifts to share.
The Madrigal family initially characterizes Mirabel as “unexceptional,” and “not special.” They tell Mirabel to step aside and let the rest of the family do what they do best. North American people with disabilities are often characterized in opposite terminology, being referred to as “special” or “exceptional.” However, the premise of the distinction is similar.
Encanto universalizes the problem of needing to discover your purpose and have your gifts recognized by others. There is a point in the movie where Mirabel cries out for a miracle. She wants to know what she can do, and she begs for a blessing. This scene reminds me of when Jacob wrestled with God (Genesis 32:22 – 32). Many people with disabilities and their families have cried out to God in similar ways, for similar reasons.
Gifts are valued differently
Encanto also sheds light on humanity’s tendency to value certain gifts over others. The Madrigal family values the gifts of members that contribute to external beauty such as growing flowers, over the gifts of someone who can tell the future (like Tio Bruno). That particular gift does not necessarily make the family happy, so they allow Tio Bruno to isolate himself in a separate part of the house and they do not talk about him. Faith communities and even broader communities make similar mistakes when we value gifts such as leading musical worship or preaching, over gifts like interrupting a sermon through vocalizations often attributed to disability, cleaning, or serving coffee.
The part of the enchanted house where Tio Bruno spends his time is reminiscent of a desert where both the Israelites and Christ first wandered and then had their purposes affirmed. It is in this similarly dark desert place that Mirabel gains insight as to her gifts.
Gifts are not what make us special
As Encanto progresses, viewers see, and the Madrigal family learns how much Mirabel is gifted to support others. For example, she is the one who gets through to her cousin, just in time for his coming-of-age ceremony. She offers her sister the courage to expand her gift and grow more beautiful, unique, imperfect plants.
When Abuela says to Mirabel, “I wish you could see yourself as I do. You are just as special as anyone in this family,” she finally starts to see her whole self and others recognize her bravery. This message is valuable to hear because it resembles what God says to all His children.
Through the inspiring line, “The miracle is not your gift, it is you,” Encanto makes the point that our gifts are not what make us special. The family is inherently valuable to their community and their gifts are as special as they are. Abuela explains that the river is where the Madrigal family was given their miracle. This scene is reminiscent of baptism. Christians can be similarly confident that we are valuable to God, and the communities which God places us in, not because of what we can do, but because of who we are, and because as humans we are made in God’s image.
What gifts surround you?
In the process of repairing their home the Madrigal family learns to accept help from the community and be vulnerable with one another. The same is true for many individuals and families who experience disability.
The Madrigal family’s miracle is represented in a candle that was given to them in their darkest moment, when their grandfather, Abuelo, died. While it is not likely that you live in a magical house, Scripture reminds us that a small candle lights the darkness (Matthew 5:15). What candles or miracles have been offered to you or your family in your darkest moments?