Mirabel Madrigal (Stephanie Beatriz), the center character of Disney’s newest animated feature Encanto, is the only person in her family who wasn’t granted with a magical power by their enchanted house. While her mother can heal people with food, and her cousin can talk to animals, Mirabel has absolutely no special abilities, and she struggles to fit in with her fantastical family.
Throughout her whole life, Mirabel has wondered why she never got a gift from the house. And when the house begins to crumble, threatening the family’s magic, Mirabel must figure out how to save her relatives’ powers without any abilities herself. But there’s a significant surprise waiting for viewers in terms of how her quest resolves, and director Jared Bush has a good reason for it.
“Story-wise, that’s what I needed,” he says.
[Ed. note: This post contains major spoilers for Encanto.]
By the end of the movie, Mirabel and the rest of the Madrigals are finally able to understand each other. They learn to see each other as people, beyond their special gifts and prescribed family roles. But while the Madrigals are able to embrace their imperfections, Mirabel never does get any powers. In fact, the film never reveals exactly why she didn’t get powers in the first place. Bush says that isn’t what the story is meant to be about.
“I think there are so many reasons that people can relate to Mirabel about feeling left out and lesser-than,” he tells Polygon. “Rather than put some magical reason why, I think it’s clear in the film that she is who she needs to be for a very good reason.”
Bush explains that from the moment the movie was conceptualized, the filmmakers knew Mirabel would be the main character. In a family full of magic users, she immediately became the perfect vehicle for the story, and more importantly, a sympathetic character for the audience.
“This one young woman just was not given the same opportunity as the rest of these extraordinary people,” explains Bush. “The empathy was just there for her from the beginning [..] I love that the reason [she lacks powers] isn’t exactly stated.”
The mystery of Mirabel’s powers remains, well, a mystery. But that’s what makes the movie particularly evocative. As Bush and co-director Byron Howard explained at an earlier press day, Encanto is a work of magical realism, which means the magical elements are meant to integrate smoothly into a recognizable reality. They aimed for Encanto to function just as well as a story if the magic didn’t exist.
When Mirabel saves her family and the magic, she isn’t discovering long-lost enchantments or abilities. She’s healing their fractured bonds and helping them see each other clearly for the first time. This isn’t a movie about the mechanics of magic. It’s about the emotions and actions that the magic is able to facilitate.
Encanto is out in theaters now.