Encantado I’m Sure

Like any good, self-respecting parent in 2022, our lives have been filled with the earworm infecting melodies of Encanto. It all began on Christmas Eve of 2021 when the new film finally dropped on Disney+ and our family watched it for the first time. I knew then that nothing would ever be the same. And despite the fact that we can never talk about Bruno, it certainly hasn’t stopped us from singing about him ad nauseum. The songs of Encanto are deep in our souls, and even Alexa is getting hoarse from singing over and over again. Our kids have been watching Encanto like they’re studying for the Bar exam—that is if you had to dance and sing during the exam.

Yes, that saucy siren, Lin-Manuel Miranda, has become the omnipresent disc-jockey of our home. From the soundtracks of Moana to Vivo to Encanto, Miranda’s unforgettably catchy tunes have become the equivalent of Chick-fil-A sauce in our home: our kids put it on everything.

Now, if you’re behind the curve and have somehow not accepted Encanto into your life, allowing its rhythms to set the tempo of your heart, then fret not! There is still hope and time for repentance. Go watch it now with your family and seek forgiveness from your children for neglecting them and depriving them of such cultural sophistication.

I don’t blog very often about films and media. So, you know that when I do it means something. I’m not being paid to sing Encanto’s praises. Notwithstanding, Disney, feel free to give me a sponsorship… or at least a free month of Disney+. Here’s just a handful of reasons why Encanto is so great:

Passionate Production Design

You can really tell that the people working on this project cared. The quality of everything is just incredible. For example, the costuming is meticulous. If you look closely, you can see that each character’s attire is decorated to represent their gifts and personality. And the way the family members all share distinctive traits while maintaining individuality is remarkable. The siblings actually look like siblings. The cousins actually look like cousins. It’s wild how far digital animation has come. Anyone who still thinks animation is childish is simply jealous because all of their drawings still look like a child’s.

Beautiful Representation

Our family contains a rich Hispanic heritage, and it is so wonderful to see mainstream movies exploring diverse cultures and peoples. I’ve never been to Colombia, but the movie makes me love something about Colombia. And representation is so important. It makes such a difference when a child sees someone who looks and sounds like them in the media. It’s like pizza and ice-cream. They’re so much better with variety. There’s nothing wrong with liking pepperoni and vanilla, but what a dull world it would be if it was just pepperoni and vanilla. And goodness, keep those pineapples away from my slice! Yet, I still believe that those pineapples on someone else’s (my wife’s) pizza somehow makes the world a better place… uh, I think I might have lost the metaphor somewhere a few sentences back.

Powerful, Inspiring Themes

The themes of generational trauma, intrinsic human worth, and family are masterfully explored. I cannot express how happy I was to see a kid’s movie that doesn’t end with the hero having to defeat the villain with violence in order to solve everyone’s problems. What kind of moral is that anyways? And how relatable is that to a normal person? It’s much more meaningful and realistic that the conflict of the story would revolve around the family dynamics and past trauma. Those are things that real people actually have to deal with too. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I wish life was so simple that all I’d have to do is slay a dragon and then it’s all happily ever after. But authentic thriving is way more complicated and requires consistent, intentional effort. Just like the family drama and intense pathos of Bruno’s rats performing Latin soap operas.

And what’s the takeaway? Miranda’s lyrics are almost never subtle. I love this line:

“The miracle is not some magic that you’ve got,
The miracle is you, not some gift, just you.”

As a parent, I deeply desire for my children to receive a message like this. That they are special, valued, and loved simply because of who they are, not because of what they do or don’t do or produce or don’t produce. Also, that right now, they are very hungry caterpillars eating us out of house and home, and one day they must become beautiful butterflies and fly away into tomorrow by getting a job and paying for their own Chick-fil-A sauce.

Now, who else wants a Disney streaming spin-off of Bruno’s rat telenovelas? Ratatouella?

Why Nebula is the Best Character in “Avengers: Endgame”

*SPOILERS*

Well, at least one of the best characters but that doesn’t make as good of a headline. Does anyone read anything online that doesn’t use extreme, absolute terms like “best,” “worst,” or “Trump?” Maybe I should title this blog post: “What Trump Really Thinks About the New Nebula-Russian Oil Hack Deal in North Korea.” Would that get more views?

Obviously, there’s a lot of great character work in Avengers Endgame. Each main hero has their shining moments. But by the end of the movie, Nebula was surprisingly the character that I found most compelling. About the only thing I could have asked is that Nebula should have been used more in the final battle. A video essayist who goes by the moniker Nando v Movies has done a fantastic job of exploring that concept so I’ll leave it him to tell you more about Nebula needing a closing confrontation with Thanos.

Nevertheless, I believe she has perhaps the most meaningful and powerful story arc of all the characters. And this is why:

Where is Nebula?

When we first meet Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy she appears to be a fairly simple villain as a henchperson of her adoptive and abusive father Thanos. She seems more machine than woman—cold, calculating, compassionless. But throughout the movies, we learn about the suffering she’s endured. Thanos would horrifically replace a part of Nebula with advanced biomachinery every time she failed in some way. All this, in his warped mind, to improve her—make her stronger, faster, better. In spite of all the trauma, Nebula, like most children, was willing to do anything to please her father, desperate for his approval. So this is where we first find Nebula, a person torn apart and reassembled, constantly reminded of how she’s not good enough.

Who is Nebula?

But: by the time Endgame rolls around we’ve seen tremendous growth from Nebula. We get to learn who she truly is. Like everyone else, she yearns for connection, belonging, and purpose; for a family. I loved all of the smaller, quieter character moments in Endgame like towards the beginning when Nebula is playing paper football with Tony Stark. As with all of Thanos’ children, we see how her life, childhood, and innocence were all stolen. She’s never really had fun. But she has grown and is growing past her past.

This newer Nebula taking shape is clearly juxtaposed in the movie against the former version of herself. Her past self, both literally and metaphorically, comes back to haunt her—tormenting her, torturing her, and even cannibalizing herself for parts. Reminding her of who she was: nobody. The two Nebula’s, old and new, struggle against each other. The stakes: her very identity.

I’ll do you one better, why is Nebula?

We see even more clearly how far Nebula has come when presented face to face with her old self. It’s like when I wake up in the morning and look at myself in the mirror: not a pretty sight, sometimes I frighten myself. The old Nebula is still a prisoner to an abusive cycle. The new Nebula, despite being captured and imprisoned by Thanos, is actually free. This is why Nebula is so great.

Her life was stolen, her body objectified, and her humanity stripped. But the whole time her limbs were being replaced, it seems, she was slowly replacing the parts of her that really matter: her heart and her soul. Through the friendships she’d make and the purpose she’d find, Nebula became far greater than Thanos’ intent. She became better—not a better machine or warrior—but a better person, eventually even a hero. An Avenger. It was the relationships she formed with others like her sister Gamora that helped bring healing and redemption.

And at the end, the endgame of Nebula’s arc, to complete her transformation, she must kill her past self (again, both figuratively and literally). Dead to the old self. Alive to the new. It’s a powerful image and an even more powerful concept. Just like an actual astronomical nebula—a beautiful, shining, colorful space cloud—Nebula becomes truly radiant. Like a gallant parade of unicorn flatulence stretching out across the vast expanse of reality after interstellar taco night.

Here’s the lesson we can learn from Nebula: we are not just our past pains or past mistakes; we are who we choose to be. Neither trauma nor failure have to define us, control us, enslave us. We can grow. We can be better. It is the voice of lies that tells us we’ll never be good enough as we are. But the truth is, who we are is breathtaking, and who we can be is even more. We need not be prisoners to the past any longer. We can become new. My, oh my, look at your fine nimbus and blush. Your light is brilliant, so shine. You too can be a massive, gorgeous unicorn fart floating among the heavens.

“…[she] is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)