Thursday, August 18, 2022

‘Encanto’s Mirabel Is Everything Rey Should Have Been in ‘The Rise of Skywalker’

FANDOMDISNEY'Encanto's Mirabel Is Everything Rey Should Have Been in 'The Rise of...

Disney’s Encanto has one of the simplest stories of any Disney movie. There’s no villain; there’s no quest. It has magic, yes, but it’s magical realism, and the magic and characters’ powers aren’t actually that relevant to the heart of the story. So, how could I sit here and try to compare Encanto to Star Wars?

Star Wars, the epic saga, where world-building, plot, and magic (the Force) are the center of the films. It’s the ultimate hero’s journey, with often more emphasis on story than character dimension, especially in the sequel trilogy. So what connects them? It’s their protagonists and their motivations. On the surface, Mirabel and Rey are completely different. Mirabel is part of a magical family with no magical powers of her own. Rey, a lonely orphan, has no family of her own, but comes to find she suddenly has “magical” Force powers. What connects them is their longing.

Mirabel is the only member of “La Familia Madrigal” with no gift. Her mother can heal others through food, her sisters have super strength and can grow beautiful flowers, and her extended family has a myriad of other gifts that generally help the family. But not Mirabel, and no one knows why. Shortly into the movie, she sings a classic musical “I want” song, “Waiting on a Miracle,” showcasing her driving force to be good enough for her family, especially her Abuela. Her parents try to assure her that she has nothing to prove and that they’re proud of her regardless, but Abuela, the matriarch, doesn’t seem to share the sentiment.

Lucasfilm

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away …

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And then there’s Rey, who’s entirely alone. Abandoned on Jakku, she fantasizes about taking to the stars but ultimately has continued to wait her whole life on Jakku for her parents to return. She quickly gets caught up with the events of the story, but even so, wants to return to Jakku so she can continue to wait. Later in The Force Awakens at Takodana Castle, she has a Force vision where she sees a flashback of her parents leaving her, and Maz Kanata tells her, “The belonging you seek is not behind you. It is ahead.” This convinces her to continue on and stop trying to go back, but doesn’t stop her from looking for answers in The Last Jedi.

Rey enters the Ahch-To mirror cave, in search of answers despite Luke’s warnings of its ties to the dark side. She asks the cave, or the Force, to show her who her parents really are, but all she’s shown is her own reflection. After one of their many Force-Zoom calls, Kylo Ren tells her that he was shown who her parents are, but mostly just to bait her. In the end, he tells her what she feared she already knew, that her parents were nobodies who sold her for drinking money. “You have no place in this story. You come from nothing. You’re nothing,” Kylo tells her.

And that’s what spoke to me about Rey. In Star Wars, an epic tale of the Skywalker dynasty, with a few Kenobis and Palpatines thrown in, Rey cements her place in the story on her own. Her importance, powers, and purpose aren’t about where she comes from, but who she is. At least, that seemed to be where they were going …

Disney

Meanwhile, with Mirabel …

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Shortly into Encanto, the casita begins to crack, and the magic, the encanto, begins to fail. Without a better explanation, all eyes turn to Mirabel as the outlier of the Madrigals. With all eyes on her, she takes it upon herself to find the true cause and along the way realizes maybe she’s not the only one who feels trapped by impossible expectations. Her sister, Isabella, feels the need to be perfect all the time and feels pressured into an engagement she doesn’t want, telling Mirabel, “I never wanted to marry him! I was doing it for the family!” Meanwhile, her other sister Luisa sings a song literally called “Surface Pressure” about the physical and emotional burdens being the backbone of the family brings. Now realizing it’s not just her, Mirabel calls Abuela out on the fact it’s her and her expectations that can never be met that are hurting the family, the casita, and the encanto.

(Spoiler alert!) Casita breaks and implodes, and the candle, the encanto, dies. It’s only then that Abuela comes to Mirabel and confides in her of her story and her pain, and only then do they both truly understand what the encanto is and who it is for. The two come back to the rubble that was Casita and reunite with the rest of the Madrigals. They sing a finale in which Abuela drives the point home pretty clearly, singing, “The miracle is not some magic that you’ve got, the miracle is you — not some gift, just you. The miracle is you.” The town comes together to help them rebuild Casita, and they give Mirabel the final piece to put in place — a doorknob. As she approaches the door, just like she did that ill-fated night as a child, her family praises her, and her Tio Bruno says, “You’re the real gift, kid. Let us in.” Mirabel’s importance and purpose don’t have to come from powers, they’re there because of who she is as a Madrigal and who she is as Mirabel.

And then came Palpatine.

I was really hoping going into The Rise of Skywalker that J.J. Abrams would let Rey stay “Rey Nobody.” In hindsight, that was probably foolish — Abrams set up the question, and damned if he wasn’t going to answer it himself.

Aside from the baffling story and plot details of how Rey got to be Palpatine’s granddaughter, it took away all of her development and everything that made her a special and compelling hero to root for. She was the “in,” for audiences, the proof, just like the stable boy in that final scene in The Last Jedi, that the Force doesn’t care who you’re related to or where you’re from, just who you are. Instead, Rey really only mattered because she was secretly a Palpatine, a legacy, a part of the dynastic saga.

Had they chosen to keep Rey a nobody, it would have left audiences with the message that they too can be the main character – that they can have a place in the story. It would have made Kylo’s words in The Last Jedi meaningful. And, if/when Rey chose to identify herself as “Rey Skywalker” in the final scene, it would have been because she chose who her family was, not because she was choosing who her family wasn’t.

What makes a protagonist — a hero — great, is relatability. We all want to be that hero. Mirabel is a hero because of who she is, and Rey could have been too. Luckily, Lucasfilm still has plenty of upcoming Star Wars films in television shows in development, which leaves the door wide open to craft more stories for strong, compelling female characters. Mirabel marks another successful chapter in a new book of powerful Disney heroines. She joins the ranks of Elsa, Moana, Raya – powerful women with important messages about being true to yourself and the power we all have inside. May Mirabel be a blueprint, not just for new Disney animated movies, but characters written across genres and studios.

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