28 'Encanto' References You Probably Missed
Note: This article contains plot spoilers.
Disney's animated film "Encanto" about a magical family in Colombia was released at the end of 2021 and became an instant classic, breaking records, winning an Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film, and getting everyone to sing about a certain character we don't talk about.
The film features various regions, customs and landscapes of Colombia. This means that although the story is universal, Colombian culture played a starring role.
If you're not familiar with the country, here are several cultural references in "Encanto" only Colombians noticed.
1. The Significance of the Yellow Butterflies
Butterflies are one of the most powerful symbols of "Encanto." Mirabel's outfit is adorned with them, and the tear-jerking song "Dos Oruguitas" is about two caterpillars becoming butterflies.
But beyond the general symbolism of a butterfly's metamorphosis, the color of the butterflies in some of the scenes is particularly significant. Yellow butterflies are one of the most nationally recognized symbols of the "magical realism" of Colombia. This is because they play an important role in "A Hundred Years of Solitude," the magnum opus of Colombian Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
The yellow butterflies can be seen, for instance, fluttering out of the reconciliation hug between Mirabel and Alma.
The Butterfly Motif Also Appears in the Magic Candle
2. The Low-Key Cuss Word in the Middle of the Movie
If you took high school Spanish, you might have wondered why Agustin randomly says "miércoles" — which means "Wednesday" — when he realizes Dolores heard about Bruno's prophecy.
This is one of those jokes only adults are supposed to understand. See, "miércoles" shares the first four letters with the Spanish word for "sh*t" so people often use it to low-key curse without actually cursing.
It's similar to how English speakers can say "fudge" instead of a similar-sounding but decidedly less PG cuss word.
Given How Accident-Prone He Is, He Probably Says 'Miércoles' a Lot
3. The Location Where the Madrigal Family Lives Really Exists
To build the magical town that came from Alma's tears, Disney brought together several places that actually exist — and that you can visit in Colombia.
The pueblo itself was mostly inspired by the towns of Barichara and Salento, which are very far away from each other, but which are distinctive because of their beauty and well-preserved traditional colonial architecture.
Salento is also known as the gateway of the Cocora Valley, where you can see the tall wax palm trees that define the fictional town's surroundings. These beautiful palms are the national tree of Colombia.
Salento and the Cocora Valley Are Some of Colombia's Most Popular Destinations
4. The Colorful River Also Exists in Real Life
The red river where Pedro is killed in the first scene of the movie and where Mirabel and Alma make up — saving the magic and the entire family — seems surreal, but it is very much a real river.
Nicknamed the Liquid Rainbow, Caño Cristales blooms red, blue, green and yellow during specific seasons. It was probably included in the film because it looks like its magic. But there is also a darker symbolism to it.
Although the river is a point of pride in Colombia and one of the coolest travel experiences you can have, for a long time, it was off-limits to most people within the country. The river is located in the department of Meta, one of the regions hardest hit by the violence of the Colombian Armed Conflict.
Alma says that she has never gone back to the river, because it reminds her of the violence she suffered and the death of her husband. Similarly, violence kept people away from the region and its natural wonder for a very long time.
You Can Visit Caño Cristales From Mid-June to Mid-November to See the Colorful Algae in Bloom
5. The Nod to Cali-Style Salsa
Salsa is one of the universal music genres enjoyed in every Latin American country. But while there are various styles of the dance, salsa caleña, or Cali-style salsa, may be the most distinctively different.
Born in the Colombian city of Cali, this style is faster than all other types of salsa dancing, and it often incorporates specific embellishments. The style has earned Cali the title of "Salsa Capital of the World."
If you pay close attention, you can see several of the characters dancing salsa caleña during Antonio's party.
You Can Tell Salsa Caleña Apart by Its Speed, Embellishments and Little 'Jumps'
6. And to One of Colombia's Most Beloved Salsa Songs
Besides dancing salsa, Colombia has also produced some iconic salsa singers, including Joe Arroyo. The Cartagena native's most famous song is arguably "En Barranquilla me quedo," which means "In Barranquilla I Stay."
The 1990 song can be heard after Mirabel interrupts Antonio's party only to have her vision of Casita falling apart be dismissed. To break the tension, Agustin quickly sits on the piano and starts playing a tune that he knows is guaranteed to make everyone start dancing.
He obviously chose the right one.
He Definitely Saved the Party
We Dare You to Try to Not Dance as You Listen to the Song
7. The Name of Antonio's Jaguar Is a Common Slang Word
We can all agree that Antonio has the coolest room and the best gift out of all the Madrigales, not in the least because he gets to ride on his jaguar bestie, Parce.
And if you had any doubt that they were actual besties, "parce" — or "parcero/a" — in full, is a Colombian slang word often used to refer to friends, kind of like "dude" or "bro" (but without necessarily the bro-y vibes).
The word is so iconically Colombian that it is the first word anyone uses when trying to imitate the Colombian accent.
We're All Incredibly Jealous of Antonio
8. Abuela's Gestures Are On Point
Even if you didn't know the movie was set in Colombia, someone who knows the culture could've easily guessed it just from the gestures some of the characters use.
Alma also does an iconic gesture when she tells Mirabel to stop interfering with things, right before Casita crumbles down. To signal that she is absolutely serious in her scolding, she touches her thumb to her index finger and puts the three remaining fingers firmly out.
Every child in Colombia (as well as other Latin American countries) understands that if this gesture comes out, it's time to actually listen to your parents.
We're Betting These Two Have Seen Abuela's Hand Gesture Many Times
The Scene Is Heartbreaking
9. Mirabel Pointing With Her Mouth Is Also a Common Gesture
Another gesture that no Colombian missed was when Maribel gives Antonio a gift before his party.
She points to it with her mouth, by pouting and signaling in its direction. No one knows why Colombians do this, but pointing with our mouth is innate to us.
The gesture is also common in other Latin American countries as well as other cultures around the world. Still, it felt perfect within this story.
If You See a Colombian Do This Don't Mistake It for a Kiss
10. Camilo Also Has a Reference Moment
Similarly, when Antonio's room is revealed, Camilo snaps his index finger against the rest of his hand.
This is a common gesture for an intense emotion, like when something is incredibly exciting or when the gossip is getting good. When he does this, Camilo is expressing that Antonio's room is fire.
We Also Think Antonio's Room Is Lit
11. Kids Drinking Coffee Is Actually Pretty Accurate
Who gave coffee to the wired-up town kid? Probably his parents. And to be real, all the other kids probably had coffee for breakfast as well.
Coffee is ingrained into everyday life and culture in Colombia and it is not unusual for children to drink cafe con leche (cafe latte) in the morning or, sometimes, in the afternoon.
In the English version of the "Welcome to the Family Madrigal" song, Mirabel says to the overly excited kid "and that's why coffee's for grown-ups." In the Spanish version, however, she says "and that's why you shouldn't have coffee." The difference is subtle, but the change had to be made to make sense in Colombia.
Though This Kid Drinks More Coffee Than Normal Kids Would
12. The Madrigal Family Is Representative of Colombia's Diversity
Both the family and the townspeople display a diversity in skin tones that is an accurate representation of what the country looks like (if one were to ignore regional differences).
You can see distinct indigenous features in characters like Isabela, with her straight jet black hair. Other characters, like Pepa, Bruno and Agustin have light skin or hair. Felix, Dolores, Antonio and several townspeople are Afro-Colombian. Camilo, Julia and Mirabel have a mix of features.
Kids Were Really Excited to Get Representation On-Screen
13. The Film Also Showcased the Diversity Within Afro-Colombian Communities
Most internationally recognized Colombians like Shakira and Sofia Vergara are light-skinned. Because of this, many people aren't aware that Black Colombians make up around 10.4 percent of the population.
But there is cultural and ethnic diversity within the Black population as well, something that "Encanto" managed to capture. For instance, Felix's clothes and accent (in the Spanish version) place him as being from Valle del Cauca, where the Black population is 26.92 percent. Dolores, on the other hand, dons the traditional styles of Bolivar, a department where Black Colombians make up 26.75 percent of people.
Antonio's room was inspired by the nature of Chocó, where 73.61 percent of the population is Afro-Colombian.
'Encanto' Adds to the Very Limited List of Black Disney Characters
14. Who Killed Mirabel's Abuelo?
The scene where Pedro, the Madrigal patriarch, is killed in cold blood is difficult for any viewer to watch. And while it's a scene that is (tragically) familiar to every Colombian, other people may wonder who the attackers were.
Trying to be historically accurate (or as accurate as one can be based on a Disney movie about magic), we can place the tragedy during the Thousand Days' War, which occurred between 1899 and 1902. In this bloody partisan war, it was not uncommon for towns to be attacked and burned because of their political affiliation.
However, the scene can also be placed during another bipartisan conflict called "The Violence," which officially occurred from 1949 to 1958. What made this particular conflict so disturbing, is that much of the violence was carried out not by militias or armed groups, but by regular, everyday people who killed each other simply for belonging to opposing political parties.
In this context, it makes sense that Pedro would stop and try to talk to the men who were chasing them since it's possible he would've known them.
And then there is the Armed Conflict, fought between armed groups, most notably the FARC, and the Colombian government from 1964 until today. (No, the 2016 Peace Treaty has not stopped the violence.) While the uniforms and weapons are different, Pedro and Alma's story could also be an anachronic reference to the violence and displacement caused by Latin America's longest internal conflict.
The Historical Accuracy Is What Makes Pedro's Death So Heart-Wrenching
15. Oscar-Nominated Song, 'Dos Orugitas' Is Sung by a Famous Colombian Singer
Alma and Pedro's full story is accompanied by the movie's saddest song, "Dos Oruguitas." It is Lin Manuel-Miranda's first song in Spanish and was nominated for a "Best Original Song" Oscar at the 94th Academy Awards.
Many people unfamiliar with the Hispanic music don't know that the song is interpreted by Sebastian Yatra, who is one of Colombia's top artists. He's been producing music since 2013, reaching international fame in 2016 with his song, "Traicionera."
He's collaborated with Daddy Yankee and Natti Natasha (two of the richest Reggaeton singers in the world) as well as the Jonas Brothers on "Runaway."
Though the Song Did Not Win the Oscar, the Movie Did Win for Best Animated Feature Film
16. 'Colombia, Mi Encanto' Features an Even More Famous Singer
The movie's theme song, "Colombia, Mi Encanto" is also interpreted by a very famous singer named Carlos Vives.
Vives has been making music since 1986 and is perhaps the most well-known modern vallenato singer. Vallenato is a Colombian folk genre that continues to be immensely popular.
Lin Manuel-Miranda has stated that he was inspired by Carlos Vives while writing "Colombia, Mi Encanto" and that he was extremely excited when the singer agreed to do the song — so was every Colombian alive.
The Theme Song Is the Most Authentically Colombian Number in the Soundtrack
As a Bonus: Here's an Awesome Collaboration Between Carlos Vives and Yatra
17. And a Minor Character Is Voiced By Yet Another Colombian Big Name
Mariano Guzmán doesn't play a major role in the movie, except for being unwittingly caught in a love triangle. In fact, he barely utters three words in the entire film, which is ironic given that he is voiced by international Colombian star, Maluma.
Given his worldwide fame, you'd have expected the "Hawái " singer to get a bigger part or at least a scene that showcases his talent. Instead, Mariano's one attempt to sing is sabotaged by the failing magic. Knowing who voiced him, it's actually pretty hilarious.
Both Maluma and Mariano Are Self-Professed 'Pretty Boys'
18. Mirabel's Satchel Is Culturally Important
Mirabel never goes anywhere without her satchel, or mochila. Walk the streets of any city or town in Colombia today, and you'll see how accurate this is. Mochilas are culturally important to Colombians; it's an item of clothing that is worn by people of different classes, styles and ages. Traditional mochilas are woven by hand by members of indigenous groups, which use distinctive styles, rules and materials for their particular mochilas.
For some groups, like the Wayuu people, weaving is part of their cosmogony and has powerful inherent symbolism. Though Maribel's mochila doesn't actually resemble a specific type, it does represent the importance of the item to Colombians.
The Colorful Wayuu Bags Are One of Colombia's Most Popular Mochilas
19. One Traditional Hat Is Also Given a Lot of Air Time
Many characters throughout the movie wear different types of traditional hats. But there is one, in particular, that is more prominently displayed: the sombrero vueltiao.
This patterned straw hat is an officially designated National Symbol of the Nation in Colombia. It also appears on the 20,000 Colombian peso bill.
The hat is worn by several townspeople, including one of the kids. It also makes cameos in different scenes, like in Luisa's "Surface Pressure" song.
Can You Catch the Sombrero Vueltiao in 'Surface Pressure'?
20. Bruno and Camilo Also Don an Important Traditional Garment
You probably noticed that both Camilo and Bruno wear ruanas (the Colombian version of ponchos). But did you know that the traditional garment is still very popular in the country?
Ruanas were traditionally worn by people living in the cold highland regions of the Andes. The garment can easily be taken on and off, which is very useful in high altitudes, where the temperature changes drastically depending on whether the sun is out. It also allows you to keep laboring with your hands.
While ruanas were originally tied to people in the countryside, especially farmers, they've become a symbol of national pride as well as a fashionable (and very useful) garment.
This Made Camilo's Iconic Bruno Transformation Easier
21. But Isabela's Dress Has Nothing to Do With Colombian Tradition
Isabela may be the golden child of the Madrigal family, but her outfit is the least authentic.
Though no one in the family has an actual traditional dress — rather, they have outfits that are inspired by them — Isabela's dress doesn't even remotely resemble Colombian tradition. Not just in shape, but also in color. While some regions may have dark purple in a traditional dress, it's not a common color. Rather, Colombians tend to stick to more basic colors: red, blue, yellow, white and black.
A light lavender-color dress is virtually unheard of ... though given that this is an animated children's movie and not a documentary, it's not a big deal.
The Dress Does Make Sense for the Character, so We'll Let It Slide
22. Her Dress Does Feature Colombian Flowers Though
While her dress is far from authentically Colombian, it does display several Colombian flowers like daisies, dahlias and hydrangeas.
She also wears an orchid, the Colombian national flower, in her hair.
Her Song 'What Else Can I Do?' References Jacarandas, Another Colombian Flower
23. Bruno Uses a Popular Children's Rhyme to Ward Off Bad Luck
We know, we don't talk about Bruno, but we'll ignore the rule because he gave us the most popular song of the "Encanto" soundtrack.
When Mirabel finally meets Bruno, he can be seen following several superstitious rituals to avoid bad luck. He knocks on wood, throws salt over his shoulder and holds his breath while closing his fingers.
But when he jumps over the cracks of the house, he recites a popular children's rhyme, "sana sana colita de rana," which roughly translates to "heal heal frog's tail." The rhyme is very popular in several countries of Latin America and is usually used by adults to make a kid feel better when they have a non-serious injury.
The detail is important because it shows how sweet Bruno is. He is saying this over the cracks of the house, which means that he is saying it to Casita, hoping it feels better and heals. If your heart isn't melting, you have no heart.
You Can Hear it If You Pay Close Attention
'We Don't Talk About Bruno' Is Still Amazing, Even If It's Unfair
24. There's a Nod to Medellin's Flower Festival
Another song from the "Encanto" soundtrack that has everyone talking is "Welcome to the Family Madrigal." The song introduces us to the main characters, but also to the town itself.
In one shot, you can see two men carrying large wooden chairs filled with flowers. This is a cultural reference to one of Colombia's most beautiful festivals: the Medellin Flower Festival.
Celebrating flowers as one of the top economic products of Antioquia, the festival's main event is the desfile de silleteros, or parade of the flower growers. Dressed in traditional costumes, flower growers from the region carry giant flower displays on their back, trying to prove that they have the most gorgeous flowers and the best arrangements.
You Can Participate In the Flower Festival in Early August
25. Julieta's Gift Should've Been Tied to a Specific Drink
Julieta is the caretaker of the family, and her gift reflects it, given that she can heal any ailment with food.
And while she cooks up traditional food, it doesn't make any sense that she doesn't use aguapanela. Made with boiled unrefined cane sugar, aguapanela is what Colombians drink whenever they're sick. The thick sweet drink with drops of lime juice heals any cold or sore throat. Plus, it's comforting and delicious.
Maybe it was difficult to show her giving people a drink that would seem random to non-Colombians, which is why Disney decided to use solid foods. Still, it would've been nice to see a shout-out to the drink that has gotten the entire country through a lifetime of colds.
She's Still a Real MVP
26. We're Glad to See Traditional Comfort Food on the Big Screen
But even if aguapanela didn't get any attention, we're glad to see traditional Colombian foods showing up on screen.
Julieta is shown using comfort foods like buñuelos, arepas and empanadas for healing. They may not heal you from colds like aguapanela does, but they do soothe your soul, and that's just as important.
This Scene Definitely Makes Us Crave Arepa con Queso
27. And We Appreciate the Shout Out to Ajiaco
The disastrous scene when Mariano tries to propose to Isabela happens around a family diner. But despite the general chaos that occurs in the scene, Colombians were concentrated on one thing: the soup.
Ajiaco is one of the most typical dishes of the Cundinamarca region and Bogota. It's a soup that'll warm you to the bones, made with several types of potatoes, chicken, corn, gallant soldiers, capers and cream. (You can even hear Abuela ask for the cream during the scene.)
It is usually accompanied by avocado and rice and is served in a traditional black clay pot placed on a woven basket that protects from the heat.
If You Ever Go to Bogota, Definitely Try Ajiaco
28. Why the Large Madrigal House Is Called Casita
Inanimate objects don't usually become a fan favorite, but Casita, the magical house in "Encanto," stole the show in many ways.
Still, why is it called Casita, or "Little House"? It's not because of its actual size, but because Colombians have a penchant for using the diminutive for everything. It's normal for us to say "give me a little second" or "would you want a little coffee?" We also use diminutives to convey affection. For instance, when Mirabel calls Antonio "hombrecito" or "little man" as a term of endearment.
It makes a lot of sense for the family to refer to the very large house as Casita. First, because they clearly have a special connection to it — particularly Mirabel since she's the next matriarch — and would refer to it with affection. But also because the Madrigales are Colombian. And that's what we do.
Casita May Be Our Favorite Disney Sidekick