The animated movie Encanto slipped through theaters in the last weeks of 2021 with little fanfare. Since becoming available on streaming, the songs have gone viral. The soundtrack is in its third week at #1; “We Don’t Talk about Bruno” has become only the second song from a Disney animated film to hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. This reflects how the movie and songs can be hard to take in on the first pass but reward repeat attention.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, famous for his Broadway smash Hamilton, wrote the songs for Encanto. His style is often fast paced, requiring a third or fourth listen to take in all the lyrics. The song at the heart of Encanto, “Dos Oruguitas,” is entirely in Spanish. English-speaking viewers and listeners may miss how Encanto resonates deeply with the Bible’s invitation to baptism.
In the Bible, baptism “goes viral” with the ministry of a first-century prophet named John. That’s not precisely when the theme of baptism began, however. John the Baptist pointed to those earlier origins by locating his ministry at the Jordan River. The Jordan was the eastern border of the Promised Land conquered fourteen centuries earlier by Joshua. Joshua crossed the Jordan River with a miraculous parting of waters (Joshua 3:14-17). John’s baptism, then, took the Jews back to their national origin, like an American pilgrim visiting where Washington crossed the Delaware.
Joshua’s miracle crossing itself resonated with prior waterworks. At the Jordan River, Joshua took the mantle of leadership from the Old Testament’s greatest hero, Moses. Moses’ signature miracle was at the Red Sea. Pinned on the sea’s banks by Egyptian enslavers, God saved His people with a miracle, parting the waters to allow Israel’s safe passage (Exodus 14). By taking Israel back to their border so many centuries later, John the Baptist was illustrating how repentance could allow us to start fresh, leaving behind the sinful self and beginning again (Luke 3:1-14).
Encanto also places its heroes’ origins at a river. Much like for Israel, hostile foes chase refugees to the banks of the water. Crossing over the water gives entrance to a land of bounty and blessing. At that water, there is a miracle birthed from self-sacrifice.
We only find this out at the climax of the movie. The movie begins with the heroes at a time of growing crisis. The miracle upon which their refuge is built has stopped working consistently. What is “the miracle”? That is, in some ways, the mystery of the movie. Our primary heroine, Mirabel, was the first to be disappointed by the miracle. Everyone else in her family received an evident gift, or superpower, during a rite of passage. If Mirabel received a gift, no one could tell what it was. On the one hand, Mirabel appreciates all her family has been given by “the miracle.” On the other hand, she feels passed over.
As the movie continues, more cracks appear in the miracle’s works. Some gifts appear to falter or change. The house, their promised land, looks to be crumbling. Mirabel seeks out her uncle Bruno, whom the family doesn’t talk about (though they do sing about not talking about him). Bruno’s “gift” is to see the future.
Mirabel finds that the last prophecy Bruno experienced before disappearing was inscribed as an icon. It is a picture of their home with Mirabel in front of it. The image shifts, however, back and forth from the house breaking and the home being whole.
That image—both sides of it—turns out to be a picture of the miracle. Mirabel’s dogged commitment to truth-telling (is that her miracle gift or just who she is?) requires being honest about the hidden cracks in the family. Her uncovering of those cracks seems like it may be a curse. The family members individually hope to paper over the cracks and pretend they are just a step away from everything being fine.
But the miracle requires breaking the old to uncover the new. “Dos Oruguitas” explains this. A caterpillar builds the instrument of its undoing, a cocoon, but becomes a reborn butterfly. The English version of the song says,
Don’t you hold on too tight
Both of you know
It’s your time to grow
To fall apart, to reunite
Wonders await you
Just on the other side
Trust they’ll be there
And start to prepare
The way for tomorrow
Without Mirabel revealing the cracks, the family would not be able to grow, reunite, and restore. When Mirabel confronts Abuela, her grandmother who had received their foundational miracle at the river, they have to go back to that river. Abuela says she had not been able to get back there until Mirabel revealed the cracks.
For Christians, baptism functions in the same way. Baptism is foundational, our entrance rite to the church. At the same time, we are called to return to repentance again and again. Repentance is a process of dying to self, turning towards others. We acknowledge our sin and seek forgiveness and restitution. Jesus’ apostle, Paul, wrote to the Romans,
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4).
Christians learn to expect that God’s Word will reveal cracks in our lives, sins with which we continue to struggle. But we return to the forgiveness and new life Jesus pours out in the family He builds. Baptism seals the Word’s work of breaking down to rebuild whole. On the one hand, “Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” one prophet explained (Jeremiah 23:29). On the other hand, another prophet understood his work in these words: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” (Isaiah 40:1-2). These are not contradictory but complementary. Just as Bruno’s prophecy about Mirabel required the breaking to make whole, so God’s Word leads us to brokenness before wholeness.