‘A’ is for Apple

Remember when I wrote about frameworks?

Here’s the thing about frames: should viewers seek them out before or after they consume a piece of art?

For recommendation-focused reviews, the answer is easy. But if deeper engagement is the ticket, a post-viewing framework can be applied only in hindsight — as in, you’d be able to analyze, through this newly acquired frame, no more than whatever you happen to remember about the work of art at the time of acquisition. But if the framework is in your noggin beforehand, it allows you to actively shoot each and every microfiber of the art through that framework in the moment.

On the flip side, this “spoiler” approach might confine you to evaluating the art through only one specific framework, blinding you to other aspects because they bear less relation to the chosen macro lens (if any framework claims to explain an entire work of art, then you’re dealing with either a narcissist, or shallow art). Is tabula rosa preferable? 

These age-old thoughts were jogged by, what else, Encanto. And the fact that’s it’s intended primarily for children seems to change the calculus.

You know how Disney Animation often tacks-on a short film before their features? If memory serves, the connection between the two is usually loose enough to be open to interpretation. 

Not so, this time around! The thematic relationship between “Far From the Tree” and Encanto is beyond obvious.

I mean, it’s right there in the title.

Both the short and the full-length are about how the trauma sustained by a member of an older generation convinces them to become overprotective of the next generation, in the process shielding the entire family from enjoying the full beauty of the world. There’s a fine line between respecting the earned wisdom of our elders’ experience, and realizing their calamities need not be our own. And letting potential trauma define our existence can ultimately limit all of our lives. 

“Far From the Tree” basically spells out this theme. As does Encanto, closer to the ending.

But that’s a key difference! Placing “Far From the Tree” (you know, like apples. And also: “stay far from the tree, lest an apple fall on your head”) immediately before Encanto primes the viewer to engage with Encanto through the lens of this theme, even before the movie makes clear that it is indeed a theme of the story. 

What do we think about that? The short guides our attention to this theme throughout the feature, highlighting moments that wrestle with the theme, which is wrestling that may have gone unnoticed without the short’s introduction to the theme. But does this thematic table-setting also hinder the diversity of how the audience subsequently watches the movie? As in, we engage with the movie through this one specific theme, without properly contemplating other themes along the way?

Or are adults capable of keeping one theme in mind while also considering other themes and ideas? Does this type of thematic hand-holding help children start to grasp the concept of themes? Does it also aid grown-ups, or does it act as an agent of reduction?

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