‘Encanto’: insecurities, expectations and their origin

Spoilers ahead. You have been warned.

Families can be messy, and every family has baggage. Whether tension comes from the feeling of being excluded, family expectations, or something else, the end result can sometimes get ugly. Throw in some magic powers on top of that and you’ve got the Madrigal family! On Thanksgiving Day, Disney’s “Encanto” was finally released in theaters, and as an avid Disney fan, it should be no surprise that I jumped at the chance to buy a ticket. What I found from my time in that theater is that the music was phenomenal, and the animation style was gorgeous. 

What really made this movie stand out among other Disney movies was how it smoothly shifted focus to each member of the Madrigal family and gave deeper insight to the unique struggles of each Madrigal without disrupting the plot. As we follow Mirabel throughout the story, she spends some one-on-one time with almost every Madrigal. Although some family members get more attention than others, they all share a mindset that prioritizes the family’s needs over their own health and happiness.

Luisa is one of Mirabel’s older sisters whose gift is super strength. With such a useful gift, Luisa has a never ending list of chores to do around the village, moving buildings, rerouting rivers and fulfilling whatever requests the villagers have. When Mirabel confronts her during her chores Luisa snaps at her little sister before confessing that she bases a lot of her self-worth on her strength and feels that if she doesn’t live up to expectations, then she would be letting everyone in the family and community down. She feels like she is constantly in a life-or-death situation, which we see in her song “Surface Pressure” as she fights off a three headed monster, shielding her sister from boulders, rock slides and other dangers.

Then there is Mirabel’s oldest sister Isabela and their cousin Dolores. Isabela has control over plants and Dolores can hear from long distances. Isabela is described as the “golden child” of the family, favored by Abuela and adored among the community. She often comes off as a vain show-off. She seems to have the perfect life, but this standard for perfection leaves her stifled and unfulfilled. She has a very close relationship with Abuela and cares for her dearly. When Abuela picks out local hunk Mariano to be her suitor, Isabela accepts his proposal for the sake of the family, since the union would, in Abuela’s words, “be good for the Encanto.” 

However, there is one major problem. Unlike her cousin, Dolores does fancy Mariano, and suffers in silence at the announcement of Isabel and Mariano’s engagement. There are a lot of unrequited loves out there but rarely do they marry your cousin. While the two don’t go through with the marriage, the fact that Dolores would have been willing to stand aside while Isabela married Mariano proves just how bad the Madrigals are at communicating. 

Mirabel shows a deep love and pride for her family. However, due to her lack of a gift she is often looked down upon by and considered a nuisance by her Abuela. Throughout most of the movie Abuela often assumes the worst when Mirabel is involved, often blaming her when things go awry, and she is much harder on her than she is on the rest of her grandchildren. Mirabel emphasizes her desire for belonging in her solo, “Waiting for a Miracle,” as she watches her happy family while she’s left behind. This need to prove herself to her family plays a big part of the reason why she is so adamant to save her family’s magic, even risking her life.

All of the family’s self-sacrifice and suffering in silence stems from their Abuela and the origin of their miracle. When Abuela was young, war broke out and she was forced to flee from home with her husband and their three infants. Her husband stayed behind in order to buy time and lost his life. His sacrifice created the miracle and has protected the family ever since. Abuela’s flashback is both heart-wrenching and haunting. She releases a silent wail when her husband is slain right before her eyes as Sebastian Yatra’s “Dos Oruguitas” plays in the background. Abuela is a complicated character, to say the least. She is a good woman who would do anything for her family, but she is still human, struggling with the demons of her past.