We Need to Talk About Encanto

We Need to Talk About Encanto With its latest animated extravaganza, Encanto, Disney weaves its magic to shine a light on inter-generational trauma. (Contains spoilers) The latest offering from Walt Disney Animation Studios, Encanto (streaming on Hotstar in India), is a rapturously imagined, gorgeously rendered musical about the fissures within an extraordinarily gifted family. Capturing tiny hearts with its rainbow-lush imagery and catchy, chart-topping soundtrack (songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda of Moana and Hamilton fame), Encanto has also taken over social media with its themes of intergenerational trauma, sibling rivalry and immigrant displacement. Encanto-themed content on TikTok has gone viral and parenting influencers on Instagram have dived deep into the intergenerational trauma so poignantly evoked by the movie. Every social media platform is brimming with posts and comments by users talking about how the movie reduced them to tears, how they related with such-and-such character, and how the soul-stirring, cathartic music plays on repeat in their homes (it certainly does in ours!) Encanto is the story of the Madrigal family – matriarch Abuela Alma Madrigal, her children and grandchildren – all of whom live in a magical home in a misty Colombian rainforest valley. The Casa Madrigal is a worthy 21st century addition to the lineage of Disney castles, with its ornate tiles, vibrant color palette and enchanted doors and windows (also floors, staircases, furniture and crockery!). And yet, Encanto abandons European fairy magic for the largely Latin American literary tradition of magical realism (think Isabel Allende’s House of Spirits, Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude). The dark backstory of the movie involves Abuela and her husband, Pedro, fleeing political violence shortly after the birth of their triplet babies. Abuelo Pedro martyrs himself in order to save his family and his people, leaving Abuela and the babies alone and adrift. In their “darkest moment”, Abuela recounts, they were granted a miracle: a magical, ever-flaming candle that is the source of their power, an enchanted home to replace the one they have lost, and powerful mountains that rise up to protect their little village. But that’s not all. Every member of the Madrigal family, starting from the triplets and passing onto their descendants, is given a magical power, a “gift” that is bestowed on them when they open their very own door in the enchanted house, a gift that allows them to serve their community. All, that is, except the heroine of our story, Mirabel. She is the only member of the special family who returns empty-handed from her “door-opening ceremony”. Mirabel’s mother, Julieta, can cure the ill with food. Her aunt, Pepa, can change the weather with her mood. Her sister, Luisa, is strong like Hercules and can lift mountains or churches; her other sister Isabella can grow flowers and is perfect in every way. A cousin can shape shift, another can talk to animals, another has superhuman hearing powers and an uncle can tell the future. Every member of the Madrigal family, except Mirabel, has a superhuman gift, like Cousin Dolores, who can hear a pin drop. These superpowers allow the Madrigal family to serve their community. As Abuela says in the opening song of the film: “We swear to always Help those around us And earn the miracle, That somehow found us The town keeps growing, The world keeps turning, But work and dedication will keep the miracle burning And each new generation must keep the miracle burning” However, all is not well in the fairy tale world of the Madrigals. Mirabel is the first to notice that the magic is fading. There are cracks in the floors and walls of the house. Her family members are losing their powers. And everyone else seems to be in denial about it! Most notably Abuela, who in fact blames Mirabel for doing “something” that is affecting the magic. Mirabel then takes it upon herself to save their miracle and thus begins the movie’s quest narrative, except, instead of journeying into strange and dangerous lands, our hero dives deeper into family history and uncovers raw wounds. Eventually, Mirabel discovers the trauma that Abuela still carries within her, that permeates all her relationships and the hearts of all her gifted family members. To save the magic, Mirabel needs to heal the wounds that fester within her family. The vision her fortune-telling uncle shows her gives her a clue: she needs to embrace her sister, Isabella, whom she has a fraught relationship with. The family needs to see each other for who each person truly is and not assign their worth to the service their “gift” can perform. At the end of the day, this is a Disney film. Abuela sees the light and redeems herself, the family and their neighbours rebuild Casa Madrigal together, the family members’ gifts and the house’s magic are restored and everyone lives happily, magically – albeit a little messily – ever after. But even in this happy ending, there is truth. Intergenerational trauma can end if one generation “breaks the cycle”. Mirabel stands up to Abuela and says: “Luisa will never be strong enough. Isabella will never be perfect enough. You’re the one breaking our home… the miracle is dying because of you.” After visiting the scene of her trauma and understanding the root of the issue, Abuela realizes, “I was so afraid of losing it, that I lost sight of who our miracle was for.” And with that confrontation, the cycle is broken. One of the reasons this movie has resonated so deeply with immigrants – and particularly Latinx immigrants – is that inter-generational trauma is pervasive where there is a history of political violence and/or displacement. But inter-generational trauma can affect other families too, families that may not have suffered through terrible historic events, but milder forms of abuse or painful family experiences. The way inter-generational trauma works is that each generation, starting from Ancestor X (usually 3 or max 4 generations above us), is unable to escape the pain of their own