Encanto: A look at the portrayal of toxic familial relationships and generational trauma

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Disney has started evolving the themes of the stories since past decade and started touching psychological aspects like emotional abuse, emotional responsibilities, trauma and death in stories like Tangled, Inside Out, Soul, and more.  Another addition to that emotionally sensitive movies list is Encanto.

The story chronicles the magical life of Madrigals which looks perfect and fantastic from the outside but is rooted from tragedy. It shows how a certain generational trauma was dealt with, which was transmitted to generations and a toxic environment was created for everyone living in it.

Set in pre-modern Columbia, the story starts with Abuela Alma and Abuelo Pedro fleeing their home with their community due to some unexplained armed conflict. On their way, they encountered a group of armed men who killed Abuelo Pedro while he was trying to save his wife and new born triplets. His sacrifice and love for his family made a miracle happen. A magic candle raised walls and made a magical realm for them to live in along with the others of the community. As the triplets grew bigger, they were given magic to be used in community’s service as gifts, and subsequently their children were also given such magical gifts.

Abuela Alma – The unintended abuser

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All of the magic situation pressured Abuela and in turn she pressured the children of the family to live up to the legacy and make the family proud. Abuela does look a villain in the story but the actual villain is the trauma she faced. After being disconnected from the outside world, she is trying her best to keep it that way as she’s afraid to go back to that very violence that took her husband away from her. She wishes to keep everyone close and not losing anyone anymore which can only happen when the magic stays. The driving emotions of her actions are pure but her actions tend to become more toxic and restraining for all the other members. Abuela doesn’t realize the toxic dynamics she is creating but she does treat every family member on the basis of how their respective gifts reflect on the family. She feels her ways are most apt for their family and she shuns anyone who says otherwise. Because of that very attitude, each member has been suffering in their own ways.

Pepa – Emotionally ignored

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Pepa is the saddest character is the series. She was given the gift to control the weather but those weather changes too depend on how she feels. She has multiple psychological issues but nobody is ready to address that. Every time she has any negative emotions, a cloud forms on top of her head and everyone just urges her to sweep her emotions under the rug and invalidates what she feels.

Julieta – Healer and a people-pleaser

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Julieta as the oldest sibling of the triplets, becomes responsible for making everything right everywhere. She was given the power to heal and she helps the community with it as much as she can. She does try to help everyone but still plays neutral as she wants to please everyone at the same time. So, whenever abuela or anyone shuns Mirabel out, she never openly takes her stand.

Isabel – The family image

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Isabel is the embodiment of perfection in the eyes of the family and the community. She seems so effortless and perfect in the start but later on it gets revealed that it’s the constant pressure of being perfect that is keeping her that way.  In order to be the perfect one in everyone’s eyes, she is willing to go to any length, even marry a guy she clearly doesn’t want to. The privileges that come with being the perfect one, make her a part of the abusive pattern which is evident in the way she treats Mirabel. She treats her like an unwanted presence just because abuela treats her like one.

Luisa – The strong one

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Luisa is the super strong one in the family. All the while she’s been seen picking up cattle, buildings and all heavy stuff for everyone. She seems most logical out of everyone. But when magic started collapsing, she was the first one to crack. She is very relatable for every elder sibling watching as she’d been burdened with all the responsibilities and no one ever turned and asked if she’s fine with it or not. When the miracle starts fading, she finds herself in a dilemma where on one hand she finds herself being free from the forced responsibilities but on the other hand she feels that she’ll lose her worth if she won’t be of use to anyone.

Dolores – The one who knows it all

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Dolores gets the power of super hearing. She can hear even the pin drop, however, that gift can not be put into work for community in any way. Eventually, she becomes the secret keeper as she listens to everything and nothing can be concealed from her knowledge. That’s why Mirabel went to her when casita started cracking. But her gift took a toll on her when she listens to everyone but nobody is there to listen to her feelings, insecurities and fears.

Mirabel and Bruno – The black sheep of the family

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Mirabel and Bruno both became the black sheep because abuela felt they bring nothing to the family.  Bruno was given a gift to have visions regarding the future. He was considered as a bad omen just because he was truthful and blunt about what he sees and he wasn’t at fault if his vision had negative events in it. Abuela didn’t want to hear how everything has started go haywire under her authority, so she pushed him away.

In order to keep everyone happy, he hid himself in the walls of the house and repaired the cracks on the house so that no one else had to bother about it. The very same thing happened with Mirabel. In Bruno’s vision Mirabel will bring destruction to the house and the family. Even though she was young, the prophecy made Abuela distant from her and no matter what Mirabel does, she just isn’t worthy in abuela’s eyes. Just like any other toxic family, every mishap is blamed on the scapegoat, in this case, Mirabel, instead of getting properly addressed.

Abuela doesn’t understand this toxicity created by her till the point casita started falling apart and everyone lost their powers. Even then it was just Mirabel who had the courage to speak out and tell her how she let her fears come in between her love for the family. She failed to understand that the members of the family are more than just their gifts and are subjected to a range of feelings and emotions which they were suppressing because of the impossible expectations of making the family and their legacy proud.

Encanto has an equal adult following as kids due to the way it addresses the problems in a family which are generally ignored. It highlights the toxicity and dysfunctional attitude of the head and how they are unwilling to accept it and it affects the rest of the family in the worst possible ways.