Disney’s Encanto and Intergenerational Trauma

Contributed by Lindsay Randall

SPOILERS ahead for the movie Encanto.

During an incredibly cold weekend in January, I was bundled up on my couch and looking for a movie to stream. I finally settled one that Disney+ had just recently released, Encanto.  I had no idea what the movie was about, past the short blurb that was provided on the info page before the movie started:

After finishing the movie, I will only admit to really enjoying it and any rumors you may have heard from my cats about me being a blubbering, crying mess throughout it, are lies. All lies!

Disney’s Encanto is a movie different from most. Despite what some viewers have said about Abuela being the villain of the story, there is no “villain” personified that the characters must defeat, as is typical in such movies. Instead all the characters must overcome something more overwhelming and real, which is threatening their home: intergenerational trauma. 

At the beginning of the movie, the matriarch of the Madrigal family, Abuela Alma faces armed violence and suffers incredible loss, while fleeing with her husband and three babies. After a harrowing night, in which her husband dies, she receives a miracle of a magic candle that helps to create a magical casita (house) inside a magically hidden town.

The candle grants all members of the Madrigal family unique gifts….. all except young Mirabel. This lack of a gift causes some underlying tensions between Mirabel and her family and serves as the main vehicle for the story. Then there is a missing uncle, cracks in the casita, diminishing powers, some adorable rats, and an ear-worm of a song (we don’t talk about Bruno!) to round out the story. 

The experience that Abuela has in the first few minutes of the movie has a continued impact on her relationship with her children and grandchildren, as well as on their own development.

After many fraught interactions (and songs!) Abuela tells her granddaughter Mirabel  “I was given a miracle, a second chance, but I was so afraid to lose it that I lost sight of who our miracle was for….. I am so sorry… We are broken because of me.” Showing that you can break the cycle of trauma. 

It was incredibly interesting to see a children’s movie deal with such a weighty topic in such a sensitive a way that does not diminish the damaging influence it has, but also shows that there is a possibility to begin to heal from this particular type of trauma. 

Many of our classes at the Peabody touch upon some aspect of historical trauma in indigenous communities, with the boarding school experience being one of the main ones that we explore.  Given the prevalence that it has in our teaching, I look forward to making connections to a movie many of our students will know as a means to enhance their understanding of such a profound topic.

To read more about the reactions to Encanto

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