Encanto is a colourful, heart-breaking animated musical that reminds us good things can come from tragedy.
With the help of towering composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, the Columbian spirit comes alive with the story of Encanto; a magical house and a magical family struggling to hold themselves together through life’s changes.
The story is centered around the Madrigal family that was forced to leave their original home when the flames of war ravage the countryside. But in a moment of tragedy, a miracle occurs.
When Alma’s husband is killed, his sacrifice miraculously creates a hidden valley and a magical home for the young widow to raise their three children in peace.
However, this trauma deeply affects Alma. While she is grateful for the miracle, as her family grows she becomes more and more desperate to protect the Madrigals, knowing everything you love can be stripped away in a moment.
Alma’s backstory plays into the central theme of death and rebirth, symbolized throughout the film by the caterpillar and the cocoon.
There are other sub-themes in Encanto, the strain of making your family proud and the burden of living out the expectations placed on you. For one Madgrigal grandchild, it’s the burden of being “perfect” at all times. For others, it’s always being strong, and not showing weakness or vulnerability. And still others it’s trying to dispel the negative perceptions of being a screw-up. These pressures are accentuated in the film as each Madrigal is given a superpower that ties in with their character.
All of these themes come to a head when granddaughter Maribelle is seemingly denied a magical gift. In fact, it’s prophesied that she will bring their magical home to destruction.
It’s not explicitly stated, but in many ways, Maribelle possesses the magical ability to carry her family members through a crisis. She helps her sister through a crisis of identity, helping her live more authentically while letting go of a fear of change to see the bright future that is waiting for them.
We eventually come to see it’s Alma’s overbearing control over her family that is the true cause of their home’s destruction. And in retrospect, they realize the prophecy points to Maribelle as the one who will cause the home to be reborn as she helps heal Alma’s own trauma.
All of this is told through soaring musical numbers and light-hearted Disney comedy, supported by amazing performances from world-class voice actors, animators and choreographers.
Watching all this in the theatre, I can’t help but think of the psychology of trauma.
Psychologist Benjamin Hardy explains that when a person experiences traumatic stress, they often have a difficult time “dis-associating” themselves with that stress.
“The memory gets sealed into their long-term memory. Unlike normal memories, which are social and flexible, traumatic memories become isolated from context, isolated from other people, and are rigid.
Your memory can get stuck — and then you get stuck.
As a person, traumatic experiences keep you in the past.
You stop looking forward.”
It’s easy to see how fleeing your home and losing your spouse would cause emotional trauma.
Yet, so many of us are walking around with these negative experiences, living out of that negative them out subconsciously and letting them shape us.
Yet, we know that in Christ there is healing and wholeness, and in His victory, and through counseling we can move from the perspective that, “this event or circumstance is happening to me” to “this happened for me.”
James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
And in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
It’s so easy to forget every good and perfect gift the Father has given us as soon as even a small obstacle comes into our path.
Like the Madrigal matriarch, Alma, I find myself gripping the good things in my life, tighter and tighter, so afraid of losing something that I forget to trust in the One who gave them all.
This is some conjecture on my part, but I believe Maribelle was meant to receive the mantle of Matriarch; her magical gift was to carry the load of leadership. But instead of passing the torch to her granddaughter, Alma held on tighter, even as her lack of faith and affection hurt the very people she was trying to protect.
But Christ reminds us, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” Matthew 16:25
We are all Alma in some ways.
We’ve been wounded and felt the sting of loss, and it’s made us closed off, desperate to avoid ever feeling like that again. Yet the great irony is, the more we try to avoid pain, the more we drag ourselves towards destruction.
Instead, with faith and hope, we can know that God is in control and His ways are infinitely higher than our ways. As Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”
You don’t need a magical superpower to know those words will never fail you.
So, if you have Disney+, definitely check out Encanto and take in the music, the colours, and the Columbian culture. And also the timeless message that can spring out of discussions with your family afterward of trusting that God can work all things for good.