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5 hoots out of 5

Transfiguring Adoption awarded this movie 5 Hoots out of 5 based on how useful it will be for a foster/adoptive family. [Learn more about our Hoot grading system here]

Movie Info:

  • Rating: PG (Some Thematic Elements, Mild Peril)
  • Genre: Kids and Family, Musical, Animation
  • Runtime: 99 minutes
  • Studio: Disney

From the Cover of Encanto by Disney:

“The Madrigals are an extraordinary family who live hidden in the mountains of Colombia in a charmed place called the Encanto. The magic of the Encanto has blessed every child in the family with a unique gift — every child except Mirabel. However, she soon may be the Madrigals last hope when she discovers that the magic surrounding the Encanto is now in danger.”

[Buy Downloadable PDF Review and Discussion Packet]

Transfiguring Adoption’s Overview:

Encanto (2021) is an animated musical from Disney about a magical family in Colombia. The Madrigal family is both multiracial and multigenerational and voiced largely by Colombian actors. The songs by Lin Manuel Miranda (who did the music for Hamilton and Moana) are catchy and fun, as one would expect and the cinematography and visual effects were vibrant and impressive. As Disney movies usually are- this one is a great choice for the whole family! There are a few scenes of natural disasters and some scary moments, but there’s no real ‘villain’ which is refreshing compared to the normal fairytale formula. The plot may be a bit hard to follow for very young kiddos, but the music, colors, and fun characters will likely be enough to keep their interest even if they don’t fully understand the depth of the story.

(Also of note, if you’re watching the movie in theatres the short film that plays before it may contain some triggers for kiddos. The characters are raccoons, not people, but it does depict a somewhat aggressive caregiver relationship that may be upsetting to younger viewers who have experienced trauma).

** Spoilers Could Be Ahead **

How Is This Relevant To Adoption & Foster Care?

This movie does not directly relate to foster care or adoption. The main character, Mirabel, lives with not only both of her biological parents (a rarity for Disney movies!) but also a slew of extended family members as well. However, it does have several themes that children who have experienced trauma will likely relate to. Early in the film we learn that Abuela had to flee her home with her husband and three young children. Unfortunately, Abuelo did not survive the journey, leaving her and the children alone and unsure of what to do. She was gifted a miracle which built her and her children a magical home and granted them all special magical powers which they in turn used to help build and care for their community. Because of her unresolved trauma, however, Abuela can also be a bit harsh and overly demanding of her family members and sometimes sets unrealistic expectations. Mirabel also experiences some trauma as a child when she is not given a magical gift and is left feeling alienated and alone. Both characters, with the help of their family relationships, are able to process and heal from their various traumas during the course of the movie. The movie also explores sibling relationships and the jealousy and rivalry that occurs, as well as living up to the expectations of others and pressure we put on ourselves.

Discussion Points:

  • Trauma Responses/Healing from Trauma
  • Early in the movie we learn that Abuela and her family were forced to flee their home when her children were all very young. Abuelo did not survive this journey, leaving her to raise three infants on her own. Scared and alone, Abuela is granted a ‘miracle’ candle which creates a magical house for her to live in and blesses her, her children and future grandchildren with special magical powers that will help them. Throughout the movie she tends to put a lot of pressure on the family members and the importance of sustaining this miracle. Mirabel eventually confronts her about this later and Abuela realizes that she’s been hard on everyone. She says, “I was given a second chance and I was so afraid of losing it. I lost sight of who the miracle was for.” Because of the trauma and loss she had experienced when she was young, she lived in constant fear of losing it again but the actions she took trying to protect her family was ultimately hurting them instead because of it. Mirabel also experiences trauma as a child- when her turn comes to get her powers, her door disappears and she is left wondering why she wasn’t good enough. This fundamentally shapes her whole opinion of herself and she grows up feeling left out and unsure of her place in the world. She clearly loves her family but we also see her have some jealousy and resentment towards some of them, especially her sister Isabella. We also see Mirabel have a flashback about her coming-of-age ceremony, showing how much of an impact this event had on her. At the end of the movie, the family is rebuilding the house and they made a special doorknob and allow Mirabel to be the one to put it on and activate the house’s magic. This is a huge symbolic step for Mirabel- she’s able to create a positive memory to replace her traumatic one and finally feels recognized by and connected with her family. Talking about these examples and the experiences both Abuela and Mirabel have can be a great jumping off point to talking with your family about the different ways that trauma might impact us, even years later, and what healing from trauma can look like.

  • Using Individual Strengths to Strengthen the Family
    Each member of the Madrigal family is granted magical powers; however, these magical gifts differ based on each persons’ personality, interests, and skills. It takes the combination of all these different gifts for the family and community to thrive. Even Mirabel, who thinks she has no talent, ends up being vitally important in holding the family together. At the end of the movie, we also see all the members of the community show up to help rebuild- they don’t have any magic but they care about the Madrigals and want to help. Use this as an opportunity to discuss the different strengths and abilities each member of your family has and how you are all better together as a unit than any one member would be on their own.
  • Expectations and Pressure
    Mirabel believes that the lives of all the rest of her family members, especially her two sisters, are perfect and easy because of their gifts. Throughout the movie she learns that this isn’t true. Louisa has super strength but she also admits, “Under the surface I’m pretty sure I’m worthless,” and “who am I if I can’t carry it all?” Because of her gift she feels like she has to be strong all the time- both physically and emotionally, even when she is overwhelmed or anxious about something. Isabella can create flowers and feels like she has to always be perfect and beautiful because of her gift. She’s even engaged to someone she doesn’t love because she feels like it’s expected of her. After accidentally creating a cactus with her power during an argument with Mirabel, she realizes that imperfect things can also be beautiful. In a different way, Mirabel has always felt pressure to do everything to help her family to make up for her lack of magic but only manages to get in the way. She tells Abuela she feels like nothing she does will ever be good enough. It’s important to talk to youth about the various expectations they feel are on them- from you, from society, from peers, and even from themselves. It’s easy to get lost in trying to be the best and it’s important to have conversations about it being okay not to be perfect. This is especially true for those with a background of trauma- they often feel like they have extra pressure as they are overcoming their past and feel like others think less of them because of what they’ve been through.

Cautionary Points:

  • Family Member Death (Off-Screen)
    The movie starts off with a story about Abuela being forced to flee her home with her family. Abuelo sacrifices himself to let his family escape- his death does not occur on screen but we do see soldiers approaching him with swords and his death is talked about several times.
  • Moderate Peril/Scary Moments
    There are a few scenes in the movie where characters are in dangerous situations, as well as some ‘Disney Physics’ where characters are able to do unrealistic things like jump across large distances or fall from a large height with minimal damage. When Mirabel goes into Bruno’s tower she almost falls into a deep chasm and then is buried in a lot of falling sand. There’s a scene where Mirabel is being chased but it turns out to just be Bruno. Bruno falls into what appears to be a deep hole but it actually is very shallow and he’s fine.
  • ‘Natural’ Disasters
    When the magic of Casita is failing there are several scary scenes of the house breaking in two and a mountain collapsing. It is brought about by magic but the result is similar to an earthquake or volcanic eruption. These scenes are likely to be frightening for many younger viewers, but especially so if a child has experienced the trauma of a natural disaster, especially if it resulted in the loss of their home. In a flashback of Abuela’s we also see a village being set on fire and the inhabitants forced to flee.
  • Family Discord
    In the second half of the movie there is a lot of arguing and emotional scenes between various family members. We have seen evidence throughout the movie that this family loves one another, however these scenes of conflict involve a fair amount of yelling at each other and accusing one another of being the reason the house and magic is breaking apart. These scenes may be triggering for children who have experienced or witnessed domestic violence or verbal/emotional abuse.

Discussion Guide:

  1. Would you like to live in a magic house like Casita? What would you want it to do?
    Caregiver Note: This is primarily just a fun question to promote bonding and start talking about the movie. However, it could lend itself to a conversation about what makes a home feel like a home and what kinds of things are important to have in a home. We may not live-in magic houses like Casita but having a home that feels safe and peaceful can be magical in a way to children who have not had that security before.
  2. Everyone in the Madrigal Family has a special power. If you could pick any special power for yourself, what would you pick? Why?
    Caregiver Note: Again, this is mostly just for fun. But talking about magical powers may offer some insight into things your child values about themselves or might wish were different. This can be a great way to talk about the magical powers you each *do* have in the form of special personality traits or talents.
  3. ACTIVITY: Design a Door
    Caregiver Note: When each member of the Madrigal Family comes of age and participates in a special ceremony which includes touching a doorknob and getting their power and a new room to go along with it. Their door then lights up with decorations to reflect them and their special power. For this activity, have each family member’s name on a piece of poster board and have everyone decorate their ‘door’ with things that reflect them- favorite colors and things, things they’re good at, anything that makes them happy and showcases who they are. When everyone is finished you can even have a family ceremony! Take turns showing their door to the group and talking about what they included and why. When finished these could be hung up on bedroom doors or in a hallway for everyone to enjoy.
  4. Mirabel is the only one in the family who doesn’t get a gift during her coming-of-age ceremony. How do you think this makes her feel?
    Caregiver Note: Mirabel tries very hard to be supportive of all of her family members and their magic powers, but it’s clear that a part of her feels very left out being the only one who doesn’t have one. During her cousin Antonio’s ceremony, we even see her have a flashback to her own ceremony where her door disappeared and get a sense of the emotions she felt and the mark that trauma left on her. This can be an opportunity to talk about the way your kids might feel different or left out. For those who are adopted or in foster care they might feel like they aren’t ‘really’ a part of the family, just as Mirabel feels like since she doesn’t have a magical power she doesn’t really fit in with her family.

  5. How do Mirabel’s family members treat her? How could they have done a better job of making her feel included and supported despite being different?
    Caregiver Note: It’s clear that Mirabel’s family love her, however they also sometimes seem unsure of how to act around her/how to treat her because she is different. The only family members that seem to have unwavering support for her are her parents. Her Abuela is especially hard on her, as is her sister Isabella. She tends to get blamed when things go wrong, and is often told to ‘stay out of the way’ and ‘stop trying so hard’. There is even one point where they all take a family photo with Antonio and Mirabel is not included. For the most part none of these slights are intentional or malicious but they still hurt Mirabel. This can be an opportunity to talk about how your family can be sensitive to one another’s feelings and ensure no one feels excluded the way Mirabel does in her family.
  6. What are some of the ways that Mirabel shows support to her cousin Antonio?
    Caregiver Note: When Antonio is hiding from everyone because he’s nervous about his upcoming ceremony, Mirabel takes time talking with him about what exactly his worries are. She also offers him support- saying she hopes he gets a power but ensuring him that she’ll still be there for him if it doesn’t go well. She also gives him a stuffed toy to take with him to his new room if he gets one, so he won’t feel so alone not sharing a room anymore. Later during the actual ceremony, he asks Mirabel to walk with him. Even though this is hard for her to do, because it brings up bad memories, she still holds his hand and gives him the support he asks for. This can help illustrate what support might look like in a healthy family relationship, which children with backgrounds of trauma might not be able to recognize if they haven’t had that experience.
  7. When you’re worried or scared about something, what are some of the things I can do to help you the way Mirabel helped Antonio?
    Caregiver Note: Support tends to look different for every child. Some may appreciate physical affection when they have big feelings- hugs, holding hands, etc. However not all are comfortable with this. Some may want to talk things through, or might want to have their own space. The important thing is to have the conversation about what their preferences are before the situation arises where they need support. That way you’ll know how to provide care and reassurance in the correct way, rather than inadvertently making things worse. Kids may not be able to articulate what they would want, so it may be helpful to talk through the different examples of what Mirabel does for Antonio with the question above for ideas of what support might look like.
  8. How do you think it makes Mirabel feel when no one will believe her about the cracks she saw in the house? Have you ever been in a similar situation?
    Caregiver Note: Mirabel sees that there is something wrong with Casita, and with the family’s magic and she instantly goes to tell Abuela. However, Abuela insists that everything is fine and when Mirabel tries to show her what she saw, it’s gone and no one else sees the evidence and therefore doesn’t believe her. We later learn that some family members did in fact know what was happening and that she was telling the truth, but wanted to keep up appearances and pretend that there wasn’t anything wrong. This is unfortunately an all-too-common situation when children try to tell someone they are being abused, which leaves the child feeling even more alone and like there is something wrong with them or that maybe they really did make it up or exaggerate what was happening. Depending on your child’s age and how recent their trauma was they may not be ready to talk about their own experiences so the conversation may need to stay focused on Mirabel which is fine- go with whatever they’re comfortable with.
  9. When Mirabel starts asking about her Uncle Bruno everyone says ‘we don’t talk about Bruno’. Do you think this is a good approach?
    Caregiver Note: Bruno is one of Mirabel’s uncles who ‘disappeared’ when she was a young child. The family largely ignores that he ever existed and doesn’t talk about him. When we lose someone, it can feel like it’s easier to not talk about them, to not even think about them because the memories are painful. But in the long run it only postpones the processing of that grief. Of course, children shouldn’t be forced to talk about anything they aren’t ready to share, but if they feel comfortable doing so, encourage them to talk about and remember their birth families as much and as often as they like.
  10. What is Mirabel’s relationship with her sisters like? How does it change throughout the movie?
    Caregiver Note: Mirabel struggles to get along with her sisters, especially Isabella. She believes that since they have magic gifts that their lives are perfect compared to hers where she struggles to fit in. However, she ends up having separate conversations with either of them where she learns that their lives aren’t as amazing as they appear to be. Louisa admits that even though she can carry heavy objects with her magic power, she really struggles feeling like she has to be strong for everyone all the time even when she’s struggling inside. Isabella can create flowers and beauty and is about to get married, but as it turns out she doesn’t even like the man she’s engaged to and like Louisa, feels pressure to always be perfect and beautiful and feels like she can’t really just be herself. This can be a great opportunity to talk about how we don’t always know what the experiences of others are like and even if their lives on the outside (or on social media) look amazing, they might have challenges as well. This applies to both friends/peers and also siblings. These feelings of jealousy can be especially difficult in a family that has a mixture of biological, foster and adoptive children.

  11. How did the trauma Abuela experienced when she was young affect her later in life?
    Caregiver Note: Abuela had to flee her home and lost her husband leaving her all alone in an unfamiliar place. She found the miracle candle which gave her a home and magical powers that enabled her to care for her family and build a community. Because of the trauma and the magic that came from it, she was able to raise several generations and create a thriving and safe community for many people. However, she also put too much pressure on her children and grandchildren and relied too heavily on the magic- because of her fear of losing everything again. This can be a great conversation starter about the various ways that trauma affects us, even many years later. Abuela doesn’t even realize that’s the reason for her behavior until Mirabel points it out to her.

About the Author: Jenn Ehlers

Jenn is a central Virginia native who received her BA in Psychology from the University of Virginia in 2012. Since then she has worked for a local mental health agency and the Department of Social Services in various capacities and has been involved in her community’s efforts to create a Trauma Informed Network. Currently Jenn works in vocational rehab and mentors youth in foster care. When she isn’t working, Jenn enjoys writing stories, anything and everything Harry Potter, and spending time with her niece and nephew.

**Transfiguring Adoption is a nonprofit organization seeking to nurture growth in foster and adoptive families by giving a HOOT about their families. Transfiguring Adoption does not intend for its reviewers nor its review to be professional, medical or legal advice. These reviews and discussion guides are intended to help parents to better be able to connect and understand their children who come from traumatic backgrounds.

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