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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.