In this way, “Encanto” is a first for Disney Animation Studios

abuela casita encanto
Credit: Disney

Disney Animation‘s award-winning Encanto has been popular among Disney fans since it first hit theaters just before Thanksgiving 2021.

Epcot's Haunted Mansion: Encanto's Casita de Madrigal - Disney at Play

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Walt Disney Animation Studios‘ 60th animated feature to roll off the production line tells the story of the amazing Madrigal family that lives deep in the beautiful Colombian mountains in a magical house called “casita” in an enchanted place called an “encanto.”

Every member of the amazing Madrigal family has been gifted with an extraordinary talent or ability–all except for the film’s protagonist, Mirabel Madrigal. Mirabel’s aunt Pepita can control the weather with her emotions. Her mother can heal the sick and injured with her amazing culinary creations. Her cousin Dolores can hear a pin drop a mile away. Her cousin Camillo can shape-shift into a likeness of any member of the family, and her cousin Antonio can talk to animals.

New Trailer, Posters & Cast Revealed for Walt Disney Animation Studios'  All-New Original Film "Encanto" -

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In many ways, Encanto is a very Disney story. Its storyline is in keeping with things we are used to seeing from the animation superpower. In other ways, Encanto breaks many of Disney’s usual storytelling molds. In fact, Encanto is a first for Disney–and it’s because of the way in which the storyline deviates from the usual Walt Disney premise as it relates to the matriarch of the family.

In animated features like Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Disney’s Cinderella (1950), and Disney’s Tangled (2010), the evil matriarch is a stepmother. In Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the evil queen is the villain and also Snow White’s stepmother. In Cinderella, Lady Tremaine is the evil stepmother villain, and in Tangled, Mother Gothel is the villain and stepmother of sorts (after all, she kidnapped Rapunzel, thus assuming that role).

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But Encanto is a first for Disney in that the villain–or the antagonist in the storyline–is a biological mother, rather than a stepparent. She’s the biological mother of Pepita, Julieta, and Bruno, and thus the biological grandmother of Luisa, Isabela, Mirabel, Dolores, Camillo, and Antonio.

abuela alma encanto

Credit: Disney

In fact, those who can clear their minds and truly delve into the story of Encanto will discover that within the story of the family Madrigal lies the story of intergenerational trauma. Abuela Alma, the matriarch, witnessed the death of her husband by insurgents when her triplets were newborns, and she was forced to live the rest of her life as a single mother to three children.

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Over the years, the trauma of that terrible loss causes her to become more fearful of it happening again–to the point that she becomes reckless in her protection of the “miracle” bestowed onto her and her family. She becomes controlling. She becomes cold-hearted to family members who don’t seem to be in line with the miracle.

From early on, she teaches her grandchildren to “make your family proud” as she readies them for the ceremony in which they will receive their respective gifts. Rather than teaching them that they are an integral part of the family unit and teaching them about the love of a family unit, Abuela Alma is intent on aligning family members’ value with their unique gifts and abilities. So when Mirabel is unable to open her door at her gifting ceremony, it’s the beginning of a life of feeling unspecial for her.

Abuela Alma is routinely frustrated with Mirabel, who only wants to make her family proud of her. But Abuela feels that Mirabel should step aside and let the rest of the family handle things (because Mirabel was not gifted by the miracle).

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Abuela’s loss and trauma from that loss also explain why she feels validated in banishing her own son Bruno from the family home when she discovers that he’s had visions and premonitions of casita cracking and crumbling.

It’s why we don’t talk about Bruno, as if talking about him will bring his terrible visions to fruition.

“I was given a miracle, a second chance,” Abuela Alma says during her change of heart. “And I was so afraid to lose it that I lost sight of who our miracle was for, and I’m so sorry. We are broken because of me.”

Later, in the final song of Encanto, titled “All of You,” Abuela Alma has a short solo in which she sings the words, “And I’m sorry I held on too tight/Just so afraid I’d lose you too/The miracle is not/Some magic that you’ve got/The miracle is you.”

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Because Abuela experiences a change of heart, the story is heartwarming. Sadly, the quick-fixes and nearly-overnight turnaround of Abuela’s mindset (after a lifetime of feeling oppositely) are in keeping with traditional Disney norms in which it only takes an hour and a half to give the history, current situation, current problem and solution–and with everyone on board, save the villain. Thankfully in Encanto, the antagonist is truly the dynamic character who sees the error in her way and corrects it. Again, a first for a Disney film.

About Becky Burkett

Becky's from the Lone Star State and has been writing since she was 10 and encountered her first Disney Park when she was 11. It was love at first Main Street Electrical Parade. Joy is blank lined journals, 0.7 mm pens, and all things Walt, Woody and Buzz, PIXAR, Imagineering, Sleeping Beauty (make it blue!), Disney Parks history and EPCOT. At Disney World, you'll find her croonin' with the birdies at the Enchanted Tiki Room or hangin' with Woody and the gang at Toy Story Land. If you can dream, you really can do it!