Spoiler alert! The following post contains details about the ending of "Encanto."
Watching “Encanto” was like going back in time. More than tugging at one’s inner child, the Disney animated film does a painfully beautiful job at portraying the intergenerational Latinx family experience.
“Encanto,” Disney Animation’s 60th film, introduces audiences to the Madrigals, a loving, complicated and dramatic family from Colombia. But they’re no ordinary family: all have magical powers except for one – our sweet, empathetic and a little awkward protagonist Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz). Surrounded by a sister who can conjure flowers out of thin air, a shapeshifting cousin, another who can communicate with animals and a mother who can heal people with a single arepa con queso, the somewhat ordinary Mirabel struggles to connect with her own bloodline.
In the midst of those powers at play, the animated movie, Disney's first feature with an all Latinx cast, captures the complicated tug and pull between older and younger generations in Hispanic families.
Young millennial Latinx viewers can relate to the sometimes painful family dynamics of the Madrigals. Living in a multigenerational household built on the belief that you have to fit into a certain mold, live up to expectations that are not your own, or that you need to continue repeating toxic family behaviors (because that’s how it’s always been) is at the core of what the Madrigal family struggles with in “Encanto.”
The matriarch, Abuela Alma, lost a lot at a young age and her traumatizing experiences left a lasting impact that influenced how she raised her children and how she relates to her grandchildren. Abuela has exceedingly high expectations of her descendants and their powers, is comfortable in the familiar and anything else unsettles her – so much so that it causes her to lose sight of what her family truly needs.
Nearly everyone in the family, without ever daring to express it, feels unhappy by what’s expected of them because of their magic rather than what they actually want.
Such familial patterns ring true as first-generation Latinx millennials often feel the pressures of sticking it out with family, living in fear of being their authentic selves or branching out because of what the rest of the family might think or say. ("Sometimes family weirdos just get a bad rep," Mirabel says.)
But Mirabel – and perhaps this is her magical power – sees in the rest of the family what they can’t see in themselves. Unlike her Abuela and the rest of the older Madrigals, she envisions a different future for the family – one free of outdated traditions and expectations.
Throughout “Encanto,” as Abuela mounts misplaced blame on Mirabel as the reason for why the family is losing their gifts, the teen puts her foot down and points a mirror back at her.
Mirabel does what so many Latinx millennials working to break generational trauma want to do: stand up to the root of the issue, to the very person(s) causing the hurt and pain. “Luisa will never be strong enough. Isabella will never be perfect enough,” Mirabel firmly tells Abuela. “You’re the one breaking our home… the miracle is dying because of you.”
But if only it were that easy in real life: to call out a stubborn grandmother, a homophobic uncle, a passive-aggressive mother, a problematic aunt, or a father who has never been held accountable for their actions.
Mirabel, though, says what's been heavy on the rest of her family's heart.
But then we’re reminded it’s a Disney movie. “Encanto” wraps up the Madrigal family’s dilemma in a pretty little bow. Mirabel and Abuela’s argument and reconciliation mark the end of Abuela being so tough on her grandchildren. It marks the start of a new chapter for the family, with a new foundation (a literal one, too – as the rest of the Encanto helps them rebuild their magical casita) of understanding, transparency and an even stronger familial bond.
It’s not as clear-cut or linear in real life. You don’t just stand up to the big bad, hug it out, sing a song and come out on the other side stronger or happier than ever.
For many Latinx, and other BIPOC, rebuilding familial foundations can take a lifetime. The ending “Encanto” offers is ideal, and that's what makes it much more emotional to watch. It makes us long for such a day.
"Encanto" challenges us to accept that while moments of healing ancestral trauma may be fleeting, our efforts to mend those bonds are not in vain: "You're exactly what this family needs," Uncle Bruno tells Mirabel. "They just need to see it."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What 'Encanto' can teach us about self-worth, Latinx families, trauma