My son could not wait to see the new Disney movie “Encanto.” We saw it in the theatre on Thanksgiving Day and then bought the soundtrack and counted down the days until it was released on Disney+ so we could watch it again. As any parent can imagine, I have now seen the movie several times and I know all of the songs by heart (Lin-Manuel Miranda has done it again; the music is so good).
Another thing the movie does well is demonstrate how as a culture we struggle to show up for mental health issues. The main character, Mirabel, is the one person in the family who does not have a magical gift when even the house she lives in is magical (warning, spoiler alerts ahead).
When Mirabel’s younger cousin receives his gift she begins a song with the words, “Don’t be upset, or mad at all... I’m not fine.” She soothes herself in her disappointment in being so different. Her two sisters have gifts. Isabella is beautiful and seemingly perfect and can grow flowers at will. Her sister Luisa’s gift is strength. She carries donkeys and pianos with little effort.
Then their magical house begins to crack and crumble, and Mirabel goes on a quest to find her shunned uncle Bruno whose gift is prophetic visions. When his visions were not what his family or community wanted to hear he was ostracized, and he fled. They didn’t look for him to bring him back; instead, we hear the song that tells us why “we don’t talk about Bruno.”
Bruno is a bit eccentric, and one could argue that Bruno struggles with mental health concerns, exhibiting tics of “knock-knock-knock on wood” among others. Mirabel also learns that her sister Luisa is under tremendous pressure that causes her great anxiety. Mirabel’s sister Isabella is perfectionist and tries to fill some predetermined role for her family, mainly Abuela.
No one sees the individual struggles. Certainly, no one talks about these struggles. Instead, everyone suffers in silence as they behave the way they feel is expected of them. And it quite literally takes their house down. Their magical house comes crashing down once the vulnerabilities of its family members are exposed. But Mirabel finds Bruno and with his help, she helps her sisters pinpoint what they’re feeling inside.
Then, the house comes crumbling down. In the final song, the entire town shows up to put the physical bricks and mortar back together. And this is the grand metaphor for our culture. Show me a pile of rubble, and I will rebuild. Show me something physically broken, and I will fix it. But tell me something hard to hear or uncomfortable to understand, and you’ll be shushed, brushed aside or even shunned.
In true Disney fashion the house, of course, is a metaphor for the family bond and in the end, Abuela learns “the miracle is you, not some gift, just you.” Emotions and originality are welcomed, Bruno comes home and finally, everyone belongs. But why does it take physical destruction for us to understand when something is really wrong?
“The stars don’t shine, they burn,” is another theme in “Encanto” and I love it, because aren’t we all just burning to belong? To be able to show up with our whole hearts and our whole selves and be accepted for exactly who we are.
In the end, “Encanto” subtly addresses the fact that what most of us are lacking is emotional openness and the ability to “rumble with vulnerability” as Brene Brown famously says. “Encanto” is a nice reminder to all of us to listen with our whole hearts and make sure our children know, no matter who they are or how what emotions they feel, they are loved, and they belong.