The charm of ‘Encanto’ runs deep

On Friday, my family watched Disney’s “Encanto” for the first time. On Saturday, we watched it again. Rewatching movies, especially on repeat, is unusual for me. I don’t mind movies, but they aren’t my go-to form of entertainment either. However, there’s something quite special about “Encanto” and the main family, the Madrigals.

I don’t want to give spoilers here, in case you plan to watch it. But somehow I want to share the beauty of what we watched without giving the storyline away. We’ll see if I can write and balance this successfully.

First, the music. Wow. The tunes are catchy, gorgeous and they enhance the storyline. Second, the animation is fantastic. Third, the layers of the story run deep. The first time we watched, we were moved to tears by the underlying trauma and grief of the plot that moves into redemption. I recognized some of myself in almost all the characters. I’ve shared here before of my own childhood trauma and how it’s impacted my life, and I genuinely feel thankful when stories tell the truth about the pain and grief found in this reality. I might cry, but it’s better than the storyteller bypassing the difficulties. The writers of “Encanto” tell the trauma narrative well, and with beauty and grace.

The layered depth of “Encanto” tackles trauma in three different ways: individual, family, and community. Trauma has varying degrees of impact on individuals, which has an impact on families, which has an impact on communities. Since I don’t want to give away any spoilers, I’ll let you enjoy and explore the actual movie for details, but I want to run with these three layers within the lens of my own experience.

Trauma definitely has an impact at the individual level. Enough research has been done in this area to know that the more trauma a child experiences before 18, the higher the risk of myriad health and wellness problems as adults. You can read more about these elevated risks, for example, on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, searching for adverse childhood experiences. For myself, I’ve seen trauma play out in my own life, impacting decisions I made in adolescence as well as impacting decisions and relationships as an adult. The pandemic has heightened my awareness that I still have triggers from specific instances that are currently magnified.

At one point, around 2015 I believe, I was feeling so much better, I wrote a series on healing from trauma on my blog. I’ve since taken it down because I was short-sighted. I didn’t know what was coming for us right around the corner in 2016 and beyond, and how I would be challenged to persevere, to hold on to the truths I know while going deeper into trauma layers. I’ve realized that as I grow older (and hopefully wiser) I’m still carrying my past. I can’t detach from it, and that’s OK. In reality, trauma has given me my own gifts; it’s shaped my lens and experience; it’s given me a perspective that can be used for good but it also can take time and help to do so. Because my past and its trauma aren’t “gone” I have to relearn certain things. “Encanto” displays this tension well.

Trauma also impacts families. For instance, while my siblings didn’t experience abandonment of a biological father, we, along with my parents, experienced the trauma of the death of my brother together. We each grieved as individuals, but each of the individual expressions of grief and trauma interacted with each other – similar to “Encanto.” (Just watch it!) Not only do we learn our own individual trauma responses, but we also need to learn how to coexist with others in the family and their own individual trauma responses and the gifts each person receives from a traumatic experience. It’s complicated and really, I’m only starting to process this layer, in large part thanks to “Encanto.”

Finally, trauma also impacts communities. In “Encanto”, community is the village, but community can also take the form of other unifying networks: church, school, work, hobbies, neighborhoods. This year on New Year’s Eve, as I posted my memories about that day and the death of my brother, several people from my hometown commented, saying how much they remember. They felt the loss, too. It made me want to ask people from the broader community to message me about what they remember from that fateful day at the very end of 1998. I’m to the point where I want to know because it’s strange to have lived my whole adult life in a place that has no recollection of the trauma my family experienced, except for when I open up about it. Admittedly, without a community’s backing, that makes for a very lonely day of grief and I wonder if having a better sense of communal grief would be helpful.

Again, “Encanto” portrays this beautifully, as the community comes to help bear a single family’s trauma burden. (This might qualify as a spoiler. I’m sorry. I tried! Just (really!) watch it.) The scene stirred my imagination as “Encanto” delivered yet again with this line from villagers: Though we’re without “gifts” they say, “we are many.” I love this. They don’t have the trauma of the Madrigals, but they come out with all hands on deck to show love and care to a family in need. It’s beautiful. Just watch it!

Malinda Just has been writing Lipstick & Pearls for the Free Press since 2008. To read more of her writing, visit her blog,, or find her on social media @MalindaDJust.


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