Lessons Unlearned

We love Encanto at home. There's so much to unlearn from it. This is my breakdown of the film, full of spoilers!

A controlling Abuela overburdens her gifted family with expectations of flawless behaviour. The Madrigal family, under the leadership of the Abuela, are protectors of the village. The candle in the high room of the casita is a lighthouse of hope.

Nothing escapes the eye of the Abuela.

Under the pressure of the oppressing Abuela, her children fall under 3 types of responses:

  1. Resignated compliance. Mirabel's mother shows signs of selfless devotion to her role, having bought the Abuela's narrative at the expense of her own identity.
  2. Nervous breakdown. Aunt Pepa lives in a perpetual internal storm, (in)conveniently visible to everyone due to her "gift".
  3. Run away. Bruno, well, no se habla de Bruno, but the guy seemingly jumped off the family's boat when it was obvious that he was incompatible with the Abuela's vision.

The younger generation is following a similar route: Luisa, the strongest grand-daughter, is at the brink of nervous collapse due to the weight of expectations ("Podre desvanecer el peso cruel, la expectativa?""), and Isabela is silently alienating her own needs under a facade of perfection.

A heroine will rise

It takes an outlier, Mirabel, to push this house of cards to the ground (quite literally). Mirabel was denied her own gift, stigmatazing her as an outcast, a tolerated outcast. She responded by over-compensating and shows signs of fundamentalism, but she also holds a unique insider/outsider perspective that allows her to steadily uncover the hidden costs of the Abuela's leadership. Mirabel is unlearning.

Mirabel becomes incompatible with the Abuela's established order, but unlike Bruno, she does not flee, she puts on a fight. This conflict is desperate and beautiful: the courage to confront those you love and admire. It's not a fight for power, Mirabel just wants her Abuela to see what she sees, to awaken.

Clash of heroines.

Mirabel's inner strength is placing her as a natural leader. That's where we see the parallel: Mirabel and Abuela are one and the same. What a paradox! The very same traits that put you in a condition to lead—i.e. to hold a vision and have the determination to execute on it—are the ones that will make you inadequate over time. "Die a hero or live long enough to become the villain." Leadership is like any other thing in life: a temporary assignment.

At the peak of the confrontation, two outcomes are possible: schism or refounding. We're about to witness two key turning points of the story, two key lessons to unlearn. Too bad the movie is already one hour and thirteen minutes in, and some producer at Disney must have shouted: "Guys, time to wrap this up! 20 minutes and we're done!" The movie precipitates into a rushed conclusion.

For the story to drift into redemption, the Abuela must realize that the world she has defined is not sustainable anymore. She needs to unlearn 50 years of values and behaviours founded on her own trauma. For the sake of time, such a life changing mind shift happens in the lapse of a song. Let's forgive it because Dos Oruguitas does indeed break your heart only to lift it up with hope right afterwards. Such a beautiful moment!

But the song does not really talk about the first turning point. It does not talk about the pain of realizing that the order you have established have damaged the very same thing you were trying to protect. No, the song really talks about a second turning point: metamorphosis.

Vienen milagros.

Reconcilation is only possible in the presence of courage and love, at that place where we truly understand each other's feelings and needs. This is the point where a new world can be born, true to the foundations of the original, but built on new pillars, those of equality and collaboration, instead of the privilege and burdens of a ruling caste.

Unfortunately Disney ruins this whole post by giving the whole set of magical gifts back to the family. I interpret this as: "Just a more socially mindful management and a slightly better work-life balance will do." That's to me a wasted opportunity to tell our kids

that deeper change is possible,

that it can be true to the legacy of our past,

and that if someone is to pull that off it will be a woman, which is the only being on this planet capable of displaying simultaneously the courage and the love required to confront whom you admire.

God I love this film! Despite its problems, it's such a beautiful thing to watch and, indeed, a lighthouse of hope.

Breaking the Encanto

  1. Change comes from the insider/outsider.
  2. The outsider lacks the loyalty and credibility to be followed.
  3. The compliant insider is an echo chamber.
  4. Change happens in the fringes, not in the spotlight.
  5. Operating in the fringe is necessary but not sufficient.
  6. Being in the spotlight does not entitle you.
  7. If you are in the spotlight, it won't be long.
  8. While in the spotlight, listen to the fringe, give it a voice.
  9. A worldview, a value system, is a response.
  10. Do you know what your current system responds to?
  11. Do you know what your current system should be responding to?
  12. Change is an eternal cycle
  13. But the cycle time is becoming shorter.
  14. What happens in the limit? Are there any constants?
  15. You cannot impose a response anymore.
  16. Change should happen in the presence of:
    • the courage to confront those who raised you,
    • a sense of belonging,
    • a true understanding of people’s needs, i.e. empathy,
    • a desire to hear and reconcile dissenting voices.
  17. Women can show in full force strength and compassion. Those are conditions I expect from the leaders of the future.


I think you have been too harsh with the poor Abuela. She was doing it for the greater good.


Yes, I know, but there’s a limit to that too.


Don’t you believe in fighting for a cause? A cause that is greater than you?


It’s not what I believe. It’s what you expect others to believe and do. Full renunciation was an acceptable price for those who lived the drama, but two generations down the line, it doesn’t work anymore. You cannot expect that from anyone.


Isn’t that selfish? The cause was worth it.


It’s unrealistic, and every generation needs its own adversities. Depriving a generation of its own difficulties so that you can keep fighting yours is even more selfish.


That’s a weird thing to say. Shouldn’t the Abuela protect her people? Take care of them? Shouldn’t we all aspire to preserve the better world we created?


Of course, but we are not the end of the line. We just rebaseline the future. Give them the chance to shape it, even if it goes against what we did. When you try to preserve something at all costs you just increase the chances to lose it.


I see you on full Oogway mode. What strikes me is that you don’t seem to believe in absolutes, just in circumstances.


The only absolute is change.


Ok, Heraclitus... you don't step into the same river twice but, you know what? I think it's time for you to step out of those waters, because even if it's not the same river it always soaks you wet. I'd hate that you get sick
(speaking inaudibly)
of yourself.

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