Encanto as a Plural Allegory
From the movie opening:
- "How did we get a miracle?"
- "Long ago…[we] were forced to leave our home. And although many joined us, hoping to find a new home, we could not escape the dangers… But in our darkest moment we were given a miracle… And it blessed us with a refuge in which to live. A place of wonder."
There's a lot of factors in Encanto (2021, Disney) that map well to building community in a plural system, and a few good examples of common problems in plural systems. Folk in the community have noticed some of these issues so we thought we'd write it up. We are using the spaceship paradigm for language.
We will make this article with progressive spoilers, so that folk who have not seen it can bail before getting to spoilers.
The movie is available on Disney+ with audio descriptions in English, rated PG, 1 hour 49 minutes (credits included).
Abuela is "grandmother"
Tio is uncle
Madrigal is a style of music, the word likely chosen as a family name because it's a near match for "magical"
Mirabel is a biblical name that means wonderful
Encanto a charm or magical spell
This is a fairly lighthearted movie. It's all animated, and PG rated.
Here are some triggers not mentioned on Does the Dog Die — make sureto check for more triggers.
Intergenerational trauma - something that happened to Abuela has affected the family for 2 generations.
Animated rats. Some depicted at a distance, some touching people, and in some cases the rats are doing things that could be quite warning-worthy.
In one scene, depictions of potential plurality, psychosis or DID of one character, with another character briefly commenting on it in a singular-centric attempt at being funny. It doesn't get taken any farther and there's no tangible oppression beyond this.
Depictions (not dialogue) of beauty = perfection, skinny = beautiful/perfection.
Potential germphobia triggers regarding misuse of hygiene products.
There are a few mentions of a traumatic scene in Abuela's past — it's shown in more detail at the end of the movie. Consider it a shared flashback.
Yelling, scolding, unreasonable expectations.
If you are about to watch Encanto, a few minutes into the movie from the point of Mirabel being told to open her eyes, you can pretend it's all taking place in a plural inner world. It's also a potential gateway system, with pocket dimensions at minimum.
Our system kids really enjoyed this movie.
Non-Spoiler DID Set-up
Read this section before watching the film if you want to watch the movie as a DID or plural paradigm from the start.
This section has extremely mild spoilers that are contained in the movie's set-up/introductory phase or trailer.
- The village is cloistered, self-contained, and has a magical boundary of mountains that keeps it separated from the external world. So the village is an entity unto itself with little commerce and influence from outside. This boundary went up when Abuela and her people were attacked by 'outsiders' and a "miracle" erected this boundary and allowed them to be cloistered together. After this point, the village operates basically as a plural or DID system with the Madrigal family being the system's crew, and the non-magical villagers being passengers.
- Abuela is what our Buck calls a "goodie two-shoes" host: she has set herself up as a matriarch/"King of the Hill" and suppresses and controls behavior in a benevolent monarchy. She is the only system officer, and has surrounded herself by other system members who fawn and cater to her and accept her rules, but don't participate in making them. "This is the way it has to be, because it's the way it's always been." She settles any major disputes, dishes out discipline, and decides who is right and who is wrong. Her heart is in the right place, overall. She's overprotective of the system, and the status quo. She's excessively worried about loss of power & control for herself and for her systemmates. She doesn't appear to have any gifts beyond this.
- When Mirabel doesn't get a gift, Abuela is sorely dissapointed and secretly afraid. Mirabel is given Rebel status, although she's co-conscious and accepted in normal spaces in the inner world. She's always walking a fine line, considered a troublemaker when she tries to be helpful, and considered less-than. She goes against the rules, because the rules for her are different and she has no buy-in for these different rules — she never participated in creating them.
- Dolores is one of those headmates who can hear everyone in the system &/or is aware of everyone and where they are.
- You can actually view Abuela as the system host, and the Encanto village being the inner world but the flashback being something that happened in the outer world. In a way this could reframe the movie to parallel other films or stories where folk retreat to their inner world after tragedy such as Sucker Punch.
This section contains myriad spoilers.
- Throughout the movie there are strongly relatable issues of C-PTSD that are not the usual triggers & flashbacks: perfectionism, overwork (to avoid handling issues) & subsequent threat of burnout, internalized ableism & shame for not measuring up, etc. The central conflict is around the fear of making mistakes, hypervigilance and emotional dysregulation regarding any perceived threat of the traumatic incident happening again i.e. intense fear of retraumatization.
- A vital part of the storyline is that the crew of this system have been cornered into rigid expectations and roles and not allowed to fully self-express. This happens in many plural systems, where folks' names or roles convey rigid expectations or they're framed as being one-dimensional and not allowed to grow, change, develop, or express themselves outside these tight expectations. So Louisa "is strong" and when she feels weak, she hides it, becomes shamed and feels insecure; her very identity as "The Strong One" is threatened. Isabella is "beautiful" and "perfect" and so associated with flowers that she hasn't explored the full range of her powers/talents. And Abuela expects Pepa (who is herself rather temperamental) to always be cheerful, otherwise she brings stormclouds: so she's internally & externally policed around her mood. A great example for this type of constriction in plurality is labeling headmates as EPs (emotional parts) when they have the potential to be dynamic individuals with much more than just a locked in constricted emotional range and a trauma-related purpose. When the Encanto crew starts to explore interests outside of their gifts, or alternate ways to utilize their gifts, they start to blossom and become happier towards the end of the movie.
- Dolores actually was able to keep a secret: she knew Bruno was in the background and could hear him, etc. She hinted it to Mirabel when she said the "rats" were talking in the walls.
- Tio Bruno is a (pretty laid back and nice) rebel. He spoke truth to power, tried to open people's eyes. His gift, much like Antonio's gift where Antonio already liked animals, went along with his nature: he got the gift of Sight/prophecy. Like many rebels in a traumatized system, they see problems and try to sound the alarms and warn people so plans can be put into place, but they get reviled, excluded, demonized, blamed for their honesty and sometimes their awkward (and inappropriate) methods. Bruno ends up with a Kassandra complex: his prophesying makes him shunned and reviled, the villagers and crewmates made him out to be a bad person because he was calling things as he saw them, and they couldn't tell if he was predicting the future or making it happen.
- Eventually they find out that Tio Bruno is a stowaway i.e. he's still in-system, but hiding and kinda stuck in the past. But he also has some idea of things going on (through the crack in the dining hall wall), and exerts some passive influence (Dolores can hear him in the background, talking to his rats, etc.).
- The quest to find Tio Bruno is a rescue mission New.
- When Abuela unloads her fears on Mirabel, Mirabel actually stands up to her. (We highly suspect that) Abuela was about to exile (or disown) Mirabel, similar to how some plural systems push back against rebel headmates and traumaholders when what they have to say isn't pleasant. Many hosts like Abuela are in denial, sometimes suppressing the whole system, or specific system members. Mirabel stood up to her the way any headmate could stand up and say "This is my life too, and I'm here to protect it just like you are."
- At the river, when Mirabel re-experiences Abuela's flashback (she is shown on-screen actually watching the events unfold, like a ghost witnessing the event — not having it narrated by Abuela), it's like they're becoming co-conscious and Abuela is fully sharing a flashback/memory.
- After sharing her memory, Abuela says "I was given a miracle. A second chance. And I was so afraid to lose it that I forgot who our miracle was for." We have another chance to reparent our system kids, to take care of ourselves, protect ourselves, and reclaim our life — for all of us. Not just for some elite chosen of our system members.
- "You suffered so much, all alone, so it would never happen again. We were saved because of you… And nothing would ever be broken that we can't fix together." How is it that Abuela suffered all alone, when she had all these family members? Because the family is the key for everyone. Abuela isn't alone. And everyone working together can save the family. It's the same for plural systems; it's not the host versus the alters, everyone is equal, everyone working together can live a shared life, and keep the system safe.
- Although at the end of the movie, Mirabel doesn't seem to have a gift, neither does her Abuela, and so we wonder whether Mirabel will be fostered to be the next system host (or a main co-front), like Abuela: a caretaker of the crew and village. She may take on a custodial presence over the candle and the family. Mirabel helped reignite the magic and love in the family, and hopefully won't let the candle of love burn out again.
- On a similar note, throughout the movie both Mirabel and Abuela are intimately tied to the Casita. They’re the only ones who talk to it and directly ask the Casita to do things. No one else talks to it or interacts directly with it in the movie. The house does things for everyone, but seems to have a special relationship with Mirabel and Abuela. We don’t even know whether or not Abuela had a pocket dimension — although she does have her own glowing door. Inside, unlike the pocket dimension rooms (bigger on the inside (i.e. Abuela: "Clean your rooms; I don't care how big they are."). She seems to have a normal style duplex, a room upstairs with a windowsill where the candle is displayed. It is also shown opposite the Nursery where Mirabel sleeps. In terms of an inner world, they might be folk who interact more directly with and modify the inner world more than the others.
Maybe it's Not an Allegory?
This is purely speculative, and pure realism/psychology lens stuff, so take with a heaping of salt. Extreme spoilers, and a LOT of conjecture. We don't believe this, it's only a lens we switch back and forth to as needed.
Content Warnings: this is a really morose perspective on the overall story. You might not want to read this. If you're squeamish please don't.
So let's consider the reality of the situation when Abuela was fleeing her town in the flashbacks. They fled the town with all the villagers in tow. The men on horseback attacked her husband, who obviously was slain. Then enters the magic. For personal purposes, note we believe in magic. But psychology/reality/non-magic "lens" what is "the magic"? This is the thought we follow to a logical (but disturbing) conclusion.
Potentially either maladaptive daydreaming, or retreating into her internal landscape if she was already DID or plural. Also potentially psychosis or schizophrenia which may be triggered by extremely traumatic events. Some of these answers also put the whole flashback into question. Did she really have 3 babies externally? Was her husband, or even the attack on their village, real? Was only her husband slain?
From a logical/practical perspective, this makes more "sense" than a secluded magical village in Columbia with someone stronger than Hercules in it. Abuela may still be in her birth village for all we know. She could be physically of any age. If she lost her husband and children, it would make sense to pull her 3 babies into her inner world to raise them. The pain of being external at all could be too much. Or this could be a subsystem in a larger plural system, and Abuela is the gatekeeper of this subsystem, meanwhile someone else is host of the body, off screen.
This would potentially put the film in a darker light than intended, of course.
We actually don't like stories of magic that end in "it's just someone's delusion" or tragedy. So we prefer the "it's real" perspective taken in the film.