How Encanto, Luca and Raya Explore Family Trauma – The Hollywood Reporter
One of the many famous innovations of Encanto, Disney’s irresistible animated musical and Oscar favorite for Best Animated Feature, is that it doesn’t feature a conventional villain. There is no pervasive darkness threatening to swallow a peaceful realm, no sinister spiritualist lusting after the soul of an innocent innocent, and certainly no power-hungry evildoer plotting to usurp a mighty crown. In fact, there is no crown to be had at all.
The closest thing we have to a villain is Abuela Alma (voiced by María Cecilia Botero), the formidable matriarch of the magical Madrigal Clan. Alma is a woman driven by grief and survival as much as ego: decades ago, she watched her beloved husband die at the hands of warmongers. She fled their village, eventually taking refuge in a charming and mutable remote compound, and watched her offspring grow with sui generis superhuman talents born from the metaphysical power of her suffering.
Alma is so proud of these protective gifts – herculean strength, gastronomic healing, etc. – that at some point, she stops seeing her children and grandchildren as full human beings with faults and weaknesses too. The pressure they face to perform and live up to the sacrifices of their ancestors almost tears the family apart. The protagonist Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz), who, to her great abuelaRegret, which has no magic power, seeks to bring these family divisions to light in an effort to save their bond. Set Colombia Encanto is, in large part, a story about intergenerational trauma, the nuances of uprooting and the immigrant experience, and the self-destructive nature of the people-pleasing perfectionist. But, you know, it’s fun too!
Encanto is one of four animated films nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature that realistically examines knotty family dynamics. These films, including those from Netflix The Mitchells vs. the Machinesby Disney Raya and the last dragon and Pixar Lucas – solidifying a new phase in family storytelling: the high EQ child photo. It’s no longer enough for an animated film to be simply heartbreaking, visually stunning, or technologically groundbreaking. To truly move audiences, the story must speak to multi-faceted relationship complexities that go beyond familiar conflicts and plot mechanics. After all, EncantoThe chart-topping (and genre-busting) single “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” became a TikTok sensation in part because it delves into the backstory of the film’s mysterious black sheep uncle (John Leguizamo ), a character many viewers believe represents disabled or neurodivergent people who are excluded by their loved ones.
Nearly a decade ago, the singular novelty of FrozenThe love-hate sibling discord led to its billion-dollar hit, with fans of all ages singing the film’s powerful ballad, “Let It Go,” at children’s birthday parties and karaoke nights. drunk. Likewise, emotionally thorny box office hits followed suit – the 2016 adventure film Moana uses a vengeful goddess persona to address themes of consent and the afterlife fantasy of 2017 coconut examines issues of memory loss and family legacy. Even the near heist movie of 2020 Soul punches holes in the idea that creative passion makes life worth living. These award-winning films prove the value of reframing classic narratives for a modern audience familiar with pop psychology and mental health memes.
According to research by Cornell sociologist Karl Pillemer, nearly 30% of American adults are sadly estranged from a parent, and much has been written about the personal and community impacts of these fractured families. Given the prevalence of these breakups, it doesn’t shock me that the family-focused movies in this year’s animated feature race each investigate parental cracks. sci-fi comedy The Mitchells vs. the Machines follows an emotionally distant family on an ill-fated road trip to drop off aspiring filmmaker Katie (Abbi Jacobson) at college while her Luddite father (Danny McBride) worries about the future of their relationship. The fantasy adventure Raya and the last dragonabout a warrior princess (Kelly Marie Tran) who is effectively orphaned and tries to put a broken kingdom back together, explores survivor’s guilt, chosen family, and the mental impact of traumatic events. Lucasthe youngest of these films, tells the story of two sea monsters who escape the grip of their underwater parents to live as humans in an Italian seaside village.
While these films, alongside Encanto, explore ancient themes of newfound independence and clashes with elders, they also delve into the psychology of their unique family dynamics. They don’t take it for granted that the blood will always be there for you. They do not assume that blood is the end of all that constitutes family.
It would be easy to argue that kid-friendly films have somehow gotten “smarter” in recent years, but they only reflect the cultural trends of our time. (The death of Bambi’s mother, of course, still shocks 80 years later, whether or not we name this pivotal cinematic moment as the fawn’s main “negative childhood experience.” – and the complex feelings about those which are responsible for our well-being – should start when our neural networks are still developing.
This story first appeared in the Feb. 11 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.