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3 Things Encanto Got Right (And Wrong) About Dysfunctional Families

Culture

Calm down, everyone, I am not doing a review of another movie musical.

One, there is nothing I could add to the conversation of Encanto as far as the quality goes. Two, we already have one of those, and three, my promise of musical celibacy has remained untouched. I don't have the time or the willingness. Diana the Musical has taken my hope, and neither Spielberg nor Disney can revive it. I have truly given up.

But, that does not mean I won't find a reason to talk a lot of s**t, so let's go.

The Oscars are approaching, March 27th has been set as the day of the broadcast, and given the fact that the Academy Awards have been cursed since 2016 La-La-Land envelope-gate, you can bet I will be watching in petty anticipation that something hilarious will happen. That is, of course, unless the network refuses to air it, a host doesn't turn out to be a homophobe, or another pandemic doesn't choke the Oscars out.

Man, Bonnie and Clyde have truly put a hex on the Academy.

But alas, Encanto has acquired a decent number of nominations, and we need to talk about it because the only topic I reiterate more than my burning hatred for bad movie musicals is dysfunctional families. You know, I'm somewhat of an expert on the subject. (Get it? Cause the Spider-Man reference, because I stopped watching - never mind).

I actively speak against it on social media and in real life. I give to NAMI, I wrote a whole book about it, and ... What was the other thing? Oh, right.

I lived it.

And let me just say that Disney's Encanto triggered my traumas big time. So, in another attempt to get the word out there, perhaps help some hapless individual who is not exactly sure whether their family's actions are abusive, let me break down a few points that Encanto got right (and wrong) – Get it? Cause of the title and ... Never mind - about how dysfunctional families dys-function.

This is in no way, shape, or form a psychological evaluation, it's an opinion piece, plus, I do like to lighten tough subjects with some dark humor, so take it with a grain of salt. The world is going to hell, might as well laugh on the way out. It's a real sign of the times when a dramatist has to write a disclaimer that everything you'll witness has been dramatized.

Anyway, number one:

RIGHT: SCAPEGOATING

Ancient civilizations believed that Gods would forgive their sins if they laid down a sacrifice. You know - a placeholder for all the mistakes, bad decisions, unspeakable actions, and sacrilegious behavior that they refuse to be held accountable for. Usually, they chose to offer a goat as their gift to deities. Hence, the term. Scapegoating is tied to generational trauma, a pattern of actions that explains a toxic mentality unable to be rewired. And trust me when I say, it is truly impossible to rewire it.

In the true fashion of dysfunctional families, they choose someone to blame for all the things that did, are, and will go wrong until the sun burns out of the freaking sky. People in dysfunctional families lack compassion because it has not been shown to them in any way that would matter to a human going through the developmental stages of their brain's frontal lobe – the part of the brain housing your personality.

Therefore, they feel unloved, unlovable, and this inner unhappiness and dissatisfaction lead to pointing a finger at someone who could take some of that pain off of their chest. How do they pick? Well, have you ever watched the X-Factor? It's not random at all. In fact, it follows a formula.

Most of the time, the scapegoat of the family is someone who doesn't fall into a category. Someone who deviates, branches out from the path in their head is categorized as "right" and "normal". Whatever the hell that means.

So when the first thing we learn about Bruno Madrigal is that he chose to leave, followed by a line "we don't talk about Bruno" and then demonizing him, saying how everything sucked when he was around, I was like: "Yeah no, he's definitely not the villain."

You won't fool me, Disney, I have years of up-close, personal investigation of toxic patterns behind my belt.

Encanto illustrates scapegoating really well by pointing out it doesn't follow the rules of logic. Bruno's prophecies are things anyone could have seen coming, gift or no gift. Goldfish are notoriously known for dying quickly, and if your mood controls the weather, then of course it's going to rain when you are nervous.

Add to the fact that Bruno is quite different from the rest of the family personality-wise, he is the obvious choice. "Family weirdos get a bad rap," as Mirabel put it. Extremely mildly, might I say.

The inconsistency of reasons why you're the bad guy in your family, will slowly but surely and very meticulously drive you mad. Because it doesn't make any sense. You can pile up a mountain of evidence that, in fact, no, you did not make your neighbor's hair fall out, your family will find a way to connect it back to you. Yes, you are in fact at fault for your aunt's terrier dying, because you weren't at the purchase and therefore did not warn her that chocolate kills dogs.

Get it? Me neither, next customer, please.

WRONG: FINGER SNAP, TOXICITY IS GONE

Or in the words of John Mulaney: "Boom, orange juice, that's life!"

Sorry to break your bubble, but there likely won't be a moment of self-reflection, of taking responsibility and apologies by the glistening river accompanied by an Oscar-nominated song softly sung in Spanish while butterflies are giving you a blessing for reconciliation.

It's going to be more like the bit from Mulaney´s stand-up referenced in the opening paragraph where he describes his father as being the kind of parent who throws freshly squeezed orange juice at your mouth right after you brush your teeth.

I know it sounds like I'm a bit cynical and pessimistic, and while you're reading this, you might be thinking - "Wow, there really is no hope for change."

And you would be right.

But not because people don't have the mental capacity to change. We figured out that Earth's round without any available technology at that time. How hard can a change be? Well, look at what's happening with flat-earthers, backpedaling on the progress we've made.

Falling back into familiar patterns is more comfortable, no matter how harmful and destructive they are. It is extremely hard to change, and, if you have lived some time on this elliptical Earth, you have probably noticed that abuse is incredibly convenient for an abuser.

Making you their punching bag, emotionally blackmailing you to make you stay around, taking advantage – suddenly, getting rid of all this sounds like a lot of hard work, doesn't it?”

WRONG: DEAD POETS SOCIETY

Usually, members of a dysfunctional family are not aware of their actions having such severe consequences on their children. Awareness is a direct consequence of self-awareness and people with toxic habits most often suffer from narcissism.

Narcissists do not feel empathy the way normal people do, they do not deem themselves guilty of anything, they do not admit their wrong-doings because, in their heads, there are none. That's what a scapegoat of the family is for. Therefore, the idea that everyone in the family is simply a victim and not a perpetrator is just a little too far-fetched.

And standing up to a leading family member, as we have seen Agustin, Felix, Julieta or Pepa do, is a complete fantasy. There may be quarrels and confrontations, but it never amounts to anything, and it is rarely in defense of a family scapegoat, in which this case, is Mirabel, who inherited the honor from her uncle Bruno.

I'm not saying that all members of a dysfunctional family are guilty by association, I'm saying it is extremely rare that they speak out. Because speaking out would mean they know what's going on and either directly adhering, or indirectly helping by being silent.

RIGHT: A FISH STINKS FROM THE HEAD

While in countries with a long history of democracy and fewer military conflicts, generational trauma is more of an occurrence of isolated incidents, in regions scared by oppressive regimes such as Eastern Europe, Hispanic and Latin dominions, and some African countries, dysfunctionality is more of a cultural implementation.

You may notice that children from these regions are highly likely to have low self-esteem compensated by big achievements, distorted self-image due to demands of perfectionism put on them, and a high tolerance for “accepting things as they are”, because “that's how it's always been done”.

Alas, while the younger family members cannot be excused for perpetuating the abuse, they are usually not at fault for originating it. In the cultures mentioned above, and I am sure many more, there is always a patriarch or a matriarch “running the show”, to borrow a lyric from the movie.

Someone who made sacrifices for the sake of survival that you now have to pay for your whole life to show gratitude for being alive, or financially prosperous or something. Trauma doesn't have a particularly good aim, it's always shot out of a cannon, randomly and unfairly landing on the head of an innocent passer-by. In Encanto, it was Abuela´s husband's death and civil war in Colombia that created and brought out her inner bully. It makes sense, habits are learned and passed down. And boy, is it hard to break them.

RIGHT: ALL IN THE NAME OF THE LORD

There is little we know about the pre-natal human state of mind, nature vs. nurture. But as I said, this is an opinion piece, and my opinion is that no one is born a monster and even the worst people have some good in them that's always tugging in the right direction.

The angel on the shoulder, if we were to get poetic, or a voice of consciousness. You can often see a range anywhere from small offenses to horrific atrocities committed in the name of something bigger. Something morally higher on the ladder than your dumb little unimportant personal well-being. In dysfunctional families, the reasons vary.

Sometimes the scapegoat gets a moral/physical whooping because the family is defending some other relative who in their eyes can do no wrong. It depends. So, in the name of “giving back”, the Madrigal children are sentenced to a lifetime of community service at the age of five. They know deep down that what they're doing is wrong, so more than excusing the behavior for the outside elements, the “greater good” mantra is to soothe, alleviate, or, I don't know, gag their consciousness with a gasoline rag.

Ain't that a convenient tool? The “greater good”, not the rag, I mean.

WRONG: BUT OTHER THAN THAT - WE GOOD

The family dynamic in Encanto in some instances was nailed, in others not as much. There obviously isn't enough screen time to develop all these colorful characters, but there are more than hints in place that suggest that they all get along pretty well, considering.

Especially relationships involving Mirabel. If, in fact, Mirabel is a scapegoat, then the bond she has with her parents and her cousins would nowhere be as wholesome. By design, whether artificial or genuine, there would be more resentment towards her, because according to their logic, she's the sole reason for everything going wrong.

And while Abuela and Isabella follow this logic, the rest of the family is vulnerable and mostly cordial to Mirabel. They would treat her the same way they treated Bruno, which the movie does nail. Due to the leader of the family abusing them, the relationships have to be way more all over the place than what we see in the movie. But I get it, this is a Disney movie. We can't deprive kids of all hope for the sake of realism. Let's just hope they won't stumble upon this article, then.

Well, we are at the end of the analysis, hurt by the reminders and offended by unfairness, but we need to be educated about these tendencies, so we can defend ourselves and pass down new, healthier habits to our children. Not that I will become a mother in the foreseeable future. I can barely take care of a pet rat.

Get it? Cause of the – Never mind.

Until next time, TTM-ers.

Zara Miller
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Zara Miller is a published author, writer and blogger. She is a graduate of Middlesex University London where she studied International Relations. Her debut YA novel I am Cecilia attracted the eye of prominent speaking conferences such as Career Grad Festival and Association of Writers and Writing Programs. She writes for The Teen Magazine where she handles culture and student sections and works for her publishing house as an author coach, guiding new talent towards publishing successfully.