Encanto: Forgiving Toxic Family Members [SPOILERS]
For the last couple of years, Disney animated movies have been moving away from romantic love to focus on familial love. In some ways, it appears to be an overcorrection to make the films have a broader appeal [maybe something about men not liking romance, who knows]. This isn't a bad thing, and we had some really good movies with complex sibling dynamics in Frozen or living up to your family legacy in Moana. Encanto is taking this a step further where the dynamics are the entire movie. There isn't really a bad guy at all; by the time the credits roll, we have a happy ending because, of course, we do; this is a Disney movie. However, there are some parts of the dynamics in Encanto, and to a lesser extent Ghostbusters: Afterlife, about forgiving family members that have been terrible to you in the past. To get into that, we're going to need to talk about SPOILERS for both movies, so if you don't want to know how either of these movies end, time to click away from this article.
If you can really call it one, the antagonist in Encanto is the magic in the house and the magic that gives all of Mirabel's family members their powers. Mirabel didn't get a gift, and her family hasn't really treated her the same way since. Most of them are pretty nice about it, with the exception of her grandmother, Abuela Alma. She isn't cruel, but she goes out of her way to say that her cousin's powers must happen because Mirabel's ceremony went so poorly. When Felix asks Mirabel to walk with him, Alma looks like she wants to tell Mirabel not to. Mirabel didn't get a gift, but the way Alma speaks about it, it makes it seem like Mirabel did something wrong. She was small when these ceremonies took place, a child, and she didn't do anything wrong. As the movie goes on and the magic begins to fade. Alma lashes out more and more until it is said that the way she is treating Mirabel is the reason the magic is fading.
Then there is Bruno. Bruno is one of Alma's triplets, and he gained the power of being able to see the future. However, everyone saw his visions as curses, and it got so bad that Bruno vanished one day. We find out that Bruno didn't actually leave at all; he saw himself as a burden to his family and has been living between the walls and in crawl spaces ever since. His family treated him terribly because they didn't like the outcome of his visions. The catchiest song in the movie is "We Don't Talk About Bruno" because no one even wants to talk about him, and Bruno knows it because he is seeing it all through the cracks in the walls.
By the end of the movie, the magic fails, and the house falls apart. Mirabel blames herself and runs away. Alma goes to find her and apologizes for the way she has treated Mirabel, and everything is apparently fine. Bruno also returns to the family, and they all just bring him back like everything is fine. Mirabel is the one to open the door to their rebuilt home, which restores the magic, and the movie ends with everyone happy.
I got to take part in an early press day for Encanto back in September, and when Disney asked for my feedback, my response to the 35 minutes of footage I saw was, "was I supposed to hate the grandma?" The way that Alma treats Mirabel is likely going to trigger a lot of people who ever felt like black sheep in their families. Or if there was ever a parent, grandparent, or someone who would subtly make you feel lesser or like it was your fault when something went wrong. Alma is not outwardly abusive to Mirabel, but she is cruel in a very passive-aggressive way. By the time the movie ends, Mirabel just forgives her because she's family, and that's what you do with family; you forgive them.
Only that isn't the case. If your family treats you terribly, you have every right not to forgive them. If your parents or siblings or anyone has hurt you, you are not under any obligation to forgive them for their transgressions because they are family. The message that Encanto is trying to say is that everyone is special ["Mirabel was the miracle all along"] is nice, but why does it come at the cost of the people who treated her badly not getting any sort of comeuppance. Alma apologizes, and it doesn't matter that she has made Mirabel feel lesser for the last ten years. Everything is fine now, forgiveness given, but the message that you need to forgive family for being toxic because they are family is not a good one.
To a lesser extent, the same could be said about the end of Ghostbusters: Afterlife. By the end of the movie, we see Egon's ghost, and we find out that he abandoned everyone for a very good reason. Callie hugs the ghost of her dad, and he fades into dust. The implication is that she has forgiven him for abandoning her, and that is why he was able to pass on. However, having a good reason for doing something terrible doesn't negate the fact that something terrible was done. Egon didn't abandon his family but still sent checks so they could get by or make sure that they were taken care of. He may have watched Callie's life from afar, but he didn't interact, and he didn't try to help her when she was struggling. Egon had a good reason for leaving, but the implication is that Callie should forgive him because he had a good reason to do so.
If studios are going to continue to explore complex family dynamics, there needs to be some sort of conversation about the fact that you don't need to forgive toxic family members just because they are family. The amount of mileage you're going to get out of Encanto is going to vary depending on how earned you feel the forgiveness for Alma is. Do we expect the exploration of complex family dynamics in a Disney movie? Maybe not entirely, but it is important that we aren't telling kids that they have to forgive the people that hurt them just because they are family, either.