As moviegoers rave about Disney’s latest animated masterpiece Encanto, few people actually realize it is a highly nuanced film filled with a darker context.
The story takes place in the Casita (literally “Little House”), the household of the Madrigal family, whose members are all “gifted”—one can enchant objects to move on their own, one has super strength, one is a shapeshifter, one can command animals, and one can manipulate the growth of plants and vegetation. Everyone has special abilities, except Mirabel.
But beyond being the setting of the film, Casita takes on a personality of its own, becoming another character in its own right. The Madrigal family even talks to it as if it were alive.
In an enlightening piece published on New Year’s Eve, Courtney Mason of ScreenRant relates the Madrigal house to Walt Disney’s own home.
“Encanto's emphasis on Casita could link to a tragedy that befell the Disney family,” writes Mason.
According to the the Walt Disney biography How to Be Like Walt: Capturing the Disney Magic Every Day of Your Life, Walt and his brother Roy bought a house in Los Angeles for their parents in 1937. About a year after moving in, their mother called Walt to complain about a gas leak in the furnace. Walt sent studio people to have it repaired, but they apparently did not do a very good job.
“'The housekeeper came in the next morning and pulled his mother and father out on the front lawn. His father was sick and went to the hospital, but his mother died. He never would talk about it, nobody ever does. He never spoke about that time because he personally felt responsible because he had become so successful that he said, 'Let me buy you a house.' It's every kid's dream to buy their parents a house and just through a strange freak of nature — though no fault of his own — the studio workers didn't know what they were doing.'”
It is a well-known fact that Disney’s earlier classics were devoid of mother figures. Allegedly, Walt found the death of his mother so tragic that he couldn’t bear to talk about it or even depict mothers in his early classics, which is why moms in Disney movies always died.
This trend continued decades after Walt Disney’s death. Mothers in the following classics were either nonexistent or tragically died: Bambi, Cinderella, Peter Pan, The Jungle Book, The Fox and the Hound, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and more.
“Casita's reliability and safety for the Madrigal's stands in stark contrast to the Disney tragedy,” writes Mason.
One of Encanto’s main characters also establishes a strong mother character, a stark contrast to the Disney tradition of motherless movies: “Alma desperately attempts to uphold her status as a strong matriarch and takes on the responsibility of trying to keep everything together, to the detriment of the family, although Encanto's ending sees her rectify this,” writes Mason.
Eternal remorse and guilt ate up Walt, and somehow, Encanto is a love letter to Walt—if anything, forgives him for the guilt he carried for the rest of his life, and makes up for all the motherless Disney classics that guilt had caused.
*This story originally appeared on Esquiremag.ph. Minor edits have been made by the Preview.ph editors.