As Walt Disney Animation gears up to release its newest movie, Wish, I’m still thinking about Encanto. The movie was released theatrically in November 2021, but it really found its audience on Disney+ (much like the more recent streaming hit Elemental). Though it’s still fairly recent, it's become one of my most-watched Disney animated movies. I just can’t get enough of the Madrigal family. However, I do have one major issue when it comes to how Abuela Alma’s story is told.
While many Encanto fans are busy hoping the movie gets a sequel in the future, I’ve been busy analyzing how and why the creators decided to bring Abuela Alma’s origin story to life. Don’t get me wrong, it works in the movie's context, but it could have been so much better.
Abuela’s Origin Story Is Touching
When we first meet Abuela Alma at the beginning of the movie, we learn that she is the matriarch of the Madrigal family who puts her faith into a magical candle after it helps her and her triplets start a new life without her husband. It’s a quick opening montage that works to set up who she is and why she has faith in the candle.
However, after the brief introduction, we get thrust into the story by watching the Madrigals set up for Antonio’s gift reveal (not superpower) ceremony, while also learning that Maribel’s ceremony didn’t go according to plan. We then watch as Abuela Alma pushes Maribel aside to focus on Antonio, going as far as keeping her out of a family portrait session.
After that gut-wrenching scene, Abuela Alma becomes the antagonist in Maribel’s life. She doesn’t believe her when she warns them about the Casita falling apart, and she doesn’t seem to offer her the same care and love she gives the rest of the kids. It’s easy to hate her because we don’t really understand where she’s coming from.
It isn’t until the third act that we get an in-depth look at Abuela Alma’s origin story. After finding Mirabel at the river where Pedro, her husband, died, Abuela tells her the whole story. She explains that she puts so much faith into the candle and preserving the magic because it's the only thing that kept her going after the tragic loss.
For the first time, we see just how bad things were to make them flee. In fact, it wasn’t Pedro’s sacrifice that stopped the guards from coming after them, but the magical flame of the candle that saved Alma and all the villagers. She then becomes the one everyone turns to despite being a young mother who has just lost her husband. And while this story makes me so emotional, and I had a new found respect for Abuela after hearing it, this reveal comes very late in the movie.
Abuela's Backstory Is Revealed Way Too Late Into The Movie
After watching the scene, I instantly felt bad for thinking Abuela Alma was the villain of Maribel’s story. It’s not like she purposely set out to hurt her. She was just terrified about losing the magic that saved her life. Abuela Alma’s tragic backstory is no excuse for the way she treated Mirabel, but it does put some things into perspective.
Had the writing team behind Encanto chosen to give us the whole story up front, I probably would never have had such harsh feelings about Abuela Alma. The entire narrative would have changed from that point on but for the better. I definitely wouldn’t have spent so much time rolling my eyes at her, and instead, I would have felt a level of empathetic frustration toward her character.
Besides, it’s not like Abuela Alma was ever really a Disney villain. She always had pure intentions. If anything, she was merely an antagonist in Mirabel’s life, which is not the same as a villain.
Regardless of how Abuela Alma’s origin story is told, Encanto is still a heartwarming movie that always manages to make me cry. Those with a Disney+ subscription can rewatch the magical Madrigal family's story now, and don’t forget to keep checking back for any and all updates regarding upcoming Disney movies like Wish.