As an older sister, ‘Encanto’ felt like a love letter

The Disney film beautifully navigates family dynamics, culture, and destiny 

The new Disney movie made me feel seen.
Photo: 

When I watched Disney’s Encanto, I felt like the movie was designed for me. 

The film follows the Madrigal family, who live in their enchanted “casita” in a lush Colombian village. Every Madrigal child has been granted a gift from a miraculous candle that blessed Alma Madrigal—the matriarch of the family—upon losing her husband, Pedro. 

Every child except the movie’s heroine, Mirabel. 

The beauty of Encanto is it’s so unapologetically Lin Manuel Miranda. His genius brings each character’s stories to life, and the moments where storylines intersect are magical.

In addition to songs that will get stuck in your head for days on end, the film also highlights the complex realities of the side characters. 

In their own way, each of them is suffocated by their powers and Abuela’s expectations.  

Luisa, the eldest sister, is blessed with super strength. She’s incredibly muscular and traditionally feminine—physically powerful with a selfless interiority. Not only is she breaking down gender binaries by simply existing, but her song, “Surface Pressure,” has become an anthem for older siblings. 

The song is visually stunning, but the lyrics resonated more deeply than I ever could have expected from a Disney movie. Luisa sings, “Give it to your sister, your sister's older/ Give her all the heavy things we can't shoulder.” 

“Surface Pressure” highlights the pressure naturally placed on the eldest sibling in almost every family, especially immigrant families, to handle the weight of expected excellence, family burdens, and leadership. 

Luisa’s exterior strength coupled with her internal pain teaches a powerful lesson—even the strongest of us can crumble because of emotional expectations. 

Isabela, the golden child of the family, also has a powerful transformation. I first saw this movie  with my childhood best friend, who pointed to Isabela on the screen and said, “that’s you.” 

I immediately shut her down, rolling my eyes at Isabela’s perfect exterior and air of superiority. However, as the film progressed, I realized how much of my self-worth is tied to my attractiveness, and how much time I spend trying to be “perfect.” 

Though Isabela is a hyperbolic representation of the golden child syndrome, I saw myself in her—and I recognized her struggle as my own. 

In her song, “What Else Can I Do,” Isabela ties her attempts at perfection to her familial inheritance. As she begins to explore her passion, anger, and rebellion she asks, “How far do these roots go down?”

On its surface, Isabela’s solo is reminiscent of the Disney hit “Let it Go.” The heroine breaks free from expectations and searches for something real, rather than something pretty. 

However, Encanto’s version is backed by Colombian rhythm and sprinkles in the idea of generational trauma and family history—which is what makes it so meaningful.  

Though “Surface Pressure” and “What Else Can I Do” have my heart, the aspect of the film that broke me was the ending. Abuela realizes her shortcoming has been prioritizing her family’s gifts, rather than their complex identities. 

In “All of You,” the Madrigal family sings, “The miracle is not some magic that you've got /The miracle is you, not some gift, just you.” 

My entire existence has been linked to my “gifts,” from writing and advocacy to my perceived beauty. I spend so much time performing and perfecting that I forget to untangle the core of who I am from what I give to the world. The pressure to capitalize on my hobbies, hustle, and become “that girl” doesn’t help my warped sense of self-worth.

Abuela’s acceptance of her family for who they are, rather than what their gifts are, was profound. I felt like she was speaking to me—like she was accepting me, Alysha, for the flawed and imperfect individual I am. 

After watching Encanto, I felt like I could be loved for my complexity, rather than my metaphorical “powers.” 

Encanto is a love letter in so many ways—transcending generational and cultural boundaries to highlight the magic within each of us. It’s a must-watch for older siblings everywhere, and it will undoubtedly make you feel seen.

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