Victoria Pedraza | 10/12/2023
In the vibrant world of Disney's Encanto, the Madrigal family takes center stage, and within this family, we encounter a remarkable group of strong and diverse female characters known as the Madrigal Sisters. This blog post delves into the depths of their unique strengths, their ability to break stereotypes and the empowering messages they convey to girls and women. Furthermore, we emphasize the significance of representation, particularly for Latina girls and women, in the context of contemporary media.
The Madrigal Sisters as Strong Female Characters
At the heart of Encanto are the Madrigal Sisters, each possessing distinct strengths and abilities. The really great thing (for me) about the Madrigal sisters is, more than anything else, their flaws and vulnerabilities. It’s because of those traits that the three sisters go from being three more members of the family to being some of the more interesting characters instead. There’s so much about them that resonates, from the roles they play within the family to their thoughts and feelings about that role. Even their physical characteristics and how they are portrayed are a departure for Disney and a pretty good one at that.
First, there’s Isabella, the eldest and the perfect sister. She serves as a stark contrast to Mirabel, our protagonist. She’s easily the character that most embodies that Disney princess archetype. She’s willowy, beautiful, with long hair and very large eyes, basically the physical description of every Disney princess, except for her skin color. Now, she’s not the first (and hopefully not the last) Disney character with dark skin, off the top of my head we have Tiana and Pocahontas, but it’s still a rare enough occurrence that it deserves a mention.
Her strength as a character comes through when she learns that she doesn’t always have to be perfect. After years of growing roses and flor de mayo (which, fun fact, are native to Mexico, Central America, Venezuela, and Colombia) she grows a cactus. To quote Isabella, “It’s not symmetrical or perfect but it’s beautiful”. Suddenly the sky is the limit. It’s embracing imperfection that Isabella finds that life is a lot more interesting when we allow ourselves room to explore, fail, and ultimately, grow.
The second sister is Luisa. Personally, I absolutely love Luisa’s look. Funny story, Disney actually argued against the brawny, muscly look. They wanted her to look more like a typical animated female character. Animators had to fight executives to keep the character design. The kicker? Luisa's dolls actually sold better than Isabella's dolls with little girls everywhere demanding more Luisa merch. Apparently, it’s less important what the character looks like vs. the substance it has, and people find Luisa’s struggle with anxiety due to her family’s unrelenting pressure relatable, which is alarming in its own way.
Luisa is used to being of service to people, it’s a part of her duties as part of La Familia Madrigal, and her gift of strength means that people don’t hesitate to ask her to handle things, after all, she’s the strong one. “Under the surface, I'm pretty sure I'm worthless if I can't be of service”. Her growth comes from learning that she doesn’t always have to be the strong one. That the weight of the world shouldn’t be on her shoulders.
Then there’s Mirabel, the one without a traditional "gift”. Mirabel’s internal struggle comes from not knowing her worth within her gifted family. “I would move the mountains. Make new trees and flowers grow. Someone please just let me know, where do I go? I am waiting on a miracle, a miracle.” Her strength comes from her deeply held love and devotion to her family. She can’t do what they can, but she won’t hesitate to volunteer herself to save the family, even if she’s not exactly sure how to do that. In the process she learns that her sisters don’t have perfect lives either, they each have their struggles.
At the core of all three of the sisters’ struggles, there's Abuela Madrigal. She’s the one who pushes Isabella to be perfect and marry for the sake of her family, she pressures Luisa
One of the most compelling aspects of the Madrigal Sisters is how they break free from conventional gender roles and stereotypes. Historically, gender roles have often confined women to specific expectations and behaviors, but the Madrigal Sisters challenge this norm. Isabela's strength is not only in her nurturing nature but also in her ability to make the choices that best work for her. Luisa demonstrates that physical strength and resilience are not limited to masculinity, shattering stereotypes surrounding the perception of a woman's physical capabilities. Mirabel, despite not having a "gift," showcases that resilience and resourcefulness are equally admirable and impactful traits in defining a person's character.
Empowering Messages for Girls and Women
The Madrigal Sisters convey empowering messages that resonate with girls and women alike. Their stories emphasize the importance of embracing one's unique strengths, even when they don't align with societal expectations. Mirabel, especially, stands as a symbol of perseverance, reminding us that our worth isn't defined by external validation or conformity to a predetermined mold. The message that family unity and love triumph over challenges further empowers women, highlighting the strength found in support and unity.
Exploring the Interwoven Bonds: The Madrigal Sisters' Relationship
The heart and soul of Encanto lie within the intricate relationships that the Madrigal Sisters share. The film beautifully portrays the nuanced dynamics among these sisters, showcasing their unconditional love, support, and reliance on one another. I’ve said it in other posts. I have two sisters of my own. And there’s something to be said for having someone who you would do anything for, but also, they had better not touch your stuff. Each sister brings a unique flavor to the familial tapestry, making the Madrigal household a true haven of love and togetherness.
Isabela, as the eldest sister, is expected to be perfect. She has a complicated relationship with Mirabel. Maybe because she feels that Mirabel doesn’t have all that pressure. Funnily enough, Mirabel would do anything to have a gift like her sisters’. But the grass is always greener on the other side.
Luisa, with her extraordinary strength, is the pillar of support for her sisters and the entire family. Her immense physical strength is a metaphor for the emotional strength she offers to her sisters. Luisa is always there to lift them up, both literally and metaphorically, showcasing how siblings can bolster one another during challenging times.
Mirabel, the central character of the story, forms the emotional core of the Madrigal family. Despite not having a traditional "gift," she is the glue that holds the family together. Her love is unconditional, her empathy boundless, and her resilience unwavering. Mirabel embodies the idea that the strength of a family is not just in its gifts but in the love and support shared among its members.
The Madrigal Sisters' relationships blend love, sacrifice, understanding, and shared dreams. They lean on each other during difficult times, celebrate each other's successes, and provide comfort in moments of despair. The sisters complement and balance one another, showcasing that true strength is found in unity, love, and understanding.
In a broader context, this portrayal of sibling relationships challenges traditional narratives, often driven by rivalry and conflict. Encanto gives audiences a refreshing take on sisterhood, emphasizing unity and love, thereby promoting a positive and uplifting depiction of sibling bonds that resonates deeply with audiences.
The Journey of Self-Discovery and Empowerment
Mirabel’s journey of self-discovery in Encanto is a beacon of empowerment for young girls. Her narrative underlines the importance of embracing oneself, imperfections and all, and believing in one's abilities even when they don't fit into societal expectations. Mirabel’s determination, resilience, and love for her family empower girls to embrace their uniqueness and trust in their capabilities, offering a vital lesson on self-empowerment.
The Madrigal Sisters from Encanto are not only strong female characters but also embodiments of empowerment and diversity. Through their portrayal, they challenge stereotypes, convey empowering messages, and provide essential representation for Latina girls and women. Their story serves as a reminder of the importance of diverse representation in media, illustrating the transformative impact it can have on shaping societal perceptions and fostering a more inclusive world. The Madrigal Sisters inspire us to celebrate our uniqueness, stand against stereotypes, and embrace the power of unity and love.