An Encanto theory offers a brilliant explanation for how and why the members of the Madrigal family get their gifts. At the heart of Encanto there are three generations of the Madrigal family, and each member possesses a magical gift that, whether a blessing or a curse, is used to benefit the town where they live. At least, that is, until Mirabel Madrigal does not receive a magical gift and cracks begin to show in the walls of their magical Casita.
This magical miracle stems from a moment of tragedy in the life of the Madrigal family matriarch, Abuela Alma. In Encanto’s opening scene, Abuela explains to her granddaughter Mirabel the origin of the family’s magic. She recounts how she, her husband, Pedro, and their newborn triplets, Bruno, Julieta, and Pepa, fled from an uprising that some believe was Columbia’s Thousand Day War. This escape took a tragic turn when they were followed and attacked by armed men, who proceeded to kill Pedro. Alma explains that it was in this moment, that the miracle occurred, protecting her and her children by creating a magical candle, a town, and a peaceful home away from the rest of the world.
As an extension of this, each subsequent member of the Madrigal family except for Mirabel receives a magical gift when they are five years old. According to a theory (via Reddit), these gifts are self-actualized, and rather than being randomly ascribed they derive from the needs and desires of each family member. There certainly seems to be some plausibility to the idea that belief plays a part in the magic. For example, Luisa’s strength seems to fade at the same time as her doubts about the magic grow. Similarly, when Bruno is refusing to have any more visions, his magical door isn’t illuminated, but, after he has another vision to help Mirabel, the door lights up again. Added to this, the theory potentially draws out deeper meanings and connections between the family members.
How Mirabel’s Self-Doubt Delayed Her Gift
In Encanto, Mirabel’s lack of a gift has huge ramifications. The theory suggests that the reason for this is not down to luck or fate but caused by Mirabel’s feelings of unworthiness and awe for her magical family. She isn’t ready for the miracle at that time and so it does not happen. Encanto makes her feelings of inadequacy as obvious as her love and devotion to her family, while her unreadiness for her gift is even implied in the opening scene when she asks Abuela Alma “What do you think my gift will be?” This certainly suggests that she does not know what she wants or needs her gift to be in the same way the rest of Encanto‘s Madrigals do.
Of course, being five years old may affect this. After all, it is a lot to expect a child to know what magical gift they want, especially with the kind of pressure and expectation that comes from the family and townspeople. The movie certainly shows that her cousin Antonio feels that pressure and anxiety as he prepares to receive his gift. However, the difference is that he fears he will not receive the miracle and let the family down, as opposed to not knowing what he wants. That is why, once Mirabel assures him that he has nothing to worry about, he receives his magical gift like the rest of the family.
The theory also implies that Mirabel’s gift is simply revealed more gradually than to the other members of her family. Indeed, the lyrics to “Waiting On A Miracle” foreshadow much of what she will do and achieve by the end of Encanto. Specifically, she sings, “I would heal what’s broken. Show this family something new… I am ready,” and soon after this, she sees the cracks in Casita that represent her first steps toward healing the magic and the family.
Abuela Alma & Mirabel’s Gifts Were Created The Same Way
Mirabel’s actualization comes, just as it did for Abuela, from emotional trauma. After confronting Abuela about how her desire to maintain the magic is damaging the family members and the miracle they all rely upon, the Madrigal Casita comes crashing down and the magic dies. It is only once this happens that the healing can begin and a path forward for the family is created.
Even then, Mirabel’s first instinct is to blame herself and run away from this trauma. She ends up at the river where her grandfather was killed and where the miracle was created by Abuela in response to this emotional devastation. The story of the miracle’s creation is shared again, and Mirabel fully understands her grandmother’s desperate need to protect the people she loved. She says to Abuela Alma, “We were saved because of you, we were given a miracle because of you,” and she is right because the miracle was created by Abuela’s need to protect her children.
More importantly, this revelation also allows Encanto‘s Mirabel to understand her family needs a home again and that this is what she wants and needs to do for them. Just like her grandmother had done years earlier in their time of need, Mirabel Madrigal conjures her own miracle for the love and protection of her family. Her ability to do this, to rebuild the Casita, heal the family, and restore the magic is Mirabel’s true gift.
How Everyone Else Got Their Gifts In Encanto (& Why)
Mirabel and Abuela’s gifts are not the only ones that are self-actualized. The difference is that the magic of the other Madrigals doesn’t come directly from emotional trauma. Instead, it is more likely derived from their personal needs and desires that, even from an early age, match their personalities. For example, Mirabel’s oldest sister Luisa Madrigal’s gift of super-strength could be subtly indicative of the expectations that are often placed upon elder siblings. Certainly, the song “Surface Pressure” suggests this possibility with Luisa singing, “Give it to your sister, your sister’s older. Give her all the heavy things we can’t shoulder.” Indeed, the whole song might be understood as a claim that what is easy to handle, as a child, can eventually become a weight that is too heavy to bear into adulthood.
Most of the Madrigal family seem to be blessed or cursed in similar ways. Mirabel’s other sister Isabela can create beautiful, perfect flowers that match the beauty and perfection that is expected of her. Encanto shows that Isabela, the Madrigal’s golden child, really does love plants and flowers, so it is reasonable to believe that this was also true when she first received her gift. However, constantly creating only beautiful things would inevitably become stifling, so the resentment that Isabela feels is understandable.
Similarly, Bruno’s gift of being able to see visions of the future makes it possible to believe that his gift manifested because he was a boy who was always looking off into the future. At the same time, his sister Pepa may have had rather changeable moods as a child which manifested in her ability to control the weather according to how she felt. Both of them undoubtedly suffer the burden of these gifts into adulthood, but Julieta, the third of Abuela Alma and Abuelo Pedro’s three children, appears to be comfortable with her gift of curing illnesses and injuries with her cooking. This may have been because from a young age, she was a nurturer and protector who took pleasure in helping and healing people, and this never changed for her.
The Encanto Theory Isn’t Perfect
Naturally, there is a certain amount of conjecture involved in the idea that the Madrigal family’s gifts could be entirely self-actualized. As much as Antonio’s love for animals and then receiving the magical ability to talk to them fits well with the theory, Camilo’s shapeshifting ability is a little trickier to pin down. However, the movie certainly shows that Camilo is a fun-loving, mischievous character who may have enjoyed mimicking others when he was very young. Similarly, their sister Dolores’ magical hearing powers in Encanto could be assumed to mean that she was naturally inquisitive and possibly a gossipmonger as a child. Once again, this is probably implied when she overhears Mirabel telling her father, Agustin, that she has found Bruno’s vision, that the magic is dying, and it might be all her fault. Both of them immediately know that Dolores is going to tell everyone about it, suggesting that it is very much in character for her to spread this kind of gossip.
All in all, this theory only highlights the strength of Encanto’s storytelling. The layers of possible meaning that are hidden within the story and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Encanto soundstrack are what keep people rewatching. The possibilities the theory offers about the creation of the Madrigals’ magical gifts is also lovely. That both could come from within each member of the Encanto family is a joyous and powerful way of expressing how much of a gift anyone can be despite their feelings of inadequacy, and how healing is still possible even after times of devastation.
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