Warning: this article contains spoilers for Disney’s Encanto
Disney’s Encanto tells the story of the Madrigal family – a rural Columbian family bestowed with magical gifts passed down over generations. The gift started with a magical candle which presented itself at a time of intense need to the family’s matriarch – Abuela Alma. Since then, almost every member of the family (which now extends down to grandchildren) received a unique magical gift at the time of their fifth birthday. The film’s primary character – Mirabel Madrigal – is the only family member who did not receive a magical gift. As the story develops, Mirabel and the rest of the family discover that she does indeed have an amazing gift. It may not be magic, but it saved the family from crumbling at its foundation.
In the months leading up to Encanto’s release, expectations were high for the film’s soundtrack, penned by the white-hot Lin-Manuel Miranda. With the heavy-hitting songwriting successes of Hamilton and Moana, as well as a charming performance in Mary Poppins Returns, Miranda’s recent track record with Disney set the stage for big things to come. Encanto offers Miranda’s successful variety of hip, catchy tunes that take a couple of listens to fully comprehend and appreciate.
One song, in particular, has captured the ear of the nation. “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” is a work of art that starts in slow and continues to grow, blossoming from just a couple of character comments to a full-blown town-wide diatribe. The Billboard top-five hit discusses the double-edged gift of the family’s stereotypical “black sheep” – Mirabel’s long gone tío (Uncle) Bruno. Let’s have a talk about Bruno, and see if we can get to the bottom of this misunderstood and unjustly vilified family member.
The Magical Gifts
Before we dive into Bruno’s gift (or should we call it a curse?), let’s briefly look at the gifts belonging to Mirabel’s other family members.
Mirabel’s Immediate Family
Mirabel’s mother Julieta can heal people with her cooking. She uses this ability to keep her family (and her town) healthy to the best of her ability. Her oldest sister Isabela was gifted with great beauty, as evidenced by her ability to conjure beautiful flower bouquets at will. Her other sister Luisa possesses great physical strength. Her services are constantly requested to help the citizens of this rural Columbian farming town perform physically burdensome tasks.
Mirabel’s Extended Family
Tía (aunt) Pepa bears a mixed blessing with the ability to control the weather. This talent can become a liability when she cannot control her emotions. Cousin Delores’s superhuman hearing means she knows a great deal of the goings-on around town. This excess of information also makes it hard for her to keep every secret safe. Cousin Camilo can shapeshift into any person he wishes, usually for comedic effect. He spends so much time imitating others, but does he know who he truly is? Cousin Antonio is the youngest in the Madrigal family and the only one younger than Mirabel. His newly bestowed gift allows him to communicate with animals.
And that brings us to Bruno.
Mirabel’s blackballed uncle was bestowed with the ability to see the future. In theory, seeing the future seems like an amazing gift. Imagine knowing the eventual score of a major sports event, to place a successful bet? Or perhaps being alerted to a potentially life-threatening health condition, and being able to act accordingly to change that fate? The power and confidence inherent in this ability just ooze with potential. But look a little further – search your feelings – and we may find that knowing the future is not as wonderful as we think it may be.
What They Say About Bruno
“He told me my fish would die, the next day, dead…
He told me I'd grow a gut and just like he said…
He said that all my hair would disappear
Now, look at my head…
Your fate is sealed when your prophecy is read”
These three accounts were delivered rapid-fire by non-magical townspeople. No special talents, just basic human abilities. “Your fate is sealed when your prophecy is read.” No ability to influence the future, regardless of what you try. How’s that for an unappealing prognostication?
“Bruno says, ‘It looks like rain’…
In doing so, he floods my brain
Abuela, get the umbrellas
Married in a hurricane”
This story was recounted by Bruno’s sister (Mirabel’s aunt) Pepa. She’s the one who controls the weather with her emotions. Upon being told by Bruno that rain would arrive on her wedding day, Pepa found herself unable to control her emotions. Her constant anxiety created the exact bout of foul weather Bruno warned her would arrive. Earlier in her tale, she stated that “Bruno walks in with a mischievous grin.” Did Bruno tease Pepa by giving her news he knew would upset her? Bruno’s reputation of predicting a grim future allowed his words to live inside Pepa’s head, psyching her out to a point where she couldn’t control her emotions. That is a frightful sort of influence that nobody wants to live beneath.
“He told me that the man of my dreams
Would be just out of reach
Betrothed to another”
Cousin Delores (the one who can hear everything) was informed by Bruno that she would not be together with the man of her dreams. Being told that hopeless fortune would certainly make it hard to keep a positive attitude about romance. So why bother trying? For all of Delores’s beauty and talent, she proceeded to live a quiet and bashful life. That’s what knowing the future can do to one’s perseverance.
“A seven-foot frame, rats along his back
When he calls your name it all fades to black
Yeah, he sees your dreams and feasts on your screams”
The legend of Bruno has progressed far beyond that which existed while Bruno was still in the family. Over the ten years since he fled the house, the accounts of his appearance, his personality, and his intentions have all amplified to premium villain status. All this while Bruno is no longer around to explain (or defend) himself.
Not a Blessing, But a Curse
The magical gift bestowed upon Bruno was immense. But at the same time, the prophecy of the future creates divisive and powerful reactions. A future of imminent riches can create a lazy and uninspired recipient. A bleak and hopeless future can cause one to become defeated and paranoid.
In both cases, Bruno’s visions are largely regarded as threatening by other members of the family. His positive prophecies inadvertently bestow a sense of insecurity on the part of some (Isabela). His negative prophecies instill a feeling of paranoia or dread in others (Pepa, Delores, the guy in town who eventually went bald).
This is the world in which Bruno dwelled – a situation where he received very little credit for the successes of some yet bore the weight of the shortcomings of others.
Don’t Blame It All On Bruno
It’s not Bruno’s fault that his gift was so divisive (well, with the exception of when he used his gift to tease his sister Pepa and make her paranoid). Bruno’s blessing – his curse – placed him in a no-win situation. This was especially true with his vision of Mirabel, which would have put her at odds with the family. So what did Bruno do? Instead of sharing his vision with the family, he broke the tile on which the vision appeared and hid the pieces. Then he fled from the family to protect Mirabel while concealing himself within the walls of the house (to still feel a sense of closeness with his family). There he lived for a decade, keeping a burdensome secret and missing his family – all to protect his cousin and the emotions of everyone. Bruno’s sacrifice is of a magnitude matched by very few.
It was only when Mirabel sought her uncle out to explain her own prophecy, that she was able to use the previously untold balance of his prophecy to bring the family together. In doing so, Mirabel helped the entire family to understand Bruno’s gifts as well as their own. Most importantly, she was able to help her Abuela see that there is so much more to her family members than their magical gifts. Only armed with this realization could Abuela and the Madrigal family repair the damage brought about by Bruno’s most troubling prophecy.
Welcome Back Bruno
On the surface, Encanto follows the story of Mirabel, the unlucky cousin who drew the non-magical short straw in a magic-filled family. Dig a little deeper, and we see a larger story where Abuela finds a new appreciation for her family. But the greatest gift of this film may be the salvation of Bruno. The family’s misfit, whose blessing worked more like a curse, is found, returned, and welcomed back with open arms.
Encanto plucked all the right heartstrings, and in doing so, encouraged a little more empathy in all of us. Thank you Disney, and welcome back Bruno.