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No Pressure: exploring Luisa Madrigal's (Encanto) unique character representations

Give it to your sister, your sister's stronger

See if she can hang on a little longer

Who am I if I can't carry it all?

- Surface Pressure, Encanto

Encanto (2021) follows the story of the Madrigals, a Colombian family miraculously gifted with magical powers to help sustain their community. The story develops as Mirabel – the only member without any special power – finds out that her family may be losing theirs’. The film received critical acclaim and many accolades, including an Oscar, for its complex and emotional depth in terms of family as well as cultural representation.

Amidst a veritable group of diverse characters, Luisa Madrigal, Mirabel's elder sister, stands out. Gifted with physical strength, Luisa can be seen strutting about town with her muscular build. She has a strong jaw, a sheen of hair prominent on her neck and arms, and a heart of gold. She is remarkable.

Considered the “rock” of not only her family but the town as well, she takes her responsibilities seriously and is quite self-less. She does all the heavy-lifting (literally): carrying donkeys, people, barrels, and even buildings and houses. But that is only the beginning of the weight that she carries: she feels immense emotional pressure to fulfill her chores and tasks, to meet absurd familial expectations that stem from her Abuela’s insistence on perfection as well as her role as an older sister. “I'm pretty sure I'm worthless if I can't be of service”, she sings in the song “Surface Pressure”, relaying to Mirabel all of her fears in a rare moment of weakness.

The representation that Luisa brings forth is unmatched: she is a character never seen before in Disney. Her physical features are a testament against the stereotypical idea of femininity portrayed be, especially as she flexes her muscles in a beautiful, flowy purple dress. Body representation aside, she portrays perfectly what it means to be an elder sibling: to maintain some level of disguise in the face of pressure – from one’s family or society in general – to stay strong in the face of hardship, so that the younger siblings don’t have to.

The movie showcases her development as a character, where she is encouraged to share some of the weight with her family, and is comforted by her sisters when she confesses that she cries sometimes because (of course!) everyone does. She fights internal battles to maintain this disguise because, in reality, she is soft and vulnerable to the core, which makes her character all the more real, complex, and very, very relatable.

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