The Enneagram in Disney’s Encanto: Isabela Madrigal
These days it seems that everyone is talking about Disney’s newest film, Encanto, and all its wonderful characters (except for poor Bruno of course, since we don’t talk about Bruno…). However, the one character that few seem to have much to say about is Mirabel’s oldest sister, Isabela. The only time I really ever see her mentioned is for being a bully to her little sister — and let’s face it, she kind of is. I mean, that face when she tells Mirabel to apologize? Just chilling…
In truth, the first time watching Encanto, I didn’t think much of her either — except that she reminded me of my own older sister when I was growing up, which didn’t help my opinion of Isabela (by the way, I adore my older sister now of course 😉).
Isabela Madrigal is the “perfect golden child”, as Mirabel informs viewers early on while she sings the first song of the film, “The Family Madrigal”. Isabela’s magical gift is that she is basically perfect, graceful, and can produce beautiful flowers instantaneously. Everyone in the village adores Isabela — well, everyone that is except for Mirabel.
In terms of the Enneagram types, I’ve mostly seen Isabela categorized as an Enneagram Type 1 (the Reformer, or the Perfectionist) due to her need to be perfect. This perhaps makes sense for the first half of the movie, as Isabela exhibits many Type 1 qualities such as self-control, purpose, and perfectionism. I’ve also seen a few articles typing her as an Enneagram Type 3 (the Achiever or the Performer) due to her need to be the best and be everyone’s favorite.
These could fit, but remember that like many of the Madrigal family members, Isabela isn’t actually acting like her true, authentic self; instead she is under constant stress as she is trying to always being perfect so that she could represent the Madrigals well and live up to her Abuela’s controlling expectations.
The Enneagram Type 4 (the Individualist or the Creative) is sensitive, expressive, dramatic, self-absorbed, and temperamental — after watching the entirety of Encanto, doesn’t that sound exactly like Isabela?!
Hear me out:
When Mirabel goes to apologize to Isabela for ruining Mariano’s marriage proposal, Isabela retorts, “Everything was perfect. Abuela was happy. The family was happy.” Here we see that “perfect” for Isabela means making Abuela and the family happy (not unlike Luisa, who desperately wants to stay strong enough to help the family as well, which we learn in her song, “Surface Pressure”). Turns out, Isabela didn’t even want to marry Mariano; she was only doing it to make Abuela happy (foreshadowed during her engagement dinner when her powers start going haywire and one of her plants springs up and punches Mariano in the nose). Even though she works hard to be perfect, turns out that Isabela isn’t an Enneagram Type 1 or a Type 3, since she doesn’t actually want to be perfect, she’s only doing it because of the pressure she feels from her family.
Now, all those Enneagram nuts are going to argue that Type 4’s move to acting like a Type 2 when they’re stressed, not a perfectionist Type 1, right? True, but Type 2 — “the Giver” or “the Helper” — can exhibit in many different ways. Notice that Isabela is trying to help the family: everything she’s doing is “for the family”. She constantly submits herself to Abuela’s perfect vision, regardless of what she actually wants for herself: she’s trying to be perfect for the family; she’s marrying Mariano, for the family. Isabela believes that the best way for her to “help” and “give” to her Abuela and her family is to be perfect (which makes sense, since this is precisely the message Abuela has been teaching her since the beginning).
And can you blame her? Living under Abuela’s thumb all those years — having to live up to being the favorite grandchild — couldn’t have been easy. A simple but poignant example can be seen during breakfast when Isabela suddenly grows a bunch of flowers all over her hair: all purple, except for a single white blossom, which Abuela immediately removes (since it was apparently out of place amongst the other purple ones).
Back to Mirabel’s apology and Isabela’s confession: when Isabela finally expresses her true emotions, her gift suddenly produces a chubby, lopsided cactus — not a rose, not something considered “beautiful” or “perfect”.
Think about it; if Isabela was a true Type 1 or a Type 3 on the Enneagram, we would expect her to be disgusted or shamed by her creation, since a spiky fat cactus isn’t exactly “pretty” or “graceful” or something to show off for achieving (not to mention it was created by a less-than-perfect emotional outburst). But since Isabela is a Type 4, she is utterly fascinated by her new creation. As she intently stares at her new little plant, Isabela begins to sing:
“I just made something unexpected.
Something sharp, something new
It’s not symmetrical or perfect
But it’s beautiful, and it’s mine
What else can I do?”
Definitely not how a Type 1 or a Type 3 would respond! It’s not symmetrical or perfect — it’s nothing to brag about, it’s not some awesome achievement that would make her Abuela proud (in fact, Abuela is pretty upset about the whole thing when she finds out later). But Isabela calls it beautiful, merely because she made it (“it’s mine”), and then she gets excited, realizing that if she made this cactus, maybe there’s a lot more she could do with her gift — that maybe she doesn’t need to be perfect or make perfect things or always make everyone else happy:
“What could I do if I just grew what I was feeling in the moment?
What could I do if I just knew it didn’t need to be perfect?
It just needed to be? And they’d let me be?”
In other words, what if she could just be herself, feeling and expressing her emotions and allowing them to just be (much like she wishes others would just “let me be”).
She goes on to create many, many different plants, exploring a newfound side to her magical gift, and even makes a meat-eating plant:
“Careful, it’s carnivorous, a little just won’t do.”
So, she’s made something dangerous, and maybe she goes a little overboard — right up the alley of a Type 4, who often can appreciate all aspects of life, even the negative and terrifying.
“I wanna feel the shiver of something new
I’m so sick of pretty, I want something true, don’t you?”
This last line is what fully convinces me that Isabela is an Enneagram Type 4 — she’s done with having so much self-control and being perfect, she just wants something true — to be authentic, one of the most important needs of a Type 4.
“What can you do when you are deeply, madly, truly in the moment?
What can you do when you know who you wanna be isn’t perfect?
But I’ll still be okay.”
By this point in the song, she and Mirabel have exploded up onto the roof of Casita and are making a gigantic, colorful mess as Isabela runs around growing plants of all shapes and sizes while kicking up exploding clouds of color. By the time Abuela makes it back to Casita to chastise them, Isabela is a total hot mess, her hair and dress stained by splatters of random and chaotic color — and for the first time, Isabela looks genuinely happy — a true Type 4.
Yes, Isabela is a horrible bully to her sister, and yes, her journey is rather reminiscent of many other Disney stars (controlled by some authority figure, finally able to escape and express their true self), but I just love how the filmmakers didn’t leave her character too flat (and let’s be honest, there’s a reason Disney keeps going the route of “being true to yourself” — it’s a common struggle for so many of us!). Instead, we see that there is an entirely new and multi-dimensional personality hiding behind all that perfectionism and control, just waiting to be expressed — imperfect and beautiful.