“We don’t talk about Bruno” the Madrigal family sing in Disney’s new film, Encanto. But online autistic communities seem to be talking about nothing but Bruno at the moment.
Autistic people are seeing several meaningful parallels between Bruno’s traits and experiences, and common autistic experiences, from masking to misinterpretation and lots more in between. There are several social media channels (Reddit, Facebook, TikTok) where autistic voices are outlining the similarities, or you can find a great blog on the topic here.
But what I find most interesting about Bruno is that the choice to include a character that resonates so closely with the autistic community follows closely on the heels of Disney subsidiary Pixar’s short films Float (2019) and Loop (2020) … with each having its own approach to autism (one is about the autistic experience and one is about the parent’s experience).
A conscious decision
Giving the benefit of the doubt, there are a few options for how Bruno might have come about:
1. Disney sought to create a character perceived as “different” and managed, by chance, to hit the nail on the head for those who are autistic and see themselves reflected in Bruno.
2. Research or knowledge gathered in developing Float and Loop unconsciously informed the character of Bruno.
3. Disney consciously created a character with distinctly autistic traits but didn’t label him as such, reflecting the lived experience of those of us who choose not to disclose, but at the same time normalising neurodivergent traits.
I can’t see a way that this happened by chance. With Pixar’s conscious decisions to represent lived experiences of Neurodiversity in 2019 and 2020 it can’t be a coincidence that Disney happen to represent an autistically coded character in Encanto in 2021. More so in a film where Disney supposedly responded to a fan who asked for a heroine in glasses and has been praised for its subtle details specific to Columbia, where the story is set.
And so we have to give even more kudos to Disney – they have created a character that resonates with the autistic community without labelling him as autistic…. He is no “Good Doctor”… no “Sheldon”… no “Rainman”…
Bruno is the ultimate figurehead for autistic people because he explains how we feel: well-intentioned but misunderstood; someone who backs away rather than risk hurting those close to him; who masks when he has an important task to complete…
Bruno, the Madrigals might not talk about you, but we do. And we thank you, Disney, because in Bruno neurodivergent people feel seen, more than ever before.