When I stopped at a red light a little voice in the backseat asked me to play that song about Bruno. As we pulled away from the intersection I saw in the mirror my grandson singing all the rhyming words intently as his head bopped to the pulsing rhythm. “We Don’t Talk About Bruno.”
Bruno is the breakout song from the Disney’s hit Encanto, a story about the Madrigal family, normal people with extraordinary powers, who use their gifts to help their village. Living in harmony, with an open table and compassion for all, they seem to have an ideal life, until you find out that they also harbor a secret. One of their own, a young man born with the gift of prophecy, has been banished. He was a truth-teller, but people did not want to hear his truths, so they decided not to mention him again, hoping he would disappear. But Bruno didn’t disappear. He never really left the family. Instead, he lived in the walls of their home. It seems ignoring him, accomplished very little.
I wonder why “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” has captured us so, in this moment in history. It’s really a song about anxiety – the anxiety that lives with us in the human family. It’s a song about how hard it is to face our own stories about whose been excluded, or framed. As the song belts out its message to a calypso rhythm, everyone sings about the thing they know they’re not supposed to mention. And it's a relief.
This story sounds familiar to me. In this human family, where we all live, it’s so tempting to try to avoid talking about the hard stuff, the family secrets, the unresolved conflicts, the mess. these days its tempting to avoid talking about the pendemic, in hopes that will make it go away. Apparently it’s tempting In school committees across this land to imagine that if we don’t talk about slavery white children won’t feel bad about racism. Or, if we don’t think about climate change, maybe someone else will fix the problem. There's a lot to despise in Vladimir Putin but one thing we see is his determination to lie to his own people and refuse to tell the truth about the war their troops are waging next door. Lies don't work in our families or in the family of nations.
We can’t avoid hard truths, and the more we try to, the worse they get. Like many Disney movies, Encanto depicts the kids as the heroes, here. Thank God for them because they aren’t having it. They won't accept the story. A curious intrepid explorer, named Mirabel, wants to know the secrets her people are avoiding. Even when it is hard to find Bruno’s hideout in the walls of the house, she doesn’t give up until she’s discovered what’s going on.
In the end, the whole family wakes up to the fact that you cannot contain secrets like this. They learn that we can’t avoid our history. When they deal with it they all grow wiser. I love the idea that in kitchens across America, moms are dancing to this song about a family secret under wraps. I love that children are learning it in their car seats. I love that Disney has found a way to help us see how to talk about hard stuff. Seeking the truth is never easy. That’s why we need songs that will seep into our collective unconscious and make us smile… at ourselves.