Film Review: Encanto
Directors: Byron Howard, Jared Bush
Walt Disney Animation Studios
In Theaters: 11.24
This has not only been a tremendous year for animation but a prolific one for Broadway wunderkind Lin-Manuel Miranda. Encanto, the newest major Disney production, adds one more film to both categories and proves to be one of the most intriguing and surprisingly sophisticated of the bunch.
Encanto tells the tale of the Madrigals, a family who lives in a magical house located in a town hidden in the mountains of Colombia. The town is inside a wondrous, charmed place called an Encanto, and the region’s magic has blessed every child in the family with a unique gift, from super strength to healing powers—every child except one, Mirabel (voice of Stephanie Beatriz, In The Heights). When Mirabel discovers that the magic surrounding the Encanto is in danger, she realizes that, gift or no gift, she might just be her exceptional family’s only hope.
Encanto is a beautifully told, terrific story that breaks the traditional Disney princess mold more than ever before by combining it with the superhero genre, turning both on their respective ears. Mirabel may not be a literal princess, but she comes from a type of royalty and ranks among Disney’s most daring and progressive heroines. Beatriz is an actress who unquestionably possesses a gift, and her hilarious portrayal of the tough, stone-faced Det. Rosa Diaz on Brooklyn Nine-Nine is so iconic that her emergence this year playing against that type has been a huge revelation. Family matriarch Abuela Alma Madrigal (voiced by María Cecilia Botero (Amalia), with In The Heights’ Olga Merediz supplying the singing voice) is a wonderfully layered character in her own right. The great John Leguizamo is a highlight as Bruno, the relative that no one talks about, and the entire voice cast is very good.
The story deals heavily with the problems around letting other people or one particular trait or accomplishment define who we are, and The Madrigals are a rich tapestry of complexity. Each of them is introduced to us explaining their amazing power—as if the gift and the individual were interchangeable—from Luisa, who has super strength, to Dolores, whose super hearing can pick up a whisper from miles away. But even Isabella, whose power is literally that she is supposedly perfect, has doubts, insecurities and pressures to face.
The animation is colorful, detailed and sumptuous, with The Madrigals’ magical house providing no end of delights. As for the music, both the songs by Miranda and the score by Germaine Franco (Dora and the Lost City of Gold) are quite good, though I found the songs to be more functional than standalone. I certainly didn’t find myself leaving the theater with anything stuck in my head the way I did with Moana. Still, it’s lively and the character development songs are particularly effective, especially two numbers featuring Mirabel’s sisters baring their souls about the pressures of living up to the expectations and responsibilities of their gifts.
While Encanto is suitable for all audiences, the message of the film and the resolution is going to go over the heads of little ones. My 5-year-old nephew, who is often my barometer of whether a film will play to kids, enjoyed Encanto but found the more existential elements of the third act to be more than a little confusing. It did still provide some nice opportunities for important family discussions. Much like Pixar’s Inside Out before it, Encanto may be destined to connect more with grown ups and young adults than with small children—that’s not a bad thing if you are prepared for it.
Encanto is a mesmerizing and insightful work of art that has a lot to say while retaining universal themes and characters. Plain and simple, Encanto is magic. –Patrick Gibbs