Movie Review: Disney Animation Delivers Warm, Worthy Family History in ‘Encanto’
Full of life, color and soaring music courtesy of Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton), the latest celebration of Disney animation, Encanto, tells the story of the Madrigal family. They live in a magical house in the mountains of Colombia, in the hidden village of Encanto, where everyone enjoys the magic that emanates from the family home. In fact, magic has further blessed each member of the Madrigal family with unique gifts (more like superpowers), ranging from super strength and enhanced hearing to the ability to communicate with animals, control life. weather and the ability to heal. Even the house itself seems lively and responsive to the needs of the family.
Powers are vested in every child at a certain age in a special ceremony — every child, that is, except Mirabel (voiced by Stéphanie Beatriz of In the heights and “Brooklyn 99 ″), who is probably the nicest and most selfless member of the family. But because she has no gifts, she feels like something less than in her family, and that makes her confidence level drops as she gets older. Her sweet grandmother Alma (Maria Cecilia Botero) sees her as the strong center of the family and a great organizer, mediator and leader of all of Encanto, but that is not enough for Mirabel. But soon the girl begins to have visions of the house itself collapsing and losing its connection with any power that gives everyone their gifts. And naturally, because she has no power, no one believes her, which of course makes her doubt herself.
Directed by Byron Howard (Zootopia, Tangled) and Jared Bush (co-director Zootopia), and co-directed by Charise Castro Smith, Encanto Certainly stands out among the recent crop of work from Disney Animation Studios (and not just because it features an all-Latin American cast, unless you include Alan Tudyk, who voices a toucan). Miranda’s songs aren’t just pop songs stuck in the movie; they are full-fledged performance tunes that help tell and enhance the story being told (much more than its music in Moana), and in some cases, they absolutely elevate the procedure. Additionally, there is real and intricate choreography on display here that almost resembles the dancers captured by the animators; I can’t remember a time when I saw something so detailed when it came to dancing in animation.
I love the interactions Mirabel has with her sisters, especially the interactions with Jessica Darrow’s super strong Luisa. But the movie goes from good to great late in the game with the introduction of Uncle Bruno (John Leguizamo) from Mirabel, who either left the family or was banned after an incident that nearly destroyed their home. Mirabel discovers where he is hiding and suspects he may have some idea of what his visions (which quickly come true as people and the house seem to lose their gifts) might mean. He’s nervous about revealing himself to the rest of the family again because he’s not sure what’s going to happen, and this is where the real message from Encanto turns out to be a matter of trusting and accepting one’s own worth and uniqueness, even in a place where being special has a different meaning. It’s a worthy lesson, if a bit too simplistic and vague, that everyone should take to heart.
What the film really has going for it are some beautifully made characters who are an absolute joy to hang out with. Singing and dancing are a nice bonus and only serve to improve what is already there. In some cases, the music helps smooth out some of the film’s less interesting moments. Even still, the entertainment value of Encanto is undoubtedly thanks to a combination of the film’s setting in an idealistic society and the insertion of a good dose of cynicism as to what a place where a small part of the population was “better” than the rest would be. And the combination of Beatriz and Leguizamo is unstoppable; I just wish it hadn’t taken that long to finally reunite their characters. Ultimately, that’s a minor complaint, and the fact that the movie is so impressive goes a long way in keeping our eyes occupied until character development finally begins. Encanto is a dignified and enjoyable experience, well worth your own trip to the big screen to see it.
Encanto is now playing in select theaters.
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