30th Nov2021

‘Encanto’ Review

by Jason Brigger

Features the voices of: Stephanie Beatriz, Maria Cecilia Botero, John Leguizamo, Mauro Castillo, Jessica Darrow, Angie Cepeda, Carolina Gaitan, Diane Guerrero, Wilmer Valderrama | Written by Charise Castro Smith, Jared Bush | Directed by Byron Howard, Jared Bush

Disney’s newest animated film, and 60th(!), Encanto, continues the Mouse’s recent trend of creating films centered around cultural folklore, in this case, a story centered in South American culture. Much like Moana and Raya and the Last Dragon, Encanto delivers with a strong female lead and a lesson that our community is stronger when we work together than against each other while showcasing the beauty of South America.

Encanto is about the importance of family, in this case, the Madrigal family, and the old Disney troupe of finding a way to fit in when you actually stand out. Matriarch of the family, Abuela Alma (Maria Cecilia Botero), is a single mother of triplets after her husband, Pedro, is killed by soldiers from an unknown army as they are fleeing their village. Just when Abuela thinks she is next, the candle she has been carrying unleashes magical powers, killing the villainous soldiers and giving Abuela a new place to live.

The magical place, centered in Colombia as depicted by the lush and beautiful animation in film, is called Encanto and even comes with a living house for Abuela and her children. The house not only communicates through interactions (no words!) with the family but also helps provide for the Madrigals by gifting each member with magical powers. Abuela’s triplets are the first ones gifted with these magical powers as Julieta (mother to the main character Mirabel and voiced by Angie Cepeda) is a chef who makes food that can heal the sick or injured, Pepa (Carolina Gaitan) can control the weather based on her emotions, and Bruno (John Leguizamo) has the power to see the future. Eventually the village that has been built around the magical house and even the Madrigal family are not keen on Bruno’s powers and sees him as being a negative force for the town, resulting in Bruno leaving Encanto.

Over time, the family begins to grow, and the house begins to gift powers to the grandchildren: Isabela, a diva at heart, can control plants and flowers, Luisa (Jessica Darrow) has super strength but struggles internally with always being the “Superwoman” of the village, Camilo (Rhenzy Feliz) can shape-shift, Dolores (Adassa) has super hearing, and the youngest grandchild, Antonio (Ravi Cabot-Conyers), can talk to animals.

Then there is the star of the film, Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz), the only person in the Madrigal family without a gift. When she was younger, she went through the traditional ceremony but when she grabbed the doorknob of her new bedroom (the room is created based on the power the child receives), the door vanishes, leaving Mirabel without any magical powers.

Mirabel grows up and though disappointed, is able to accept her place in the family as the positive, upbeat person that supports her family members. She’s the family’s biggest cheerleader, despite being told to “know her place” many times by several community members as well as her own family. Mirabel is basically the sounding board for her family’s issues as magical powers sound great but in reality, it puts a lot of pressure on the person holding the power as what is their “value” if the only thing they are known for is their magical powers?

The film’s main plot revolves around Mirabel researching the truth about Bruno, attempting to find him and stopping the magical candle from dimming, resulting in the house to crumble and leave the Madrigal family without a home. The main issue with the film is that Encanto doesn’t have a true antagonist or villain you can root for the Madrigal family to rise up against and fight. Yes, Abuela is so obsessed with losing her home again that she loses sight about the more important things in her life, her family. Abuela eventually pushes Mirabel away like she did with Bruno, but overall, Abuela is not a villain in any definition of the word. And while that may seem like a limited plot (it is), that’s the whole plot of the film.

The Good:

  • Songs, so many darn good songs! Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the original songs in Encanto so it should not come as a surprise that the majority of music in the film is not only wonderfully upbeat but also catchy. Miranda does a phenomenal job of correlating the beauty of the animation to the musical sounds/culture of South America into the songs and allowing the music to feel alive and fresh. Each song correlates well to the characters that sing them, which is especially true about the song Surface Pressure, that Mirabel’s physically strong sister, Luisa, sings about the struggles of always presenting an outward presence of strength despite struggling mentally. It’s a beautiful song and just one of many songs that is not only catchy but also gives background about the characters.
  • Mirabel. Encanto has many great characters, but Mirabel truly stands out as a character that many animated short films should be made about for the Disney Plus streaming service. Her constant positivity, her empathy for others, including her attempts to breakthrough Luisa’s hard exterior, and her zest for life makes Mirabel a character to remember. Actress Stephanie Beatriz shines as Mirabel and truly brings her to life, similar to Idina Menzel brought Elsa to life in Frozen. Mirabel may not be the typical Disney princess but as shown by Moana, Raya, and several recent princesses in the newer Disney films, different is great and allows the characters break the stereotypical characteristics of the main characters of old.

The Middling:

  • What’s the point? As noted above, the lack of a main villain or even a clear objective for the Madrigal family leaves the film kind of pointless. It felt like I was watching the 1990s television series, Seinfeld, in which I may have a good time watching it and it’s funny but at the end of the episode, nothing really happens. Encanto has a great cast of characters, wonderful songs, and beautiful animation but throughout the whole film I kept wondering where we are headed and what is the goal for Mirabel. The film attempts to wrap up the loose storylines in the third act, but the ending arrives so abruptly, I was left wondering if another act needed to be added.

The Bad:

  • Nothing. The film is not great but there were no glaring issues or anything that insulted the audience’s intelligence. It was just…there.

Final Grade: C+ (Above Average)

Encanto is not one of Disney’s finer animated films, but it is enjoyable for kids and is very tolerable for the adults. The animation is beautiful, the characters are fun and unique, and the overall theme of family and community is good, but it feels like Encanto is not a complete film. There are issues with pacing, including the third act, Bruno’s storyline seems rushed, and the lack of a villain/main goal makes the film feel misguided. Overall, Encanto is not a bad film and is even enjoyable, but the film falls short of reaching it’s true potential.

You can catch Jason Brigger on the geek-centric podcast, The History of Bad Ideas, as new episodes are released every week at www.nerdly.co.uk or subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Amazon Music and other podcasting apps. 
You can listen to their latest episode right here.

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