It does not take long for Disney’s 60th animated feature film to cast its spell. The story of a multi-generational Colombian family who lives in an enchanted home, Encanto is magical delight. It is wonderfully fresh and original, full of lush, vibrant colors, an array of fascinating well – defined characters and the musical talents of Lin Manuel Miranda. Encanto looks and sounds unlike anything Disney has done before.
Co-written by Jared Bush (Zootopia) and Charise Castro Smith (The Haunting of Hill House) Encanto tells the story of the Madrigal family, who after a bold sacrifice are blessed with a charmed home in the mountains of Columbia powered by a magical candle. The family matriarch Abuela Alma (María Cecilia Botero) protects the family by keeping the flame lit. Its power can literally be seen in the magical home which has a life and personality of its own. The house dances, assists, and transforms.
The biggest transformations occur when a member of the family reaches the age of five. At that time the home presents a door. Behind each is a fantasy world of its own which reveals the super power that each child will possess. For Luisa (Jessica Darrow) the eldest of three sisters, it was incredible super strength. Isabela (Diane Guerrero) is walking perfection and has the ability to conjure beautiful flowers with her every action. And for Mirabel, voiced by a splendidly enthusiastic Stephanie Beatriz (Brooklyn Nine Nine) the superpowered she was given was… (drumroll)… nothing!
As you may expect, Mirabel, who is the latest in a long line of Disney outcasts is our heroine. We follow her as she tries to go about her days not being normal. She feels left out among the generations of family who all have had a special gift to offer. While not blessed with a superpower, Mirabel is the first to see literal cracks in the foundation of this perfect mystical setting. While the family celebrates the newest blessed child, she sees a foreboding vision that looks to tear this home down to the foundation.
As you may also expect, no one quite believes her, thinking she is just hungry for attention. So it is up to Mirabel alone to save the family. It is an adventure that requires her to track down the mysterious Bruno, (John Leguizamo) another family outcast who can see the future. Much of the fun comes from exploring this modern extended family. An Afro-Latino household, each with different qualities, looks, body shapes and personalities. This is definitely not the plain vanilla we have often been offered before and it is wonderful. The characters pop with uniqueness not just on the exterior, they are provided well-defined depth. Friends have already expressed how perfect this film family representation is and that’s great to hear.
I cannot express how tremendous Stephanie Beatriz is as Mirabel. She has a natural charm that comes through with every line of dialogue and word she sings. Her wide-ranging performance conveys the insecurities, the warm heart and the inner strength of her character, one of the best role models represented in a Disney animation. Oscar voters should consider finally awarding a voice actor for their performance. Beatriz would be a good start. She carries the entire film with a refreshing and inspiring confidence while exposing her insecurities. Beatriz is perfection.
The cast may be a little too large to explore and not every one of the super powered is as enticing as the others. A couple started to wear out their welcome and would have served the story better by being cut back to keep the focus on my favorite part of the film, the relationship between the three sisters. Darrow and Guerrero are magnificent and complement Beatriz perfectly. The chemistry between the trio is the most authentic and enjoyable part of the film; a treat to watch.
The musical numbers they shared at times reminded me of another trio of sisters Miranda wrote for, the Schuyler sisters of Hamilton. The songs each sister shares with Mirabel (“Surface Pressure” with Luisa, Isabela “What Else Can I Do?”) are the best of the film. The rest of Miranda’s songs are quite good, even if a little exposition heavy. It may take a few listens before I will know if any will become the earworms of other Disney film. Each is presented with a Broadway level of choreography shared by both the characters and the enchanted house that does not miss a beat.
The film lacks a standard villain which may be one reason it loses some of its energy in the last quarter. After all the originality it falls into some familiar Disney grooves that lead to a climax that is a little too quick, neat, and easy for its own good, followed by some Capraesque notes that feel like a mismatch for everything before it. That may be nitpicking that most viewers will look past, but for me it left a small void I was not expecting.
Encanto is full of valuable themes to explore. As a father and a coach I often deal with questions of self-acceptance with kids who I am supposed to provide guidance. It is a sad fact that not everyone is naturally ‘gifted’ at everything. Mirabel is a tremendous role model. One who is not to be admired for her gifts, but for her normalcy and resilience. While everyone around her possesses almost superpowers, she is resourceful and driven. Her lack of a given gift motivates her to find her own magic. Encanto is an amazing lesson for all of us who feel ordinary at times and one I often share. Find the extraordinary inside.
I enjoyed spending time with the Madrigal family. Directors Byron Howard and Jared Bush do an impressive job building the intrigue from the opening moments while introducing characters unlike any Disney has before. Encanto had me eager to learn more about them and to explore the culture and family we are invited to spend time with. It is a story told with visual splendor, originality and pride. The exquisite, colorful visuals will blow you away but it is the endearing message that you will remember.