Gathering your family around to watch something together is an amusing notion during the holiday break. However, finding a movie that everyone can enjoy is not quite a simple task to accomplish. But since it’s a simple and fun tradition to spend your quality time, just like turkeys on Thanksgiving and Christmas carols on the radio, a good movie night is essential. A Disney feel-good and family-friendly, “Encanto”, might be exactly something you’re looking for. It’s a story about a Colombian magical realist tale of a family that received special powers after surviving a tragic event. Fast forward to a few generations later, each member has their own magical gifts such as weather-controlling, shapeshifting into other people, and talking to animals, all together living in a magical house. Their casita (house) changes as the family command and reflects their moods. All of their rooms are magically tailored to the relative and their unique talent, except for one, Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz).
“Encanto” is a story of our protagonist, “a girl with no apparent gift” Mirabel. The black ship tries her best to fit in an extraordinary family, yet her judgmental Abuela Alma (María Cecilia Botero) only expresses disappointment at every attempt she makes. We learn to know Mirabel’s mom, Julieta (Angie Cepeda), who can heal wounds by her cooking; her arepas con queso, her sister Luisa (Jessica Darrow), who can lift the heaviest of objects with ease; and her sister Isabela (Diane Guerrero) can grow the prettiest flowers without barely thinking about it—all together make Mirabel’s attempts really hard to stand out. Meanwhile, the family’s casita starts to show cracks, but Mirable is seemingly the only one to notice and other family members don’t trust her, downplaying her worries as something her estranged eccentric uncle Bruno (John Leguizamo) said. So there we have, a solo journey to figuring out what’s happening to save the day.
With the aid of co-director Charise Castro Smith (“Raya and the Last Dragon”), who shows more than just a passing similarity to the movie’s leading character, Jared Bush and Byron Howard (“Zootopia”) has crafted another loving and caring tale about outcasts striving to do the right thing. Most significantly, there is no villain in this Disney film; instead, the family and their house are threatened by an “unknown.” The confrontation is limited at best, which allows Mirabel to focus on discovering what she can accomplish despite her lack of abilities, but it also makes the film feel a little rambling. To compensate for the lack of action, the film excels in graphics and design, making full use of the home with portals to new worlds and musical sections that result in increased abstract artistic expression.
Lin-Manuel Miranda should take a break from those musical scenes, in my opinion. His 2021 offerings have been a touch disappointing after hitting it out of the park with “In the Heights,” “Hamilton,” and “Moana.” For this article, I finally saw “Vivo,” in which he both voices the titular character and writes the songs. Those figures seemed fragile and unremarkable. He rhymes “drum” with… “drum” in one song. The odds are slightly better in “Encanto,” with more songs performing better than others, but there’s still a sense that these musical performances are reheated leftovers from prior ventures. They sound like his work, but they don’t give anything new or fascinating for us to remember. The reusable pop songs “What Else Can I Do?” and “Surface Pressure” by Isabela and Luisa are overbearingly monotonous. “The Family Madrigal” is a less successful rendition of “In the Heights'” opening song. Only Carlos Vives’ performance of Miranda’s “Colombia, Mi Encanto” streaks as a highlight.
It’s terrible that an animated musical like “Encanto” has mediocre tunes. Other aspects of the film, such as the film’s raucous voice cast, including Carolina Gaitán, Rhenzy Feliz, Ravi Cabot-Conyers, Wilmer Valderrama, Mauro Castillo, and one-name Latin music sensations Maluma and Adassa, are quite enjoyable. It’s also interesting to see an animated Disney film finally incorporate characters with different skin colors and hair textures in the same family, as well as Colombian fashion such as ponchos, flowing embroidered skirts, bright gowns, and guayaberas. Beatriz is fantastic as Mirabel, conveying both anguish and love in her voice throughout the film while maintaining the silly levity that makes her character so appealing. Olga Merediz, a former cast member of “In the Heights,” provides Abuela’s singing voice.
Akin to how Pixar’s “Coco” paid homage to Mexican culture, “Encanto” pays homage to its Colombian heritage in a variety of ways, from the usage of regional flora and animals to songwriting that incorporates their respective nations’ musical palettes. In both novels, the matriarchal abuelas must go through an emotional journey that is equal to (if not greater than) that of the younger characters. Both Pixar and Disney Animation are moving towards the world tour phase of their narrative, which is an exciting development, but I hope they don’t duplicate themselves in terms of thematic and storytelling themes.
One distinction is that “Encanto” goes beyond the Madrigals’ immediate family, depicting the Madrigals’ grandparents abandoning their nation for safety and Abuelo’s final sacrifice in an artistic retrospect. The story of an ancestral home lost and a family rebuilding in a new land is not uncommon for many immigrant communities, and by sensitively involving it as part of a charming Disney film, it may give a new generation a better feeling of connection, or at the very least the comfort of knowing that others have gone through what they have. It could make it easier for youngsters who didn’t grow up hearing about a “paradise lost” to comprehend those who did. Although there are a few blunders, “Encanto” is one of the most delightful animated films to hit theaters this year, notwithstanding a few mishaps.
Only available in cinemas today.