If you are in the mood to watch a messy family come to terms with familial trauma and grief but in a bright and colourful musical, then Encanto is the animated movie for you.
Encanto follows Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz), one of the youngest family members of the magical Madrigal family. The Madrigal’s live in a magical home given to them by a blessed candle, a miracle home gifted to the Abuela Alma (María Cecilia Botero) in her darkest hour. Each family member has been honoured with a gift, which Abuela explains is a gift to help their community. Mirabel is the only one who was not given a gift, a sign of trouble yet to come.
The film is stunning to watch. Firstly, the improvements made on animated sequences that capture the fluidity of humans but still retain that imaginative quality only animation can provide is astounding. Sure, everyone’s eyes are just a tad bit too large, but that’s just the thing to do these days. The attention and care given to creating a fully-realized Colombian home and its occupants are astounding. Each character is uniquely drawn and designed beautifully. It is also fun to see the little details in each of the character’s outfits that signal who they are or reflect their gifts. Mirabel loves to sew and that can be seen through the creative patterns of her dress, the loose threads, and the stitching (that spells her name) that appears around her hips. It is this attention to detail that will have you completely mesmerized from beginning to end.
Encanto is a musical, so we must talk about the music, but NOT BRUNO! “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” will certainly be the stand-out song of the film. Not only is it a fun track to listen to, maybe even do the tango to, but it is also one of the few songs with lyrics that has a melody that best reflects Latino music. Furthermore, it is one that actually spells out the film’s plot and the answer to Mirabel’s problems. It is a layered song that accomplished a lot, but the power of the song comes from the exceptional ensemble effort. Luisa’s “Surface Pressure” and Isabela’s “What Else Can I Do” are older sister anthems that will definitely trigger many daughters of immigrant families. “Surface Pressure” definitely spoke to my soul as the eldest child and oldest daughter of a Somali family. (Luisa, I FEEL YOUR PAIN!!) However, these two tracks skew more Disney Channel pop and don’t have that signature Disney flair. The typical “I Want Song”, here titled “Waiting On A Miracle”, is not as memorable as Miranda’s “How Far Can I Go” from Moana and is outshined by Isabela and Luisa’s songs.
“Dos Oruguitas” sung by Sebastián Yatra is the sneaky star of the movie as it is paired with the film’s most heart-wrenching scenes. It will be difficult to listen to the song without immediately crying at the sound of the first note. Overall, the songs are cute, but Lin-Manuel Miranda doesn’t quite nail the magic of Disney animated musicals from yesteryear. No one will be belting these songs at karaoke or in their cars the same way they do for the songs from Mulan, Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Princess and the Frog. In terms of the music of Encanto, Germaine Franco’s score does so much of the heavy lifting in terms of establishing the musical influences in Colombian and Latin American culture.
Aside from the music, the film relies on a good story. Encanto tells the story of one member suffering from failing to meet impossibly high standards. It is about how good intentions can only go so far, but families can fracture and fall apart if they don’t listen to each other or care about individual needs. It’s a story that will be felt and understood across the world as Encanto makes its way to theatres worldwide. Mirabel is a beautiful avatar for all the kids who try so hard but due to a generational divide between kids and their parents or in this case, grandparents. The bridge of communication is rocky and the stubbornness is too great to overcome but the story is ultimately about a family triumph over trauma and grief. A mature and complex narrative that will not overwhelm children, but will resonate with almost every family member. Jared Bush and Charise Castro Smith’s script doesn’t ever waver on this. The film moves at a good pace with no dull moments or lags. The precision with how this story is told is very impressive and the message is loud and clear. But most importantly, the emotional core is vibrant and deeply felt.
As for the cast that voices these well-made characters, well they are dazzling. No one actor stands out beyond Stephanie Beatriz’s Mirabel, but they work well together, creating a very believable family.
Encanto is a triumph. One that can stand along many of the Disney Animation greats as an enjoyable family movie with valuable messages and important characters. Mirabel is not the only relatable character, each character has so much to offer. No matter who you are, you will feel seen and heard. Hopefully, Disney continues to explore other cultures from Latin America and the world because deeply personal and culturally relevant stories truly do translate.
Encanto opens in theatres everywhere on November 24