(Stephanie Beatriz, John Leguizamo, Jessica Darrow, María Cecilia Botero, et. Al | PG | 1hr. 42min | Walt Disney Animation Studios)
Summary: Mirabel Madrigal comes from a magical family. When the family’s magic becomes endangered, Mirabel must embrace her differences to become the savior her family needs.
Verdict: Disney’s Encanto is the tropical getaway you need to take, immediately. Set in Colombia, it’s the colorful, musically catchy tale of a family imbued with magical powers, and what happens when you’re slightly different than those around you.
Mirabel Madrigal (played flawlessly by Stephanie Beatriz) is the odd duck in her extremely gifted family, being the only person without any special power. The magic within her family becomes threatened, and — predictably — she is the one to save it.
This basic premise successfully lends itself to commentary on larger issues, like the perils of self-doubt and allowing yourself to be spread too thin (check the spunky tune Surface Pressure), or, through the character of Abuela Alma, the dangers of placing too heavy of expectations on those around you and not being willing to admit to your faults until some form of damage has been done. And finally, through Mirabel, the necessity of self-acceptance.
On a side note, in the early 2000s, John Leguizamo, who masterfully lends his voice and comic relief to Bruno, would end every episode of his show The Brothers Garcia with the Spanish phrase “todo para la familia,” or “everything for the family.” Encanto is that sentiment to its most extreme, for better or so much worse.
In spite of these potentially heavy themes, Encanto utilizes bright color palates to bring out a sense of tropic cheerfulness. In this way, the animation is the standout element. The environment is sharp, the characters are well defined — both in body type and in skin tone (this is the first Disney film to represent dark-skinned Afro-Latine characters). And during the musical numbers, the choreography is incredible.
With a score by Germaine Franco and songs by the ubiquitous Lin-Manuel Miranda, the music matches well with every scene with lyrics that will relate to the viewer, move them to tears, or get mercilessly stuck in their head — sometimes, all three at once.
The acting, too, is first-rate. Beatriz’s Mirabel is the perfect blend of awkward in her differences but confident in her mission. Jessica Darrow’s Luisa, Mirabel’s sister, is the embodiment of every overstressed, overworked millennial (or anyone), and the vulnerability that Darrow brings to the role is instantly identifiable. And Leguizamo’s Bruno is a very soft boy, almost like a well-meaning Phantom of the Opera.
The final stand-out is María Cecilia Botero as Abuela Alma, who undergoes a startling amount of character growth over the course of the film and sells absolutely every second of it. Her performance alone is worth the watch.
But while Encanto is a very solid, immensely enjoyable film, it’s not immune to pitfalls. The first, perhaps the most disappointing—is that, in spite of all the Colombian music, there is no indication at all in the story that Colombia is the setting; it serves zero narrative purpose. What a shame.
Another aspect that seems somewhat off is that Encanto does not have a traditional villain. Rather than doing battle against some Big Bad, Mirabel faces off with the vague notions of generational trauma and internal inadequacy.
All the same, Encanto deserves its place amongst the most-lauded modern Disney films, for it is surely to enchant all who give it a watch.
Review by: Ashley J. Cicotte
Encanto is currently streaming on Disney+ and is available for purchase on Amazon, or anywhere DVDs are sold.