Synopsis – A young Colombian girl has to face the frustration of being the only member of her family without magical powers.
My Take – I think we all know that Disney is a champion of producing animated films. Whether it’s in collaboration with Pixar or when they choose to take the solo route through Walt Disney Animation Studios.
Hence, it should not come as a surprise that their 60th film continues their recent trend of inclusive casting and unique storytelling to deliver another hit that explores family dynamics. Something which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering directors Jared Bush and Byron Howard previously collaborated on the excellent Zootopia (2016).
Sure, it doesn’t reach the same highs as some of the studios’ previous works, as it treads a familiar and risk-free path that employs the usual tiresome formula, nor does it surpass last year’s Raya and the Last Dragon, both visually and emotionally, but backed by stunning animation, a well composed story and catchy music by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the film ends up being a fun, warm and lighthearted viewing experience, making it yet another success story for Disney animation.
Set in a secluded Columbian town, the story follows Mirabel (voiced by Stephanie Beatriz), who belongs to the Madrigal family who use their gifts to build a community within. Years ago, the Madrigal matriarch, Abuela Alma (voiced by María Cecilia Botero), and her family fled the violence of their village, but after a tragic loss, a miracle appeared in the form of a candle that granted her family powers.
Since then, Mirabel’s mother Julieta (voiced by Angie Cepeda) can cure ailments with her cooking, her oldest sister Isabela (voiced by Diane Guerrero) can make flowers grow, her second oldest sister Luisa (voiced by Jessica Darrow) is super strong, her aunt Pepa (voiced by Carolina Gaitan) can influence the weather with her mood, while her children, Dolores Madrigal (voiced by Adassa) has enhanced hearing, Camilo Madrigal (voiced by Rhenzy Feliz) has the ability to shape-shift and Antonio Madrigal (voiced by Ravi-Cabot Conyers) can speak to animals.
However, Maribel is the only Madrigal without magical powers, and desperately wants to prove she can support her family and community just as well as they can. But when she suddenly gets a vision that about her family’s enchantment fading and her family’s magical, sentient house, dubbed Casita, breaking down, Maribel decides to try investigating the source of this decline, and embarks on a search for her prodigal uncle Bruno (voiced by John Leguizamo), who exiled himself from the family after his precognitive visions were dismissed as self-fulfilling doom saying instead of helpful warnings against coming troubles.
Of course, Mirabel’s adventure to save her family’s magic ends up becoming something more, a way to connect with her siblings and family in a way that she didn’t know she could. But what’s most surprising is how small-scale the story is. Instead of on a journey, the action unfolds in and around the Madrigal home. But that’s because the film is most interested in the love and struggles of family, without silly side characters or romantic leads.
What the film deserves recognition most for is for trying something different. Though family dynamics are fairly rote in animated films and there is some of that here, it charts a unique path as it shows women who are never defined by their relationship with men, and it doesn’t present solutions to problems where the answer is simply more magic. Even more interesting and unexpected is the film’s subtle acknowledgement of culturally specific generational trauma and displacement.
The soundtrack too helps to progress the plot of the story and adds a welcomed layer of culture to the colorful scenery. Written by Lin Manuel-Miranda, the songs and lyrics are as lively and eccentric as you could expect a soundtrack for a film set in Colombia to be. The flare of drums, maracas and accordions are infectious and make the film feel authentic and representative of the Madrigals’ culture. The songs are breezy and fun, they communicate the character beats they need to, but they probably won’t be stuck in your head for days afterward.
The computer animation, as always, is excellent and presents a dazzling confabulation of hues and a meticulous weaving of precious details to keep audience hooked for the entire runtime.
As the voice of Maribel, Stephanie Beatriz finds the perfect blend of substance and hopeful buoyancy, while rest of the voice cast comprising of John Leguizamo, María Cecilia Botero, Diane Guerrero, Jessica Darrow, Carolina Gaitan, Angie Cepeda, Adassa, Alan Tudyk, Maluma, Ravi-Cabot Conyers, Rhenzy Feliz and Wilmer Valderrama provide excellent support. On the whole, ‘Encanto’ is an amusing, enchanting, eye-catching coming of age family drama that is thoroughly enjoyable and robust in its familiar appeal.
Rated – PG
Run Time – 102 minutes