Disney really has an eye for the visual imagery in animation, but my love for Lin-Manuel Miranda is starting to wane.
Encanto is Disney’s 60th Animated film and the latest in a long legacy of hits. They remind you of this before the film even starts, a hindrance that reminds you of everything you love about Disney animation and then points out that those classics are NOT what you are watching. Thankfully the film holds up to scrutiny and wound up being one of the more charming films of 2021.
Without going into any further details, Encanto is merely about the weight of expectation and the burden that gifts and family can bring to a young person. We’re introduced to the family Madrigal by its one ungifted member – Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz). She explains the family home and its magic, acknowledging that the home is fairly cognizant and it endows powers on the family as they come of age. There’s Luisa (Jessica Darrow), a young woman with Hulk-like strength. We’ve got Isabela (Diane Guerrero), dubbed “Señorita Perfecta” by Maribel due to her beauty and adherence to Madrigal matriarchs, who can make flowers bloom from nothingness. There’s Tia Pepa (Carolina Gaitán) and her intense emotional weather patterns, Dolores (Adassa) and her hearing, Camilo (Rhenzy Feliz) and his shape-shifting, Antonio (Ravi-Cabot Conyers) and his ability to talk to animals, and Bruno (John Leguizamo) that has disappeared. Each of these individuals has a life of their own, but it’s Luisa, Isabela, and Bruno that grow and develop alongside Mirabel for the film’s runtime. All of them suffer unnecessarily at the weight of expectation from Abuela (María Cecilia Botero), the family matriarch that keeps the magic house candle lit to preserve the magic.
All of this plays out in a beautiful way, one that acknowledges not only the importance of family but the exacting price those ties have bound us all up with. Expectation has destroyed familial relationships before and Encanto shines a light on WHY these issues are important to deal with. It’s a magical message, one that I think would be important for many children and adults to have hammered into them, but it’s one that comes from genuine sincerity and we need to treasure that.
So we have to get this out of the way right off: I’m sick of Lin-Manuel Miranda. Don’t get me wrong, I dig Hamilton and have many nice things to say about some of his songwriting, but I’m getting burnt out on so much of him so quickly. Miranda highlights styles of music we don’t give enough respect to in mainstream cinema without making the entire film about how important they are (Salsa, hip-hop, mariachi), but he shows little interest in anything outside of his schtick any more. I long for the days of his work on Moana, where he spread out and indulged in a variety of charming and memorable music. His work in Encanto is, unfortunately, some unmemorable stuff. It’s quick and clever and some of it has a good beat but…there’s nothing deeper than that.
Which works out okay for Encanto, a Disney animated musical that doesn’t overdo it on the musical numbers and instead lets the voice acting shine more than anything else. It’s bolstered by a score from Germaine Franco that absolutely soars over any other music in the film, bright and delightful to hear at every opportunity. The film shares similar thematic elements to Coco, a film from 2017 that also highlighted a Hispanic viewpoint. Encanto chose to make a story about the idea of family instead of doing anything with Dia de los Muertos, a bold move since almost all American-made films about a Latin-American country only really talk about that.
Encanto has some musical missteps, but the performances and clever script more than make up for muddy songs. It’s bright and sweet and charming, a perfect holiday season entry in the Disney canon that I’ll revisit on and off for years to come.
Encanto is still in theatres.