Directed by Jared Bush and Bryon Howard, Encanto is the 60th film by Walt Disney Animation Studios. With a voice cast that includes In the Heights star Stephanie Beatriz and John Wick‘s John Leguizamo, the film focuses on Mirabel (Beatriz), a young Colombian girl who embarks on a mission to save her home.
At first glance, Encanto is classic Disney. Elements such as an endearing heroine, a whole load of magic, lush colours and fast-paced songs are well-thumbed pages of the studio’s long-established playbook but thankfully, Encanto is not a fairy tale; it isn’t even your typical good-versus-bad, ‘save the world’ story. Instead, it is something that Disney isn’t really known for – an enchanted family drama.
Following the release of 2016’s Moana and Raya and the Last Dragon earlier this year, Disney seems to be continuing its trend of highlighting diverse characters with its latest film. Encanto conveys the vibrancy of Latin American culture to the big screen with bright colours and a chaotic yet infectiously entertaining energy. In addition, the Madrigals brilliantly embody the traditional tight-knit family as they share an ever-growing home and bond over a long-standing family tradition where each blood member of the Madrigals is bestowed with a magical ability at a certain age.
Although it seems like Disney to move further away from princesses and castles, Encanto‘s seemingly conventional narrative buckles under the weight of family dysfunction. Haunted by the passing of her late husband Pedro, Madrigal matriarch ‘Abuela’ quietly runs the house with a stern look and an absolute need for perfection while all the family members are in each other’s lives. Therefore, long-buried secrets and gossip spread like wildfire and everyone is quick to take Abuela at her word, which is why her estranged son Bruno (Leguizamo) is rarely spoken about and Mirabel is seen as the black sheep of the family because she is the only Madrigal not to have a ‘gift’.
Voiced wonderfully by Beatriz, Mirabel is different in more ways than one. Her curly hair and round turquoise glasses make her unlike any of the Disney heroines and princesses before her. She also displays an almost overeagerness to appease and ‘fit in’ with her folks to compensate her notably lacking a ‘gift’, which causes her family and the local community to see her as a subject of disappointment, evident disdain and not-so-subtle rejection. But when the story takes a dark turn, Mirabel is the only one concerned about Casita as her family is too preoccupied with their powers to take her seriously, to the point that her love and loyalty to the Madrigals outweigh her own quiet resentment. Although the film wavers in tone and complexity, Mirabel’s unwavering determination makes her a surprising heroine, not to mention a charming yet conventional role model for modern audiences.
While its narrative is conventional, the animation and creativity behind Encanto is anything but. The direction and dazzling animation make the most of the characters (including Casita) while delivering little quirks throughout the film, along with some classic Disney-style cut scenes for good measure. Bush and Charise Castro Smith’s heartfelt screenplay imbues heart and comedy and combined with the vibrant colours and Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s entertaining soundtrack, Encanto becomes a film that speaks to all ages and is sure to become a fan, nay – family favourite.
In what is Disney’s most conventional film, Encanto celebrates how ordinary people can be extraordinary. Vibrant and touching, it is a heaped helping of candle-lit fun and magic.
Director: Byron Howard (co-director), Jared Bush (co-director, co-screenwriter); Charise Castro Smith (co-screenwriter)
Stars: Stephanie Beatriz, John Leguizamo, María Cecilia Botero, Diane Guerrero, Jessica Darro, Angie Cepeda, Wilmer Valderrama
Runtime: 99 minutes