‘Encanto’ MOVIE REVIEW: Family & Self-Worth Get the Spotlight in Emotional, Toe-Tapping Disney Adventure

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With Encanto, Disney continues its welcome mission to craft stories set in different corners of the globe, with specific cultural influences, from Polynesia with Moana, to Mexico with Coco, to Southeast Asia with Raya and the Last Dragon, and to Italy with Luca. We head to Colombia with Encanto, a colourful, heartfelt adventure carrying important messages related to familial approval, generational trauma, and all-around self-acceptance, all within easy-to-digest Disney packaging. 

The plot revolves around the Madrigal family, three generations living in the Colombian mountains in a place called Encanto, holding a magic that has given every Madrigal child a unique superhuman ability and provided their big house with anthropomorphic qualities. The large family is led by a tough but loving matriarch, Abuela Alma, who found the magic and this special location as a young woman, after being forced to flee her home with her husband and triplet babies. Despite the joyful and grateful surface, the family’s tragic origins reverberate through the generations, with an obligation to be, or at least appear to be, in top form (in all ways) or risk letting down familial expectations.

Which brings us to our protagonist, Mirable (voiced by Stephanie Beatriz, Brooklyn Nine-Nine), the one child who was not given a gift. While her family members are exalted and have clear roles to play, Mirable attempts to keep her head up and push that frustration down, trying to pull her weight in the ways she can. When it appears that the magic could be at risk of diminishing, Mirable begins to investigate.

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Quite the team effort here, with directors Jared Bush (Zootropolis) & Byron Howard (Zootropolis, Tangled, Bolt), and co-director Charise Castro Smith, a screenplay by Bush and Smith, and music by the ultra-talented Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton). Working in the well-oiled machine that is Disney, these creatives, and a giant credit list that includes many, many more, have created a sweet story that does well to balance the fantastical, with a cultural celebration, and emotionally astute notes on generational pains and expectations.

The animation is, as you would no doubt expect from the studio giant, wonderful – a lively CG world filled to the brim with colour and tangible energy. But great animation isn’t much without a strong story, and Encanto manages to have just that – even with what is an interesting narrative approach when placed alongside other classic titles in the Disney library. It’s essentially a mystery – one without an obvious primary antagonist to provide the adversarial angle. The absence of a baddie for Mirabel to face does, on occasion, make it feel like there’s something lacking, as does the fact that there is no physical journey/roadtrip that often serves as a narrative framework. As a result, some older viewers may find the plot lacks little surprise as the answers to the mystery arrive. There’s also a vagueness to the magic that doesn’t help in understanding what it is that Mirable needs to reach, although the thematical reveals certainly show why this vagueness was narratively convenient.

Admittedly, these little narrative qualms may be showing this writer’s overly critical leanings, but I won’t let those nitpicks get me carried away. While Encanto offers a surprisingly simple story, it is crafted with clear care and love for its world, its characters, and the Colombian culture. Importantly, it also knows what it wants to say about families and finding one’s self within them, and Bush and Smith’s screenplay will no doubt strike a chord with many viewers, from all cultures and walks of life.

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Miranda continues to show that he is a talent to be reckoned with. This marks his second animated Disney film, although where Moana saw him craft songs with Opetaia Foa’i and Mark Mancina, Encanto has him writing songs in solo capacity. The tracks are catchy and emotive and will have you tapping toes and reaching for the tissues, from the fun character-introducing opener “The Family Madrigal”, to the emotional wallop delivered by “Dos Oroguitas” (this one hit me), to the celebratory nation anthem “Columbia, Mi Encanto”. Fans of the music created by the actor/singer/composer/playwright/producer/film director (yeesh!) will certainly be in safe hands, while the uninitiated will likely be won over as they Spotify the soundtrack on the way home.

There’s also a strong voice cast helping to bring it all to life, including María Cecilia Botero, John Leguizamo, Angie Cepeda, Carolina Gaitán, Diane Guerrero, and Wilmer Valderrama, among others. As our lead, Beatriz shines, delivering the character’s warmth and sense of humour, and nailing it on the singing front.

With its beautiful messages, strong characterisation, lovely animation, and wonderful music, Encanto should prove to be a heartwarming, emotional adventure to please audiences of all ages.

‘Encanto’ opened in Australian cinemas on December 2nd and U.S. cinemas on November 24th.


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