Encanto Review


PLOT: In a house where all the family members get a magical power, one girl without one sets out to find out what’s happening to their house when the magic appears to be fading.

REVIEW: The great news about the new Disney animated musical Encanto is that anyone who’s been on board for the studio’s train of hits over the last ten years (Tangled, Frozen, Moana, etc.) will almost certainly only walk away with good vibes come the credits. The songs (written here by Lin-Manuel Miranda) are incredibly catchy; the animation is once again stunning and bar-raising; you can count on all sorts of quirky side characters and animal creatures to steal the show with a hefty helping of laughs and; of course, you can expect your heartstrings to get a gentle tug. In essence, this movie featuring a magic house that gives magical powers to a magical family does everything the folks at the Magic Kingdom have been fine-tuning for years just right – and if that’s all you could ever need from a movie like this, then I’d say your plans are sealed.

I can usually count myself in that class. The weird thing is, though, that despite all the fixins done to near-perfection for this latest burst of color from Disney, I still can’t shake the feeling of mild disappointment after watching Encanto. That’s not to say this is a rare bad film from this quadrant from the House of Mouse. As I said, there’s simply too much done reliably right for it to be classified as bad, or even wholly mediocre. But in bringing to life the story of the magical Madrigal family – the members of whom are granted with special powers at a certain age by a magic candle that also powers their house – this is indeed one of the rare animated films from Disney that feels like it’s put too much on its plate. The result is an admittedly enjoyable movie that does the vast majority of what it’s going for quite well, all while the special elements feel bogged down, leaving only the more superficial elements as the truly (very) bright stars.

The focus of the movie is placed on Mirabel Madrigal (Stephanie Beatriz), who is the only member of her family who was not granted a special power, like her sister Luisa (Jessica Darrow), who has super strength, or her other sister Isabela (Diane Guerrero) who is “perfect” and makes flowers bloom. Despite the fact the family then doesn’t give Mirabel the same kind of respect as other members of the family, Mirabel still loves them very much. She even loves Abuela Alma (María Cecilia Botero), who almost can’t help but seem very obviously disappointed in Mirabel, and who also can’t help but seem like a cult leader who inspires devotion from both her family and the townsfolk who have built a community at the base of the magic house, basking in the glow of the magical family. 

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Right off the bat, there are some weird dynamics going on with this family that I maybe feel I’m digging too deep into, but also sort of not enough. Mirabel does truly love her family (as expressed by the movie’s opening music number in which Beatriz gets to spit out some of Miranda’s fast-paced lyrics), even though she seems a bit ostracized within it. But she’s so dedicated to them and keeping her family safe that when mysterious cracks start to appear in the house – and Luisa begins to lose her powers – she sets out to investigate the dangers. 

On a visual level, Mirabel’s journey doesn’t take her across the seas like Moana or across a whole continent like Raya in Raya and the Last Dragon, but rather her incredibly gifted house. The house can rearrange its foundations to create limitless potential, like bedrooms custom made for the family to match their powers – like an entire rain forest for the young Antonio (Ravi-Cabot Conyers), who can speak to animals. Traversing around the house with Mirabel is always dazzling, with new corners and mysteries making the house feel endlessly alive and worthy of examining every nook and cranny. 

The further Mirabel goes in uncovering the reason behind why the magic seems to be fading from the house – which includes exploring the history of her missing uncle Bruno (John Leguizamo) – the more and more it becomes very clear this is a story about the weight of high family expectations and legacy, and how they can actually do more to hinder families than allow them to prosper. The strongest explorations of this are through the music, such as Luisa’s hard-hitting “Surface Pressure,” the salsa-vibe involving much of the family, “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” and Isabela’s “What Else Can I Do?” But perhaps more stunning than the music is the animated choreography attached to it. Like the house whenever it flips its tiles or adjusts its staircase, the characters move with incredible dexterity and vibrancy. Especially with “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” the blend of animation of music makes for a kaleidoscope of rhythm and color that finds the animators at the top of their game.

Along with the visuals and musical arrangement (score done by Germaine Franco), the songs also do much of the heavy-lifting in the character department. Family members don’t all get those meaningful moments of conversation to flesh out their characters. However, getting everyone together for a song gives them all a chance to be fleshed out, each with their own concerns, fears, and desires. I was really thankful for this by the end, as the script from Jared Bush (who also directed with Byron Howard) and Charise Castro Smith (who also gets a side co-director credit) doesn’t offer much. So much of Mirabel’s journey across the house is narratively too thin to be engaging without the amazing visuals and music, and with neither on screen, I found myself easily disengaged with what was going on.

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Much of that has to do with the reality that while the family members get a chance to sing, be around, and make some jokes, they don’t all factor into the story equally – with some members, like Mirabel’s mom and dad (Angie Cepeda, Wilmer Valderrama) simply feel “there”. As well, it’s hard to find the danger of the breaking house when the effects on the family aren’t consistent. Luisa, for one, is losing her powers, but everyone seems just fine. Mirabel’s aunt Pepa (Carolina Gaitán) is still able to control the weather around her with her emotions, and Mirabel’s cousin Dolores (Adassa) still has her super hearing (and thus knows everyone’s business). Mirabel’s investigation around the house may bring her in contact with these members of the family, but all the bouncing around and powers being shown off just masks the fact that nothing that’s happening underneath all the charm is terribly interesting. And with so many family members to juggle in the story, they can be put in the background until maybe they get a chance to vocalize how they’re magical life isn’t as magical for them as they would like.

Unfortunately, the same extends to Mirabel herself. She’s a solid protagonist that young viewers can relate to, with the love for her family being her superpower. And Beatriz is a charming lead voice, a role that allows her to show off her vocal skills and humor to bring out Mirabel’s nigh unbreakable spiritedness. However, it’s easy for her to feel sidelined by the rest of her family as her investigation gives her insight into their dynamics. She’s perfectly fun to be around across her adventure, but she can’t help but feel like a figurehead meant to shuffle between more interesting characters and scenery. This even applies to her conflict with her grandmother, with them only getting one real scene before the expected, heartfelt finale to really explore their dynamic. Everything just feels like touching bases, and as pretty and entertaining as it all is, whatever the real depth of the story is is either lost or simply glided over.  By the end, that all can’t help but somewhat dampen the emotional impact. While the animators did an amazing job with the final moment in which Abuela Alma goes into detail about the loss of her husband, the relationship between Mirabel and her just didn’t have the development behind it to make their moment have even more power than the visuals and music give it.

But, again, perhaps a complex examination of admittedly toxic family dynamics is not your cup of tea. Maybe the magic and the music and yucks are all you need for a good time with the family. Better yet, maybe just seeing a big family like this being there on the screen is an added bonus. And on that note, Encanto really does deliver. It’s a big, funny, sensory gift of an adventure with a great voice cast and endlessly impressive animation. But so much running around and set pieces to get to means that family members get only just enough to feel like characters, and are then relegated to the back for comedy fodder, if ever that at all. Encanto is undoubtedly magical, but with a story that plays it safe in the comforts of the Disney machine, it’s not quite magical enough to always match its dizzying highs.

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Source: JoBlo.com

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