Encanto is Disney’s 60th animated motion picture; released in UK cinemas at the end of November to very little publicity, it’s now available to stream on Disney+. With a soundtrack by Lin-Manuel Miranda and focusing on a magical family, it’s a surprise then that the film is surprisingly lacking in the usual Disney magic.
The film is set in Columbia and follows the magical Madrigal family, led by grandmother and matriarch Abuela Alma (María Cecilia Botero). As a young woman, Abuela fled political unrest in her village along with her husband and three infant children. Chased by armed men, Abuela’s husband sacrifices himself to save his family, where she is granted a miracle in the form of a magic candle. The candle creates a barrier to the outside world and a home, Casita, for Abuela and her children to live in.
As the years go by, a village grows protected by Casita, and members of the Madrigal family are gifted superhuman abilities which they use to help the villagers. Abuela’s daughters Pepa (Carolina Gaitan) and Julieta (Angie Cepeda) are given the gifts of mood changing weather and healing powers through food, whereas son Bruno (John Leguizamo) has precognitive abilities that cause conflicts in the village leading him to flee.
Abuela’s grandchildren are also gifted abilities, with Luisa (Jessica Darrow) having superhuman strength, Isabela (Diane Guerrero) who has the ability to grow flowers and plants, Dolores (Adassa) who has enhanced hearing, and Camilo (Rhenzy Felix) who can shapeshift. However, Julieta’s youngest daughter Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz) was not gifted any powers and is treated differently by the rest of the family. After youngest grandchild Antonio is given the ability to speak to animals, Mirabel begins to see cracks in the Casita, leading to the destruction of the candle, but her warnings to the family go unheeded when they see no damage. Determined to find answers, Mirabel begins to investigate the problems with the house that soon leads her to Bruno’s room, abandoned since he left. Soon she discovers a vision that may bring her answers, but could also destroy the family entirely.
Encanto is undoubtedly a beautiful, stunning looking film. It’s full of vibrant colours, wonderful settings and flawless animation, and you wouldn’t really expect any less from Disney. It’s a great, dynamic design and full of movement and seamless detail, and is also a very good representation of South American culture. It’s helped by Miranda’s original music, which impressively mixes Latino sounds with the catchy, pop-style tunes synonymous with a Disney film. They’re well-written songs that make you want to sing along at the time, although I’m not convinced that any of them are particularly memorable enough to stay with you after watching.
The film has a lot of heart and has a very powerful and moving message, as well as some pretty heart-warming moments. As with most of the recent Disney films, it doesn’t go down the predictable route and the story doesn’t play out the way you’d expect. The trouble is this can be both to the film’s benefit and to its detriment. Instead of going away on a big adventure travelling the world to determine the cause of Casita’s troubles, Mirabel instead ventures into the depths of the house. And while the house isn’t your average home, it’s not quite the excitement I was expecting.
In fact, for a film about magical powers, the whole thing feels very unmagical. Yes, it’s got heart and lots of it, but it’s missing in a lot of the other elements that make up that Disney magic. There are a few moments of humour but not enough, and a lot of the small amount of humour there is comes from John Leguizamo’s Bruno who doesn’t even appear until an hour in. It’s also crying out for a cute animal sidekick that is virtually a Disney trademark nowadays.
Encanto is a stunning, vivid film that has some catchy songs and gives a great deal of heart, but for me, it was lacking in the usual Disney magic to make it particularly memorable.
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A contract manager moonlighting as a rather discerning film and book critic, with an almost fangirl appreciation for anything made by Christopher Nolan. When I’m not catching up on my latest read or watch, you can usually find me trying out my amateur baking skills – Bake Off here I come!