Walt Disney Animation Studio has created an array of magical worlds. From classic fairy tales like Snow White and the Seven Dwarves to recent adventures such as Raya and the Last Dragon, the animated studio continues to create realm rich with imagination. Yet not all magical worlds need to be far off kingdoms as our own is no stranger to exotic locales. Take the country of Columbia for example. Between its vast setting and rich culture, the country certainly has a sense of magic to it, which is what Disney thought in order to create their latest (and 60th) animated feature: Encanto.
Directed by Byron Howard and Jared Bush, Encanto tells the story of Mirabel Madrigal (Stephanie Beatriz) a normal girl who lives among her magical family. The Madrigal’s magic has brought joy to the village and their lives, but when it begins to falter it is up to Mirabel to solve the mystery and keep her family together. Along with being Disney’s 60th animated film, Encanto is the latest collaboration between and creator Lin-Manuel Miranda who is known for his musicals In the Heights and Hamilton as well creating the music for Disney’s Moana. A new animated film, and a musical no less, from Disney is always something to get for excited for the holidays, so naturally I had to check for myself. After venturing through this animated experience, it is my opinion that Encanto, while not Disney’s strongest, was an enchanting time to say the least.
Despite its magical concept, Encanto was truly about family. The plot center was the Madrigal family and their personal drama, and this was a strong element for the movie by giving it a personal touch. When it came to the conflict, the mystery surrounding Mirabel was captivating and kept me intrigued throughout the film, but this element only went so far. This issue highlighted the plot’s only fault which was its difficulty to balance its concepts with the conflict and this led to resolutions that (while good) were somewhat lacking. Despite its problems the story was still was still enjoyable thanks strong center and heartfelt moments.
The Madrigals’ story may have had its flaws, but the family themselves was a stellar cast. Mirabel was a solid protagonist and far better than I originally expected. Between her relatable nature and the charismatic performance from Stephanie Beatriz, Mirabel could be considered as one of the better characters seen in Disney’s latest films. Meanwhile the other family members, though some were stronger than others, left an impression and each a good sense of character to them. Although one member was particularly notable and that was Mirabel’s estranged uncle Bruno (John Leguizamo). His personal dilemma was only matched by Leguizamo’s enjoyable performance. Rounding out the cast was the Madrigals’ matriarch Abuela (Maria Cecilla Botero). Abuela’s conflict with Mirabel made for an engaging dynamic and gave this magical cast the right amount of complexity.
When it came to magic, the movie’s sense of wonder resided in its music. The score from Germaine Franco was appropriate for the movie’s locale, but the film’s musical numbers brought a fantastical element to this animated feature. Each number was catchy but songs such as “The Family Madrigal”, “Surface Pressure” and “Waiting on a Miracle” ended up being notable highlights for both the soundtrack and the movie. Helping the film’s musical side was the animation. While the overall design was nothing special (though it was not to say it was bad) the animation truly stood out in the musical numbers by giving each piece a creative flare that was stylish for the film and fitting for Disney’s pedigree.
Encanto was an experience filled with delight. While its storytelling could have been stronger, elements like the cast and the music more than made up for it by making this animated film both engaging and enjoyable. As Disney movies go, Encanto does not bring anything new to the table, but it certainly keeps true to the elements that have made this studio so special. In any case, Encanto is a heartfelt family film that feels right at home for the holiday season.