REVIEW: Encanto [2021]

Rating: 7 out of 10.
  • Rating: PG | Runtime: 99 minutes
    Release Date: November 24th, 2021 (USA)
    Studio: Walt Disney Animation Studios / Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
    Director(s): Jared Bush & Byron Howard / Charise Castro Smith (co-director)
    Writer(s): Charise Castro Smith & Jared Bush / Jared Bush, Byron Howard, Charise Castro Smith, Jason Hand, Nancy Kruse & Lin-Manuel Miranda (story)

Make your family proud.


Abuela Alma (María Cecilia Botero) was alone with her triplet babies when a miracle occurred. Her husband had just been lost trying to protect them from the rampant violence that has displaced thousands of Colombians. They would have been killed too if not for the magic that manifested a stone barrier protecting the four remaining Madrigal family members from the conflict. With it came a living house powered by the everlasting candle that ignited this impossible moment. Alma would return the favor by becoming its protector too along with her children once they came of age to receive a magical gift that would position them as integral to the survival of the town relying upon the safety bestowed in their shadow. Prosperity and peace were theirs to share.

A ton of people had their hand in creating the story that would spawn from this origin point two generations later—including songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda. The job to hone those ideas into script form fell to Jared Bush (who directs with Byron Howard) and Charise Castro Smith. As has been the norm of late for Disney, Smith finding herself with a co-director credit as well probably infers that she was one of the driving forces behind the entire endeavor. Even if that’s not true, however, having her there to steward the matriarchal family at the center of Encanto alongside a mostly male creative team (one other woman gets a story credit) is crucial to ensuring an authentic voice both gender-wise and culturally. See Adrian Molina‘s work on Coco.

We enter the Madrigal estate on the day of young Antonio’s (Ravi Cabot-Conyers) ascension (for lack of a better term). It’s time for him to receive his birthright powers courtesy of the candle by way of a magical shimmering door that will ultimately become his personal sanctuary like all the relatives before him. Well. All relatives save Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz). For some reason, her door disappeared as she reached out to turn its handle. Antonio’s older siblings all got gifts (Adassa‘s Dolores can hear a pin drop and Rhenzy Feliz‘s Camilo can shapeshift). So too did Mirabel’s sisters (Jessica Darrow‘s Luisa is super strong and Diane Guerrero‘s Perfect Isabela grows beautiful foliage from thin air). It’s not therefore about having a non-magical father. She’s simply been passed over.

Her mom Julieta (Angie Cepeda) can heal any ailment with her cooking—something her dad Agustín’s (Wilmer Valderrama) allergy to bees takes advantage of often. Her aunt Pepa (Carolina Gaitan) controls the weather with her emotions and thus needs Uncle Félix (Mauro Castillo) to help calm her when anxiety strikes. And her uncle Bruno (John Leguizamo) can conjure visions of the future, a gift that has tragically caused him to go into self-exile. Mirabel being “normal” is obviously a big deal for everyone as a result. The townspeople pity her. The family, insofar as hoping she isn’t the start of a new trend, fears her. A lot is therefore riding on Antonio. He’ll either prove the magic remains strong or confirm that it’s been gradually fading away.

It shouldn’t be too difficult to figure out what’s going on. Why would a family of superpowered heroes suddenly find themselves with a member who didn’t follow suit? Because they need a wake-up call that only someone with one foot in each world can provide. Mirabel must be both committed to saving the family and uniquely positioned to understand what it is to exist without a crutch. That is what this type of gift is, after all. Yes, the Madrigals can do wonderful things. But those things come at the price of anonymity and autonomy. If you’ve been raised into believing you are beholden to an entire community whose literal survival is thrust into your hands at a very young age, how much room is left for self-care?

This is an important lesson that shines through the film from start to finish, but it isn’t necessarily one that demands almost two-hours to deliver. Encanto is thus simultaneously drawn-out beyond its content’s scope to pad the runtime and rushed to get us across the finish line thanks to there being so many characters with which to contend. I wouldn’t have listed every member of the Madrigal family above if they didn’t all play a crucial role to the plot. That means that each one demands ample exposition to figure out their place in the whole’s grand scheme. And once you find that two-thirds of the film has expired to provide it, there’s not much time left to bring the plot full circle to its inevitably bow-tied conclusion.

Credit Bush and Smith for finding a way a kill two birds with one stone in many instances, though. A huge portion of Luisa, Isabella, and especially Bruno’s backstories are crucial to propelling Mirabel’s quest to save the family’s miracle forward. Learning about their psychological burden and waning self-esteem when confronted with satisfying Abuela Alma’s expectations is what allows Mirabel to recognize just how different her perspective is to the others. Just because their powers grant them adulation while instilling her with jealousy doesn’t mean they aren’t struggling with the same desperate need for approval. They’re just as jealous of Mirabel for being normal because the pressure they endure daily is crippling. She can either free them of that burden or amplify the stress threatening their miracle’s viability.

So, while the finished product is slight, it’s also undeniably endearing. We root for Mirabel (in no small part because of Beatriz’s comedic timing and heartfelt emotion) and enjoy the environment and tone’s impact on overall success since everyone else comes and goes at breakneck speed to fulfill their piece of the puzzle before stepping back and waiting for their next turn. We like them all because of their humorous and often catty rapport, sticking with the revolving door approach to their purpose while enjoying the house’s own colorful personality and ability to take us from point A to B with excitement and awe. This is a well-oiled machine for better and worse—one that should delight audiences regardless of how fleeting the memory ultimately becomes.


photography:
[1] Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Encanto” introduces the Madrigals, a compelling and complicated extended family who live in a wondrous and charmed place in the mountains of Colombia. Opening in the U.S. on Nov. 24, 2021, “Encanto” features the voices of Stephanie Beatriz as the only ordinary child in the Madrigal family; María Cecilia Botero as Mirabel’s grandmother, Abuela Alma; Angie Cepeda and Wilmer Valderrama as Mirabel’s parents, Julieta and Agustín; Jessica Darrow and Diane Guererro as Mirabel’s sisters Luisa and Isabela; Carolina Gaitan and Mauro Castillo as Mirabel’s aunt and uncle, Pepa and Félix; and Adassa Candiani, Rhenzy Feliz and Ravi Cabot-Conyers as Mirabel’s cousins Dolores, Camilo and Antonio, respectively. © 2021 Disney. All Rights Reserved.
[2] Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Encanto” introduces the Madrigals, a compelling and complicated extended family who live in a wondrous and charmed place in the mountains of Colombia. Opening in the U.S. on Nov. 24, 2021, “Encanto” features the voices of (clockwise starting from center) Stephanie Beatriz as the only ordinary child in the Madrigal family; Ravi Cabot-Conyers, Rhenzy Feliz and Adassa as Mirabel’s cousins Antonio, Camilo and Dolores, respectively; Mauro Castillo and Carolina Gaitan as Mirabel’s uncle and aunt, Félix and Pepa; María Cecilia Botero as Mirabel’s grandmother, Abuela Alma; Angie Cepeda and Wilmer Valderrama as Mirabel’s parents, Julieta and Agustín; and Jessica Darrow and Diane Guererro as Mirabel’s sisters Luisa and Isabela. © 2021 Disney. All Rights Reserved.
[3] Welcome to the family Madrigal where every child is blessed with a magic gift unique to them. Everyone, that is, except Mirabel. Voiced by Stephanie Beatriz, Mirabel is determined to prove she belongs within this extraordinary family. Opening in the U.S. on Nov. 24, 2021, Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Encanto” features songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda. © 2021 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.