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  • Kyle Snape


Rating: PG

Runtime: 107 Minutes

Director: Byron Howard, Jared Bush

Cast: Stephanie Beatriz, John Leguizamo, Maria Cecilia Botero, Diane Guerrero

One of the best times of the year, especially during Awards Season, is when Disney Animation will pop out of the shadows to delight us once again with an annual treat. And after having spent the last couple years making sequels to their 2010 gems and using Raya from earlier this year as a means of experimentation, they are back once again with a brand new original musical named Encanto. Being Lin-Manuel Miranda’s second collaboration with the studio as a songwriter with the likes of Zootopia’s Byron Howard and Jared Bush at the helm, this newest film goes down new cultural paths not explored before by Disney. This film takes us to the beautiful mountains of Columbia following the lives of a magical family all blessed with their own unique gifts. While the culture and the themes present in Encanto are certainly different from what is usually expected from the studio, the end result is about on par with most of the Disney classics: pure musical fun for the whole family.

Encanto follows Mirabel, a young girl who lives in Columbia with her magical family, the Madrigals. Having been blessed with magic decades ago, each member of the family has a unique ‘gift’ which grants them superhuman-like abilities based on their personalities. Mirabel is the only member who doesn’t have such a gift and finds trouble fitting in as the ordinary girl amongst an group of extravagant individuals. But when she finds out that the magic in their beloved Casita is slowly starting to die, she goes on a journey of self discovery as she figures out that she might be the key to saving the house and the family.

While Encanto shares much of the same attributes you would commonly see in a Disney Musical, from bombastic song numbers to young impressionable protagonists and generally very strong feel-good vibes, what sets this whole film apart is its setting. This movie, compared to much of the Disney Animation library, is surprisingly small scale. There’s no antagonist, the conflict is not of a world shattering size, and almost the entirety of the picture is just set within the Casita where the Mirabel's reside. While there is the possible chance that Encanto’s bottled location and low stakes story might be a turnoff for some audiences, it genuinely works in the film’s favour. Because this film’s primary focus is specifically on the Madrigal family, the film is more so a character study for its ensemble cast rather than a traditional hero’s journey which is just the perfect fit for this story. Mirabel, of course, is the primary focus on this film but she isn’t the only one to have a significant amount of depth here.

The best way to describe Encanto as a whole is that it’s a story about self-worth. Mirabel is a person who feels misplaced in a family where she is the only one without a gift and as such, she feels worthless and left out when everyone else around her appears so unique and helpful in their own right. There’s plenty to really admire about her and audiences will really find an emotional connection to her just based on her own plight. It’s not an arc based on conventional hero’s journey clichés but one of her coming to discover her own qualities among her family in a way that feels more natural in between the occasional song numbers which up the theatrics. This also ties into the rest of the plot because in many ways, Mirabel trying to save the casita’s magic is not only a goal in service of her family but also for herself, bringing many of the film’s themes of familial love and pride in oneself into the limelight front and centre.

And thankfully, this also applies to the rest of the family in Encanto. It could have been so easy for the filmmakers to just antagonise the family members to only make our empathy for Mirabel to grow stronger, but the film does the exact opposite. Most of the Madrigal members get plenty of moments to shine in this film, whether it may be for playful banter and humorous sight gags, or to get to know them on deeper intellectual levels. Some characters like Mirabel’s sisters, Luisa and Isabella, both get moments to shine in this movie mainly through how the film explores their own anxieties and struggles; how their gifts place them in scary positions where they both have a lot to live up to and it puts them at odds with who they really are deep down. It’s also in areas such as these where Lin-Manuel Miranda brings his musical theatre chops to the forefront to provide unique songs for each of these characters in form of a good, albeit not great soundtrack. The songs in Encanto are generally quite solid, providing many individual music genres that distinguish them apart from one another, but in comparison to Miranda’s last collab with Disney on Moana, this simply just doesn’t have the same level of memorability or snappiness. It’s a bit unfair to critique this film in such a way since it’s undeniably hard to top a Disney soundtrack on the same level of near perfection as that film, but all things considered, it’s good that Miranda did absolutely try with these songs. The animation is incredibly vibrant and stellar which adds to the enjoyment of the music as the scenes play alongside them too. As a result, they remain fairly enjoyable bops that might just not be something people will remember immensely when they leave the cinema. This may change in due time however as the years go by and this film gets treated more as part of the whole Disney catalogue so we’ll have to wait and see on that one.


Saying that Encanto is yet another truly great animated feature film may sound kind of redundant given Disney Animation’s beloved history, but it only goes to show just how far the studio can go when they take some familiar elements and interject them with newly explored cultural concepts and themes. On the whole, this is just the perfect film to take the family out to for the holiday season, not only for its messages of familial love, but also in how it explores self worth in a way that will only bring you closer to your loved ones. Whether it may be for the music, the beautiful animation or the heartfelt moments that bring it all together, Encanto is not one to miss. It’s easily one of the best animated movies of this year.


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