“Encanto”: Disney Magic Casts it’s 60th Spell

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Source: CNBC

Will Teare

Director: Byron Howard and Jared Bush

Starring: Stephenie Beatriz, John Leguizamo, and Mariá Cecelia Botero

Release Date: Nov 24, 2021

Rating: 4/5

We all know it. The camera pans through the clouds over a night-time view of a river with a large old sailing ship and a train crossing a bridge. The orchestra swells to the tune of When You Wish Upon a Star, and a castle is revealed under the light of some fireworks. A fairy (my crack team of scholars and scientists believe this “fairy” is the entity known as “Tinker Bell”) arcs the sky above the castle and leaves a trail of fairy dust. Finally, the logo of “Disney” is revealed, and we fade into the film. This intro is merely a studio intro like any other, but it’s come to mean something different as well. Despite the discussion of Disney and its ethical place as a media monopoly, it remains a mark of quality and artistic innovation. Disney Animation Studios’ 60th feature, Encanto, is no exception.

Encanto follows la Familia Madrigal, a family blessed with assortments of special abilities living in a magical, sentient house. For example, Louisa is super-strong, Isabela can control flowers, and Antonio can talk to animals. Led by Abuela Madrigal, the family uses their powers to help out around their village. Yet Mirabel, the youngest daughter of the house Madrigal, doesn’t have a gift at all. So with the magic mysteriously fading, it’s up to Mirabel to save the family. 

This is really nothing new when looking at Disney Animation’s track record, but the animation is gorgeous. What people forget about animation is that you make every single movie from scratch. You can’t point a camera and let it unfold; you need to build everything. The artist’s level of detail is unbelievable. The way that when Mirabel turns, her hair sways a little extra to emphasize the speed. Or maybe when the house is crumbling, Delores flinches due to the fact that she has super-hearing, making her sensitive to loud noises. Not only that, but the movie exudes color to match this musical fantasy world. 

Lin Manuel Miranda, musical aficionado and Disney veteran, returns once more to write the music for the film. Frankly, it’s this element where it’s most lacking. It all goes by very quickly without anything lasting. Rarely is the music used beyond exposition or a placeholder to make the story a little more interesting. Although the music certainly doesn’t detract from anything, it always felt like it never truly earned its place in the film. Thankfully, the animation can pick up what the music lacks with exciting visuals that are constantly in motion and never faltering in their beauty. 

I do have to give this movie credit with one criticism that has been a constant in Disney films since the release of Aladdin in 1992. That would be the use of celebrities ill-fitted for animation rather than trained voice actors. The animation medium, specifically American animation, really falls under that issue. They bring in people not well versed in a specific acting style merely to put a big name on the film rather than get a talented actor. In Encanto, the only big names are Stephenie Beatriz and John Leguizamo. They are talented voice actors in their own right. Leguizamo has proven himself in the Ice Age franchise as Sid plenty of times, but it’s Beatriz who really shines. I’ve been on the Beatriz hype train since first seeing her in Brooklyn Nine-Nine in the role of the no-nonsense Detective Rosa Diaz. Since then, she’s gotten plenty of TV voice acting work and even a supporting role in this year’s In the Heights. Now, she’s really at the top of her game as Mirabel. There wasn’t a single moment in here where it took me out as an audience member to recognize that it’s just an actor in front of a mic in a sound booth somewhere in LA. While it’s nothing groundbreaking, her work deserves to be recognized as just a talented actor. 

Although nothing surprising or groundbreaking, the story managed to make my eyes well up with tears near the ending with the song “Dos Orugitas” and a revelation about one of the central characters. At its core, Encanto is a story of family and the effects of generational trauma on the youth. It’s this element that brings it all together for me into a great family film and an excellent commentary on what native Colombians have had to overcome amid corruption and an ongoing conflict, despite never directly referencing the term “generational trauma” or the socio-political climate of Colombia. Its themes and message are universal to anyone who feels like the black sheep of their family or doesn’t feel like they fit into the status quo of what their family has established. Encanto manages to have a great message and beautiful animation despite the music and not having anything new to offer. It is a fun time for the whole family that’s difficult not to get swept up and into the magic of it all. Encanto, as the title says, is wonderfully enchanting. Rating: 4/5

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