I haven’t loved a lot of Disney’s newer movies; either they’re missing that kind of Disney magic with notable songs and fun villains, or perhaps I’ve just aged out of them. And to be honest, I wasn’t too excited for Encanto. It wasn’t high on my list of movies to look forward to in 2021.
It just seemed like another one of Disney’s okay films, with a diverse cast and setting, but lacked something or was too meta for its own good.
But, I saw nothing but good reviews about it. So when it came out on Disney+ on Christmas, I figured I would check it out. And I was pleasantly surprised – while it lacks a lot of the qualities I’ve been looking for in Disney’s latest films, it still has an interesting premise, solid plot, amazing visuals, and excellent music. Unlike other Disney films, there’s legitimate potential for a spin-off series that doesn’t require any kind of retcon to the film’s ending. I’m actually excited to see if they make one.
In a small Columbian village, the members of the Madrigal family are blessed with magical gifts on their fifth birthday. Except for Mirabel. After the youngest Madrigal, Antonio is blessed with the ability to speak with animals – Mirabel sees their sentient home, Casita, starting to crack.
Nobody believes her but when the family’s gifts begin to weaken, Mirabel investigates the cause. She finds that the cause may be related to a vision her missing uncle, Bruno, had of her many years ago. Now, it’s up to her to figure out how to save the magic that had blessed her family.
Aside from the obvious: the animation and most of the music, (This is Disney we’re talking about here, after all) the best aspect of the movie is the characters. This is a nice surprise after I found so many past protagonists to be rather…dull.
It helps there are no annoying talking animals or kid-appeal sidekicks included who are just there to spout off one-liners and sell toys. Sure, Casita, the house is a character but it doesn’t speak. Mirabel takes on most of this journey without support from her family, who ostracize her for not having a gift.
She’s awkward, quirky, and easily likable – despite being “average,” she’s not resentful of her family and genuinely cares for them. Well, maybe not her oldest sister – but that’s a pretty normal thing. But throughout the film, Mirabel struggles with her place in the family.
She’s doesn’t have a gift, she still sleeps in the nursery, and many members of her family don’t treat her as an equal. She struggles to prove herself. I think that message resonated with a lot of people.
She’s a weirdo to her family and they genuinely don’t understand her or her struggles. But they’re also all struggling with the pressure put on them by Abuela. She doesn’t have powers – but because she’s the matriarch and she’s responsible for the whole village, she places all the pressure on her family to be perfect.
And like, her reasoning makes sense. I mean, how would you react if a literal deus ex machina saved you and your people after your husband’s death and blessed your children with great powers? You’d want to make sure that magic doesn’t leave.
Unfortunately, she goes about it the wrong way.
Other members of the family like Bruno, Isabella, and Luisa – in particular struggle with their gifts. Bruno was ostracized because his visions often were of terrible things and people blamed him for the events that occurred.
Isabella, who can grow flowers, struggles with the idea that she has to be “perfect” at all times, even agreeing to marry a man she has no interest in because it will be good for the family.
And Luisa who is buff and super-strong feels like she has to protect everyone. But she’s an emotional, gentle soul and doesn’t fall into the trap of “dumb muscle.” She’s emotional and gentle.
I also love her design. She’s allowed to be buff, in design without it being unattractive or overly sexualized.
Which is nice – all of the designs are nice. There’s lots of variation and diversity in body types and skin colors. The one thing I also really liked was the thought put into the gifts the family had – they weren’t all standard fodder.
Mirabel’s mom’s powers (healing through food), her cousin Delores’ power of being able to hear even the quietest sound, and Isabelle’s control over plants are not unheard of – but are uncommon abilities. It was nice not to see invisibility or super speed. All of the gifts are clearly to help people in some way.
They’re not just because these people are “better,” they’re just chosen.
There’s a distinct lack of clarity in certain aspects of Encanto. Like many of the recent Disney movies, we’re never given an explanation as to how the magic system works. Powers seem to be given out at random; and rather than based on personality.
It seems more like everyone has created this personality around their ability – which is an interesting choice, and it’s certainly an important part of the story, but I’m just kind of sick of these magic systems not being explained!
Is it the house that picks the powers? The candle? It’s not really clear. It’s something that could be clarified in the series if they should ever make one.
And while the music is good – it’s by Lin Manuel Miranda, only a handful of the songs are really memorable. Like surely there are other musicians you can use for your Latin American movie. He’s an excellent musician, but he has a very distinct style. And after hearing it in sooo many movies including Vivo, and Moana…I’m just kind of tired of it.
It’s not special anymore.
It’s not unique.
I want to hear something different. I want other people to get their chance.
Honestly, this film is very good from a technical perspective and from my knowledge a great story about intergenerational trauma and how important it is to acknowledge mistakes; but for some reason, it didn’t totally resonate with me.
I don’t know what it was – but the film, even with all its emotional beats and its lack of a butt-monkey, there was just something missing from it all. I don’t know if it’s because there wasn’t some grand adventure – more of the film takes place inside the house – or because there were so many characters that we didn’t get to know our protagonists well enough.
I also enjoyed how the film wasn’t afraid to get somewhat dark and mention the horrors of war. It was impressive for a Disney film – but I guess, it just wasn’t a movie for me. I still recommend checking it out – because maybe it will be for you.
And that’s the scoop.
Year of release: 2021
Length: 109 minutes
Screenplay: Charise Castro Smith, Jared Bush
Producers: Yvett Merino, Clark Spencer