Directed by: Jared Bush & Byron Howard
Written by: Charise Castro Smith & Jared Bush
Starring: Stephanie Beatriz, María Cecilia Botero, John Leguizamo, Mauro Castillo, Jessica Darrow
No one places higher expectations on you than family members, especially when they want or need to uphold a specific legacy. Not many legacies get larger than the one encountered in Encanto as the pressure to succeed and give back causes a rift that could potentially end the very existence of the town brought to life because of a special power held by the Madrigals.
In a remote Colombian town, a magical family called the Madrigals give back to their community through the distinct powers they receive when they come of age. Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz) never received a power herself, which has made her unique within her family, but once she discovers that the future sees her as the downfall of her family, she tries to find the solution before everything comes crumbling down.
You can ask any Latine individual and they will tell you the importance of family in the way they go about their lives. It’s integral to our identity and how we carry ourselves, and it’s something Encanto very much leans into when telling this story of a family trying to cover up its issues through the literal use of magic. A story so poignant in ways for individuals willing to engage on a deeper level can enjoy while also having the elements that make Disney animated films so entertaining for all four quadrants of the viewing public. Really shows off what makes Disney so good at this.
While not having any definitive villain, the main tension of this feature lies between Mirabel and her grandmother, Alma (María Cecilia Botero). One wants to confront the dangers of the family’s future along with the sins of the past while Alma finds herself just trying to keep everything together to the best of her ability and wanting to assure a brighter future for all. Something very recognizable to the Latine experience in such a pinpoint manner. All you have to do is add some powers and boom it makes for a ridiculously entertaining film while still being incredibly impactful thematically. The way these two push and pull each other throughout the feature makes for the most catharsis as we reach the finale and demonstrates this film is just working on another level.
One major bright spot of this feature comes from the design of the characters. As has been displayed in several Hollywood productions centering Latine individuals, one could be fooled into believing the monoculture of light-skinned individuals, which could not be further from the truth. This feature creates what a genuine Latine family looks like. All different shades and hairstyles create the tapestry of each family. It’s something incredibly small in the larger view of the story but makes such an impact because it’s the reality of things. It just makes the experience all the more representative, which should be the goal of any production focusing on culture as this film does.
As with any Disney musical, a major discussion point comes from the songs and how well they work within the narrative along with their longstanding presence. With this review dropping well after its release, you, the reader, already know the international popularity of “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” as a strong cast performance pushing the narrative forward. Very much an enjoyable song but this feature contained so many tunes that have individuals felt seen from “Surface Pressure” to “What Else Can I Do?” However, like with many of these animated features, there’s usually a song that penetrates the heart as it comes at an emotionally vital part of the film and this film’s version comes with “Dos Oruguitas.” Simply a beautifully written song with spectacular vocals brought on by Sebastián Yatra to punctuate the struggles and hopes of Alma from a young woman to the matriarch she represents in this feature. Yes, it can cause some waterworks, especially if one understands Spanish. All this to say, the music on display in this feature works incredibly well and stands out as one of the many bright spots of what it has to offer overall.
Encanto lives up to every metric as to what makes a successful Disney film, from the song that will not leave your head to the moment where you will likely shed a tear. Its representation also hits the right notes as to actually showing what a Latine family looks like even when coming from the same matriarch. Lin-Manuel Miranda certainly proves once again that he can write songs like no other right now in the creative ways he manages to continue to pump these out. This film is simply just a delight overall and many individuals will see themselves in this story whether they are the pressured oldest sibling, the pressured perfect sibling, or the pressured outcast just trying to find their own space in the family tree. Seeing a pattern here? So well done and incredibly enjoyable.