It’s always a pleasure when a mainstream film gives a platform to voices that have long been underrepresented in Hollywood, and Disney’s “Encanto” expands the studio’s culturally-diverse canon with its first Latinx musical. Featuring a cast and crew comprised of a majority of Latin-born talent, this animated film is a terrific vehicle for not only expressing heritage-specific customs, but also teaching by opening doors to a new world.
The Madrigals are a large and truly extraordinary family. They live in a charmed home that’s hidden deep in the mountains of Colombia, a magical place they call the Encanto. When the children in the family reach a certain age, the house has blessed each of them with a unique gift, from the ability to talk to animals, heal with food, see visions of the future, or superhuman strength. Everyone has been given a special power, except for Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz). Abuela Alma (María Cecilia Botero) is disappointed that her granddaughter is just ordinary, but her parents (Wilmer Valderrama, Angie Cepeda) still think their daughter is just as special as everyone else. One night, Mirabel discovers that the magic that has held the Encanto together is now in danger, and she may be the family’s only hope to save it.
It’s a different and interesting story, with screenwriting duo Charise Castro Smith and Jared Bush blending elements of magic and superstition. Mirabel is an unconventional heroine, and the script doesn’t talk down to children (or adults, for that matter). It’s complex yet shallow, especially when it comes to exploring familial relationships. Sadly, there isn’t much to the plot, and the film runs out of steam quite early. The filmmakers tapped musician Lin-Manuel Miranda to pen a series of original songs, but they are mostly weak and uninspired. His style is very specific, and it’s starting to get tiring and irritating. I never thought I’d say this, but I’m getting a little tired of Miranda.
As is the hallmark with most projects from Walt Disney Animation Studios, the visuals are impeccable. The film is like a moving artwork, brightly colored and richly detailed. The Latin American culture truly comes alive in every frame. This is a terrific looking project, and the quality of animation is first class.
This is one of the most manipulative Disney offerings to date, as the film is unapologetically in your face with its heavy-handed emotional moments. Heartstrings will be tugged until they can bear no more, and sensitive viewers will want to keep a box of tissues handy.
While I didn’t love “Encanto,” I still appreciate its commitment to representing and building a clear, strong cultural identity onscreen. It’s quirky and different, and that’s just enough for a mild recommendation.