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Encanto Review

November 24, 2021 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
Disney ENCANTO Image Credit: Disney
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Encanto Review  

Directed By: Jared Bush, Byron Howard and Charise Castro Smith
Written By: Charise Castro Smith and Jared Bush
Runtime: 99 minutes
MPA Rating: Rated PG for some thematic elements and mild peril

Stephanie Beatriz – Mirabel Madrigal
María Cecilia Botero – Abuela Alma Madrigal
John Leguizamo – Uncle Bruno Madrigal
Diane Guerrero – Isabel Madrigal
Jessica Darrow – Luisa Madrigal
Angie Cepeda – Julieta Madrigal
Wilmer Valderrama – Agustín Madrigal
Carolina Gaitán – Pepa Madrigal
Mauro Castillo – Félix Madrigal
Adassa – Dolores Madrigal
Rhenzy Feliz – Camilo Madrigal
Ravi-Cabot Conyers – Antonio Madrigal
Alan Tudyk – Pico

Walt Disney Animation Studios’ latest family animated feature is the enjoyable, yet undercooked, Encanto. The movie is perfectly fine and acceptable family fare with nice animation, but it’s under-served by its musical format.

Set in the mountains of Colombia, the story follows the Madrigal Family, who are the leaders and role models for their little closed-off piece of utopia. When family matriarch, Abuela Alma (Cecilia Botero), was searching for a new place to live for her growing family, in a dire hour, the Madrigals received a perfect, beautiful miracle. Alma’s candle became a magical everlasting light, granting the family a magical, sentient homestead and a new village. Also, each of Alma’s children were gifted a unique superpower by the light. With these gifts, Alma and her children build their new home in a thriving, peaceful community.

Each new family member is given their own blessing with a unique ability at birth, until the day of the gift blessing for Alma’s granddaughter, Mirabel Madrigal (Beatriz). Mirabel was not granted a unique gift by the Madrigal’s miraculous candle, much to her shame and regret. However, Mirabel soon receives a premonition that the light and magic for the Madrigal family’s home is in danger and at grave risk. Despite her lack of a gift, Mirabel might be the only hope to save her family and the peaceful home their grandmother fought so hard to achieve.

The CG animation of Encanto looks vibrant, lush and majestic, especially with such a unique location as rural Colombia. The exotic setting allows the animators to stretch their muscles and come up with some unique designs and set pieces. The Madrigal homestead, as a sentient life-form is given an amusing attitude and character, similar to Magic Carpet from Aladdin.

The problems for Encanto lie in a very clunky first half. The setup to the film is rough, like an un-ripened fruit, and it has trouble finding its footing. The film needed a strong sense of the story’s stakes, and the threat or doom the Madrigal family faces could have been better established. In addition, while the village that was granted to the Madrigals by the magic light is lovely and peaceful, it’s also highly isolated. It raises the question of what’s happening outside of the mountains that shield the town. Would losing the magic put the entire town at risk as well? Is it still dangerous outside the mountains? Do any of the Madrigals want to leave their home and see the rest of the world? These are ideas the movie raises but does not fully explore.

Some of the other members of the Madrigal clan seem fun and interesting. Unfortunately, beyond Mirabel and her grandmother, the rest of the family are woefully under-developed. It’s a shame because it looks like a lot of effort went into designing and establishing the building blocks for some interesting characters for the Madrigals, but the rest of the relatives are not elevated outside of acting as two-dimensional archetypes. Mirabel’s aunt, Pepa (Gaitán), has weather powers, and she has emotional moods wings. So, Pepa has to keep it together lest their whole town becomes a thunderstorm. Mirabel’s second-oldest sister, Luisa (Darrow), has super strength and does all the town’s heavy lifting. The Madrigals look and sound interesting, but needed additional screentime and development.

When the film finally reintroduces Mirabel’s missing and estranged Uncle, Bruno (Leguizamo), Encanto starts to click. Bruno appears to possess soothsayer powers that grant him visions of certain futures. The drawback is that his visions are not always positive. Leguizamo is perfectly cast here as the eccentric Uncle Bruno. It’s fun to see him voicing a Disney animated character after his multiple outings as Sid for the Ice Age series, and this is a character where he uses his natural voice. Leguizamo’s Bruno gives the film a nice breath of fresh air and a bit more momentum to the plot.

Encanto is about the anxiety of living up to your family’s expectations. And that’s a good message and theme to explore for this type of feature. Also, Mirabel’s fear and doubt are not unique within her family. Once that becomes the clear focus of the story, Encanto’s narrative begins to recover.

There’s an incredibly heartbreaking and emotional sequence later in the film that shows what the Walt Disney Animation Studio is truly capable of when it’s batting on all cylinders. The film plays like there was significant disharmony during the production, resulting in major story overhauls, which is not unique to Disney or Pixar features. This results in a largely uneven first half. When Encanto progresses deeper into the second act, the gloves come off, and the story provides some powerful imagery.

The other major driving issue that holds Encanto back is the musical comedy format. Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the film’s original songs, which mostly fall flat. Moana may not have hit a home run with all of its songs, but at least the film had a couple of solid winners. Here, the songs are trying, but they lack catchy iconography. There are even a couple of moments where Miranda appears to be trying to channel Frozen‘s “Let It Go.” The effort and passion in the music are there, but the qualities that make Disney songs so memorable are missing.

The songs of Encanto aren’t necessarily bad. They just aren’t particularly fun or memorable. Or they swing for the fences without ever really connecting. The soundtrack starts off decently enough with “Welcome to the Family Madrigal,” but even that number is a bit iffy. The rest of the songs sounded fairly forgettable.

Overall, Encanto is an entertaining film with a vibrant, exotic look. While the characters are undercooked, they are not without their charm. It’s simply a dish that needed a bit more time in the oven.

The final score: review Good
The 411
While Encanto has a very rough, clunky opening act, the plot begins to settle and take a stronger shape as Mirabel progresses on her journey. It has a vibrant look and setting. While the songs aren't particularly catchy or memorable, there are quite a few elements to like in Encanto. Children will be entertained by the younger characters and creatures, and families will appreciate the strong, emotional moments. Encanto is not an animated masterpiece, but it has enough unique flourishes to avoid mediocrity.