Directed by Jared Bush, Byron Howard, and Charise Castro Smith.
Featuring the voice talents of Stephanie Beatriz, María Cecilia Botero, John Leguizamo, Wilmer Valderrama, Adassa, Diane Guerrero, Mauro Castillo, Angie Cepeda, Jessica Darrow, Rhenzy Feliz, Carolina Gaitán, and Ravi Cabot-Conyers.
A young Colombian girl has to face the frustration of being the only member of her family without magical powers.
There’s a promising theme at the center of Encanto that practically serves as a counterpoint to various messages presented in the never-ending onslaught of superhero movies (ironic, considering the animated feature comes from Disney). Mirabel Madrigal (voice of Stephanie Beatriz) is the only bloodline member of the family who was rejected a superpower gift by their magical Colombian home. Holding her head up and trying not to let the inexplicable denial be a bother, Mirabel cheerfully helps out whenever she can. However, when her relatives are capable of feats such as superhuman strength, healing, weather manipulation, animal communication, visions of the future, and more, it’s challenging to stand out and find a proper purpose.
Matriarch Abuela Alma Madrigal (voice of María Cecilia Botero) insists Mirabel is still loved and cherished all the same, but on the night her younger cousin is granted his ability, it’s more than evident that she is a black sheep. Case in point, she is overlooked when taking a new family photo, one that her parents (voiced by Angie Cepeda and Wilmer Valderrama) are a part of. Nevertheless, Mirabel remains spirited, supportive, and happy for her loved ones. Of course, she considers it a bummer that she doesn’t have a gift, but she is too selfless to let that show externally.
The question then is, does one really need magical abilities to be just as valuable and beloved as the rest? Here is an even better question that Encanto is at its most thought-provoking when exploring; are the superpowers a burden that has not only come to define each family member but has made them miserable? Take Luisa (voiced by Jessica Darrow), a behemoth of a woman constantly ordered to carry heavy objects around. In one of Encanto‘s most lyrically affecting song and dance routines (it’s also worth mentioning that Lin-Manuel Miranda writes the songs), Luisa discusses her unhappiness, abundance of stress, and the misplaced sense of worth the abilities has brought on her.
It also helps that the musical numbers are a dazzling combination of colorfully vivid and imaginatively dynamic (the floorboards behave like piano keystrokes when danced on, household objects seemingly have minds of their own as they enter the frame). There is also no fear of abandoning those environments and a sense of grounded reality to further fuel imagination. Couple that with the rich amount of diversity representation on display, and directors Jared Bush, Byron Howard, and Charise Castro Smith (the former two are also responsible for Zootopia, one of Disney’s most extraordinary efforts last decade) have an indisputably gorgeous animated feature with a new set of memorable songs from one of the most talented songwriters of today, also packed with insane levels of CGI detail (Encanto utilizes sand more impressively than no other).
Unfortunately, this unparalleled level of aesthetic polish and bombardment of bright colors is offset by a lackluster narrative that starts reasonably intriguing while introducing elements of mystery but not before resorting to a forced third-act sibling rivalry and clichés of guilt. The script from Jared Bush and Charise Castro Smith also has messiness to it in terms of relaying information and details about these characters, meaning a good half of the songs are bogged down by explaining away who characters are, how they are related, what their relationship with Mirabel is like, and how any of it relates to the plot.
Without giving much of that plot away, Encanto involves the magic fading away for an unknown reason, with visions of the potential destruction of the home that would be disastrous for both the Madrigals and the community they have built. This sends Mirabel on a quest to reconnect with estranged outcast Bruno Madrigal (a hyperactive and amusing John Leguizamo) to understand better the vision and how to prevent such a reality from willing itself into existence. Stephanie Beatriz is a more than capable voiceover performer able to generate enough spark and sympathy to stay engaged in her journey as both an individual and finding her place in something much more significant, so as scattered as the story feels, it’s typically always entertaining.
Undeniably, Encanto is marvelous to behold, occasionally emotional, vigorously performed, and boasts catchy tunes. Hence, it’s a shame that the initially encouraging writing, for the most part, is unable to stay committed to its message. The final scene nearly undoes everything that comes before with annoying contradiction. However, the 90 minutes before that lean favorably towards delightful and astonishingly beautiful. The magic is there; strong writing is absent.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com