Directed By Jared Bush and Byron Howard
Starring – Stephanie Beatriz, Maria Cecilia Botero, John Leguizamo
The Plot – Tells the tale of an extraordinary family, the Madrigals, who live hidden in the mountains of Colombia, in a magical house, in a vibrant town, in a wondrous, charmed place called an Encanto. The magic of the Encanto has blessed every child in the family with a unique gift from super strength to the power to heal-every child except one, Mirabel (Beatriz). But when she discovers that the magic surrounding the Encanto is in danger, Mirabel decides that she, the only ordinary Madrigal, might just be her exceptional family’s last hope.
Rated PG for some thematic elements and mild peril.
– Cultural representation. Once again, Disney takes artistic and thematic opportunity in conveying a geographical influence to a film that is enriched by an abundance of insightful knowledge that it disperses in the experience. From the plot of the movie itself, which is a take-off of Columbian magical realism, (a literary genre using magical elements in ordinary settings) to the vast array of Columbian characters fleshed out with a family-first ideal, to even the sights of cuisine or sounds of Germaine Franco’s culturally absorbing score, everything here feels authentically stimulating and originally compelling when seen through the scope of a nation of people not typically privy to such documentation, and bringing with it a mentally stimulating awareness and entertaining intrigue that pays off in spades for the prominence of the narrative, while capturing an essence in community pride that outlines them as prideful people with the very same hopes and emotional impulses as the characters we’re traditionally gift-wrapped in consistency.
– Evolutionary animation. Not mentioning this near the top of the list for positives would be doing a grave disservice to not only Disney, but also the legion of artists who exceptionally invoke such broad and breathtaking strokes in the film’s stunning visuals. This wouldn’t be such a big deal for a company like Pixar, who always feel on the cutting edge of the next big step for animated ambition, but for Disney, the combination of radiant color and intimate detailing articulate a canvas for the film that works cohesively with the fantastical elements of the gifts deposited to its characters, bringing with it some surprising instances of texture that single-handedly took the cake for me. Aspects like lighting and shadows in the permeating emotionality of the sequences are only surpassed by the environmental influence on character designs or wardrobe that maintained surprising amounts of consistency between cuts during the same scene, outlining an engagement of escapism that we the audience can feel in every single shot contributing to the film’s presentation.
– Emotional buffet. One of the hardest aspects to any tonal plausibility to a film’s personality is attaining a transformation in arc’s that cements as many as four different expressions of emotions that fit comfortably to the integrity of the sequences they accommodate. “Encanto” pulls this off, but uniquely in a way that allows each of them to work cohesively under the same umbrella of the film’s many experiences, taking the audience on a roller-coaster ride of tenderness that continuously wins them over. For my money, it was the aspects involving infectious energy, as well as the somber drama that were definitely the most distinguished, bringing with them moments ranging from emphatic eagerness to internal longing that seamlessly brought to life these characters throughout a balance of dynamic personalities. The humor is certainly there too, but it plays more expressively to the movie’s visual pallet, instead of its dialogue, cementing the depth in this heavily layered story that it continuously pulls from.
– Precise casting. Adding to the integrity of the aforementioned cultural relevance, are an entirety of ensemble choices and ensuing performances that make the most of this diversely beneficial opportunity. Most notable is the work of Beatriz, who audibly transforms her usual dry demeanor for a spirited infectiousness as Mirabel that attained remarkable believability as a teenager, for a woman who is 40-years-old in real life. In addition to her, we receive another nourishing turn from Leguizamo, who already as one of my favorite comedians, knows everything it takes to bring the eccentrically exaggerated Bruno to life for sequences demonstrating the character’s confining isolation. Leguizamo’s familiarity is periodically omitted for a series of deliveries that prove his shape-shifting capabilities, all the while prescribing a larger than life emphasis in contrast to surrounding characters who feel so nuanced in their humanity.
– Naturalistic antagonist. Instead of adding one more cliche to the film’s unfortunate abundance that make up these momentary instances of predictability, it instead deviates from expectation by never requiring the addition of an unnecessary villain to its ensuing drama. This desire allows the many conflicts distributed throughout to spring unanimously from within our ensemble of protagonists, as they not only question the gifts and uniqueness of their many capabilities within themselves, but also bring with it the kind of emotional baggage and deep-seeded envy that creates compelling family drama in the range of many combustible elements of previously established feelings reaching an inevitable destination in their continuous stirring. A physical antagonist here would only take away from the magnetism and chemistry that is consistently permeating in the many engagements of the family at the forefront, but instead the moments of reflection offer many satisfying interpretations by the characters themselves, which the youthful audience can take with them, and the adult audience can appreciate for their inspiring profoundness.
– Sensational soundtrack. I’m convinced that Lin-Manuel Miranda doesn’t sleep. I say that because “Encanto” is the fifth film that Miranda has produced original tracks for in 2021 alone, and the kind that bring with them the energetic resonance and personality that made him such a sought after figure in the world of cinema. Here, Miranda channels much of the Columbian influence that bleeds through tremendously in the instrumental accompaniment to the various tracks, with each being performed by a differing character in the story that pertains with it an entirely different contrast of emotion and perception than what was initially prescribed. Because of such, it helps to not only take some of the pressure off of the many exposition dumps that come as a result of a briefly limited 101 minute run time by advancing the many backstories contained, but it also keeps the tracks from ever feeling repetitive in tone or corresponding message. My favorites are definitely “The Family Madrigal” or “We Don’t Talk About Bruno”, but in my opinion, “Dos Orugitas”, a heartwarming diatribe surrounding two against the world, will receive an Oscar nomination, for the inspiration and candidness that deserves to be heard performed live during the biggest night for movies.
– Relatability. Considering this is such a particular story, and one whose cultural relevance and character designs giftwrap it in a way that only caters to one specific demographic, the connection that it attained to a middle-aged white man from Akron, Ohio proved something special to the way Disney measures their meticulous efforts. Certainly the messages are most appealing here, zeroing in on everything from family importance, to acceptance, to even peer pressure stemming from legacies, that helps establish a palpable connective tissue to us the audience, while outlining the bigger picture in the elements of design that when stripped down to our very core highlight an air of similarity that bonds us as one cohesive breed of humanity that we can wholeheartedly interpret, regardless of social or geographic labeling. I’ve always felt the best stories can attain meaning in the eyes of the beholder with themes and conflicts that are universally shared, and “Encanto” realizes this aspect, and exploits it accordingly.
– Strained execution. While much of the story surrounding “Encanto” brings with it a rich profoundness and imaginative quality that feels catered for the animated silver screen, it’s the storytelling in such that offered periodic hinderances that kept it from reaching top tier quality of 2021 cinematic releases. In particular, I found the second act of the film to involve many dips in momentum during key moments involving certain story arc’s, like Mirabel’s parents, that it never follows through on. In addition to this, there’s a complete ignorance on surrounding townsfolk who aren’t gifted, but rarely given a voice to convey their commentary towards this exceptionally gifted family. It undercuts the layering and meaning of a film so in love with its own resonance of community influence, working as a contrast to the film’s spiritual message in valuing people for people, and not just the extraordinary gifts they possess. It’s saved almost entirely with a meaningful third act that excels in the execution of its climax, but sacrifices the consistency with a bland second act that keeps it from ever reaching exceptional.
– Exposition dumps. Previously, I mentioned that the film’s 101 minute run time and abundance of supporting story arc’s limited their appeal and exploration as a result of rampant pacing that feels catered towards attention-challenged youths. Where that problem is most evident is in the series of flashback sequences that feel like story hour each time they’re called upon to flesh out an aspect of importance that the film doesn’t have time to flesh out naturally. These instances usually involve the only moments of the entire film where the pacing is subdued, in favor of long-winded delves that constantly feel like they’re hitting on a series of story points that will inevitably come into play somewhere down the line, during the movie’s climax. This of course makes the movie very predictable, in that our history with the series of defined tropes and formulaic instances by Disney paves a path to expectation that never deviates from redundancy, keeping the film defined from the elements in storytelling that it can’t attain naturally.
My Grade: 8/10 or B+