Encanto Review – A Good Family Film About What it is to Create a Home

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The notion of family has been prevalent in Disney’s more recent animated releases and with Encanto there is a strong sense that family is the crux of the matter. Rather than concentrating on an epic journey Encanto is the story of how family is essential to identity and place.

In a sequestered Colombian village Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz) lives in an enchanted house filled with three generations of charmed (encanto means charmed in Spanish) relatives all supervised by her Abuela Alma (María Cecilia Botero). All the inhabitants of the house have some special power, whether it be super strength or the ability to control weather; everyone that is except Mirabel who is the first and only member of the family to not be gifted with a charm. For Mirabel her lack of enchantment makes her feel that she can’t be fully useful to the family, yet outwardly she carries the deficit with as much good grace as she can muster. Yet within the house Mirabel is noticing that there are cracks in the foundations and that her sister Luisa (Jessica Darrow) is sometimes losing her super strength. 

For generations a magical candle has burned bright in the casa and something ill-defined is threatening the protective spell that cradles the family and their village. At first Mirabel tries to warn others about her visions of the magic leaving the family but she is soon silenced by her Abuela who fiercely insists that all will be fine, and the enchantment is strong and will continue to protect the casa and the village. Mirabel is compelled to try to save her home and family, but being the one without powers, is it possible that she is the cause of the magic dying?

The stakes seem somewhat low for a Disney film when one compares it with Raya and the Last Dragon but Encanto has more in common with Moana. Manifest destiny plays a part; but Mirabel is the most unlikely of Disney princesses. Her sister, Isabela (Diane Guerrero) is the more traditional type with her flowing hair and ability to conjure beautiful flowers at will. Mirabel is comparatively short, bespectacled and only has her wits and loyalty to aid her. Her feelings of inadequacy are fully realised in Stephanie Beatriz’s voice work. The voice cast for the film is genuinely fine and includes John Leguizamo (Uncle Bruno) as well as Wilmer Valderrama, Carolina Gaitan, and Adassa.

As wonderful as the voice cast is, it’s quite disappointing that they weren’t provided with equally stellar musical numbers. Lin-Manuel Miranda has become somewhat of a master of the information dump in song. Whilst this works with highly rhythmic and rap inspired pieces in Hamilton the sheer amount of information that is being conveyed can be confusing. At no point is there really a memorable musical number – it is unlikely that the audience will remember any of the tunes. For some parents who suffered through numerous renditions of ‘Let it Go’ from Frozen this may come as somewhat of a relief; but when music is an integral part of a film it is important that the music sticks.

Visually directors Jared Bush, Byron Howard, and Charise Castro Smith have created a lush and evocative canvas. The colour palette is vibrant and gives a rich texture to the Colombian setting. Encanto is one of Disney’s most beautifully animated recent films and that allure makes up for where the music doesn’t quite work.

Encanto is about what it is to create a home, whether through tragedy or triumph. Some of the themes may be a little too sophisticated for some very young viewers, however good family films offer an array of content to captivate, and despite some minor pitfalls Encanto is a good family film.

Directors: Jared Bush, Byron Howard, Charise Castro Smith

Voice Cast: Stephanie Beatriz, Maria Cecilia Botero, John Leguizamo

Writers: Charise Castro Smith, Jared Bush, (based on a story by Jared Bush, Byron Howard, Charise Castro Smith, Jason Hand, Nancy Kruse, Lin-Manuel Miranda)

Nadine Whitney

Nadine Whitney holds qualifications in cinema, literature, cultural studies, education and design. When not writing about film, art or books, she can be found napping and missing her cat.

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