The legacy of Disney animated films requires no explanation, having released box office hits time and time again that date back several decades. Already in the 2020s, Walt Disney Pictures has launched six more animated movies, with all but one of them (“Diary of a Wimpy Kid”) pulling favorable reviews from critics and viewers alike. “Onward,” “Soul,” “Raya and the Last Dragon” and “Luca” were all fantastic movies in one way or another, if not exactly groundbreaking. However, all four of them pale in comparison to “Encanto,” a November 2021 release that I knew nothing about going in. But it blew me away.
“Encanto” tells the story of the Colombian Madrigal family, centering around 15-year-old Mirabel Madrigal. What sets the Madrigals apart from the rest of their society is the magical gifts that are bestowed upon each member of the family once they reach a certain age. Camilo can shapeshift, Pepa can control the weather, Julieta can heal people with her cooking and Dolores can hear everything, among others. Even their house partakes in the magic, able to move and contort as it pleases with seemingly no restraints. Together, the family uses their gifts to enhance the world around them and lead a thriving village, with the exception of Mirabel, who never received her gift. Being the ordinary girl in an extraordinary family, she is thrust into the limelight when mysterious forces threaten the miracle that blessed the Madrigals. The shroud of mystery slowly unravels and centers around Mirabel and the rumors surrounding her estranged uncle Bruno, and Mirabel sets out to find the answers and save her family.
The plot, while certainly very interesting to see play out, is arguably the weakest part of the film. It paces itself in strange ways, leading to some parts feeling crammed into segments too small to properly delve into. Meanwhile, some other parts feel like they get too much attention in comparison. The scenes that feel “too long” are actually done well, though, so it feels almost like this was a two-hour or longer movie forced to fit into 90 minutes. Still, it reaches a satisfying conclusion and evokes the emotions that make Disney movies so special.
However, “Encanto” relies heavily on its music and animation to carry the plot, and it does so with flying colors. The animation is breathtaking all the way down to the last detail, such as how each character moves. As a born-and-raised white boy in Seattle, I can’t necessarily speak on the authenticity of the Colombian aspects, but I have heard good things regarding the way the culture was represented. Nevertheless, so much effort is clearly put into the animation that it makes it like nothing we’ve seen before. Watching even how the facial expressions change on characters who aren’t the focus lends itself to how expertly the animation is done.
It would be criminal to talk about “Encanto” without mentioning its music and how expertly done every musical sequence is. Lin-Manuel Miranda was responsible for the music of “Moana” and returned with eight original songs for Disney’s newest musical adventure. And every one of them is a masterpiece. The movie kicks off with “The Family Madrigal,” which introduces us to the cast through Mirabel’s musical narration. “Waiting on a Miracle” is a really fresh take on the Disney song about the main character wanting more.
“Surface Pressure” and “What Else Can I Do?” are fantastic songs as well, which brings out the true beauty in “Encanto.” Behind all the bright colors and sassy characters is a deep story about insecurities and how feelings of self-doubt don’t discriminate based on how gifted someone is. Very quickly, Mirabel learns that she isn’t alone in her worries about self-worth. Luisa can lift anything but carries too much responsibility. Isabel is largely seen as perfect but has to sacrifice her desires to be of use to the family.
Of course, the music of “Encanto” is defined by the exceptionally catchy “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” a song that really highlights the individuality of the characters involved. Pepa and her husband Felix complement each other really well as the somewhat worrisome wife and a husband who’s just happy to be with her. Dolores is more quiet, tentative, and careful. Camilo carries a childlike eccentricity. Isabel carries an air of elegance that simply can’t be matched. The characters of “Encanto” are all incredibly strong and unique, and while they aren’t all spotlighted in this musical sequence, it does sum up how even less-important members of the family are all highly memorable on their own.
“All Of You” serves as the final music number and brings the characters together in arguably the most impressive representation of the characters. Despite each and every one having strong, distinguishable personalities, they fit together so well as a family. Down to sibling issues and a generation hierarchy, it reminds me a lot of how my own family used to operate within each other.
Regardless of what you’ve thought of Disney movies in the past, “Encanto” separates itself from the pack in every aspect. The characters are memorable, the music is catchy and the animation is breathtaking. It’s a movie you can watch multiple times and still find new ways to enjoy. You absolutely should not pass up this experience.