Encanto is a refreshing break from Disney’s animation formula.
Published on November 18, 2021
Rating 4 /5
It’s no surprise that the Walt Disney Studio’s best computer-animated film since Moana also happens to feature songs from Lin-Manuel Miranda. Encanto is perhaps even closer to his style of zippy and fast-paced broadway musicals akin to In The Heights than it is the traditional Disney formula. It decks the halls with a few familiar mannerisms but manages to strike out to become more of its own thing than warrant similarities to the cultural aspects of Coco or the princess postmodernism of Ralph Wrecks The Internet.
Centered in a small Colombian village, Mirabel is a part of the magical centerpiece of her town. Her family, the Madrigals, have a legacy of special powers that aid the town. Some are super strong while others can morph into other people. Even the house they occupy is a sentient being that communicates with its ability to flip tiles, open doors, and turn stairs into slides. Everybody has magical powers except for Mirabel. The big celebration that would give her some grand talent did not come to be.
In her bustling household, Mirabel has learned to make peace with her power-free lifestyle but still has some questions about the family. Why don’t they talk about the black sheep of the family? What are the history of the house and its magic? Why are mysterious cracks forming in the foundation? Suffice to say, the answer goes beyond mere environmental erosion.
As one may expect with Miranda behind the songs, this is a fairly fast-paced musical. The Madrigal family is revealed through an energetic and eccentric song that gives the exposition an extra kick of animated excitement. The music also does a fantastic job of communicating the concerns of the household. For instance, the strongest sister of Mirabel confesses her concerns about hiding her emotions. She explains these feelings through an exuberant melody about not being comfortable with herself, singing amid her feats of strength and dancing sheep. Other characters have similar exchanges where they reveal that there’s more to a magic house than the whimsy of it all.
But Encanto manages to be more than just a breakneck ensemble of funny bits. There’s a thematic core of family that is focused on in the great deal, where pathos paints the path to honesty and love brings out the more personal side of a family bound by bonded tradition. It helps that such a picture doesn’t really have a central villain to defeat. The narrative never poses such an easy antagonist to topple and deals more with the introspective struggle of feeling like you don’t belong, even if you have the power to conjure weather with your emotions or can speak with any animal.
The animation has its own unique and colorful style. The Colombian village is filled with characters of all colors, the attire of such lavish hues, and a gorgeous design that just feels as though a festival can break out at any moment. The design of Mirabel, in particular, is such a great character. She is not posed as a traditional Disney princess and appears with believable features and is the only character who wears glasses. It may seem cliche for the outsider of the family to have that nerdy trope of glasses but the film does its best to make Mirabel more of the underdog for his lack of magic and her proficiency in trying to keep her family together.
Encanto is a refreshing break from Disney’s animation formula. Yes, it’s still a vibrant musical and it has a lot of that slapstick humor we’ve come to expect from the studio. But there’s a different type of story weaved in its majestic wonderment that soars above previous Disney animations. It’s fast yet thoughtful, musical yet insightful, and tender yet honest. It’s everything an engrossing Disney animated feature should be and more.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.