Encanto (2021) Review

A COLORFUL TALE OF

THE AMAZING MADRIGAL FAMILY


 

In 2013, Walt Disney Animated Studios released Frozen, their 53rd animated feature film that was loosely based on the Snow Queen narrative from Hans Christen Anderson. The cartoon movie proved to be a rousing success for the “house of mouse” by generating large profit at the worldwide box office and scoring big amongst critics and moviegoers, who looked upon the film as a somewhat “second renaissance” from the studio. In a sense, that statement rung true, with Disney finding its mojo rhythm back of its own animated identity of strong female lead characters, fun sidekick animal characters, and memorable songs to sing about. Thus, while the studio did continue venture out and produce several animated movies of their non-traditional signature roots (i.e., Big Hero 6, Zootopia, Ralph Breaks the Internet, and Raya and the Last Dragon), Disney did continue presenting several of their cartoon films in the ways and means of their traditional cannon endeavors, especially with the releases of Moana in 2016 and Frozen II in 2019. Now, after the success of their first film of 2021 (Raya and the Last Dragon), Walt Disney Animated Studios and directors Jared Bush and Bryon Howard present the studio’s sixth animated movie with the release of Encanto. Does this latest cartoon film provide new ground for the illustrious animated studio to explore or has Disney lost touch with their viewer and provide just another “run-of-the-mill” animated project?

THE STORY


Deep with the jungle forest in South America, Abuela Alma Madrigal (Maria Cecilia Botero) was left a widow by an enraged community, left to raise her three children on her own. Fleeing for her life and the love of her recently deceased husband triggered a special magic contained within an eternal flame, which spread to the creation of a hidden village where she could raise her family surrounded by safety and loved ones. Two generations have passed, and Alma’s granddaughter Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz) is a bubbly teenager trying to keep up with the locals, as everyone around her is endowed with an ability that makes them special due to family’s eternal flame, including her sisters, the super strong Luisa (Jessica Darrow) and the floral blossoming Isabela (Diane Guerrero), who relish in their magical abilities as a normal part of their life. Such magic skipped Mirabel, left to wonder why she’s been left out of the family heritage, feeling distanced from others despite her best efforts to participate within her family. During the celebration of the newest family member to receive their respective gift, Mirabel witnesses cracks forming within their magical casita dwelling, and the family’s special candle is nearly extinguished, with an uncertainty threatening the village safety of which Abuela Alma denies. Setting out to understand what’s going on, Mirabel takes a journey in her family’s history, learning more about their family outcast Bruno (John Leguizamo), an uncle who left long ago because of the gift bestowed upon him. However, as search for answers continues, Mirabel begins to wonder if she is the cause of her family’s disarray, with their various family members beginning to lose their special powers.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


As I’ve stated several times in many of reviews for animated films, I am a big fan of Disney. Always have and always will be. Like many out there, Disney projects (most notable their animated feature films) are deeply rooted in my childhood memories and have been a part of me for much of life, reliving their enchanting tales of whimsical characters, stylish animation, memorable moments, and famously made songs that are tailored made for these cartoon adventures. With over 59 animated movies in their library, Disney has certainly made their mark on the industry of children’s entertainment, and it clearly shows that, with the company providing various generations with their feature films. Of course, I do have my personal favorite and, while some might argue over which ones are the “all-time” greatest, most will agree that Disney animated movies are the stuff of childhood memories that still linger into their adulthood. Of course, the somewhat resurgence of Disney’s signature identity of female princesses, talking animal sidekicks, and musical songs was definitely a welcomed “breath of fresh air” with the release of Frozen, which felt to me that the studio was get back to their roots and sticking to what made some of their past animated hits memorable. And I think that they were right about that. That’s not to say that I didn’t like some of their newer non-traditional releases like Zootopia or Raya and the Last Dragon, but I felt like Frozen (and its 2019 sequel) and Moana were the studios way to harken back to past efforts and embracing their signature identity wholeheartedly, which I think is a step in the right direction and I hope that Disney continues that trend with some of their future projects.

Naturally, this brings me back to talking about my review for Encanto, a 2021 animated feature film and Disney’s 60th animated movie. I can’t remember exactly when I first heard about this movie (I think it was sometime last year), but I definitely had inherit hype for this project, especially since it was going to be a Disney animated movie, which (again) definitely has a proven track record with their recent releases. I think I remember seeing some conceptual artwork for this movie as well as Raya and the Last Dragon, with the former resembling more of a Disney film than the latter, with Encanto images giving me a sort of Coco feeling, but with a bit of different context. Of course, a few months later, promotional efforts were in full swing as the film’s movie trailers showcases the upcoming animated project and looked to be a Disney movie through and through; complete with a female protagonist, a journey of self-discovery, magic, and songs, which were going to be written by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Thus, I was definitely on-board to see Encanto when it was scheduled to be released for a Thanksgiving week release in 2021. While I did see it during its opening day (the day before Thanksgiving), my work schedule for the holiday season got pretty overloaded, which me to delay my review for this particular movie. Now, I finally have some free time and I’m willing to share my personal opinion on this latest animated Disney movie. And what did I think of it? Well, I liked it. Despite hitting familiar beats and not really breaking the mold, Encanto is still a magical animated film that has plenty of visual flair, dazzling musical songs, and a strong voice talents. It doesn’t beat out Frozen or Moana, but it holds its own and is still a solid Disney movie from start to finish.

Encanto is directed by Jared Bush and Bryon Howard, whose previous directorial works includes Tangled, Bolt, and Zootopia. Thus, given their overall familiarity with past Disney animated films endeavors (as well as collaboration together as directors of Zootopia), Bush and Howard seem like a perfect suitable choice for helming a project like Encanto. In addition, writer Charise Castro Smith helps co-direct the film. Thus, the trio combination of Bush, Howard, and Smith make up the directorial efforts for Encanto, which ultimately reflects with the final presentation of the feature itself. The result…. the movie mostly works cohesively, with a few rough patches that could’ve been ironed out during the storyboarding staging, but what still remains is a wonderful Disney animated film that captures both the spirt of the animation studio as well as adhering to modern audiences of today’s world. As to be expected from a Disney animated film, Encanto keeps up the traditional of the signature mantra of enrich a cartoon world with plenty of colorful characters and musical singing / dancing throughout as well as having a female protagonist character. That’s not to say that the movie has it embraces other ideals, but trio of directors do certainly take the ideas of what the animated studio is known for and embraces it wholeheartedly….and that’s kind of good thing. This, of course, makes Encanto feel like a Disney movie through and through; creating a lush, animated world of various characters and providing a bountiful cartoon playground of that’s lively and colorful from onset to conclusion.

The film is a bit more “smaller” in scale than some of their endeavors, but that doesn’t mean that the trio of director diminish the palpable nature of what Encanto has to offer within its story, with themes and message being presented having very impactful purpose. This includes the importance of family (legacy and present day) as well as indomitable determination of self-worth and love oneself. In addition, I do feel that the film’s comedy is pretty good and delivering those larger-than-life moments that appeal to the film inherit natures, for I found myself laughing out loud a good deal. Yet, despite all that, I do feel that the film’s more tender moments is where the feature shines the best; bringing a sense of warmth and comfort that can easily be reflected in almost everyone….in some shape or form. Well, perhaps I do have to say that various moments where the characters are singing and dancing are probably the big highlight of the feature, which (again) speaks to Disney’s identity of their past, with Encanto having a sort of jubilant energy through most of these sequences (more on that below). In short, while there might be a few areas that could’ve been smoothed out, the positives that Encanto presents are just as palpable, fun, and entertaining; making the film another fine addition to studio’s illustrious history of animated feature films.

In the presentation category, Encanto is visually dazzling from start to finish. Say what you will about this movie (whether good or bad), but the perhaps the best and strongest aspect that the movie has going for it (that no one can deny) is how utterly beautifully animated the feature is. It’s definitely one of the best-looking Disney animated films to date, for everything piece of the feature is elegantly detailed and intricately laced together in such a vibrant way that is truly a visual feast for the eyes. Colors are flushed and bright, theirs a natural feeling to this animated world, and the intricately detailed nuances are vivid and life-like, which brings the enchanted casita of the Madrigal family to life (as well as the various other areas that the movie explores). Thus, the film’s animation team should be highly praised for their technical achievement wizardry in bringing this Columbian family (and their lush background) to life. In addition, the various “behind the scenes” members of Encanto, including Lorelay Bove and Ian Gooding (production design), Camille Andre, Mehrdad Isvandi, and Bill Schwab (art direction), and Alessandro Jacomini, Daniel Rice, and Nathan Warner (cinematography) should also be praised for making the film’s visual aesthetics amazingly rich and detailed throughout. In short, Encanto definitely has the “look” of a Disney animated feature and is one of the most colorfully detailed movie to date.

As mentioned, the music for Encanto is terrific and definitely fits right in line with being a Disney movie. Naturally, with the songs being written by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, you know that the various songs featured in the film are going to be great and well-crafter of which they are; providing the signature style of Miranda talent of modern-ish flavor of lyrical wording fast-talking singing. It all fits into the movie and I do love it. The songs in Encanto might not reach the same level of “Let It Go” from Frozen or “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana, but they definitely hold their own and are cut above the rest of musical songs in an animated feature of today’s non-Disney variety. Perhaps my favorite one would be “The Family Madrigal”, which kicks the musical song selection off, with Beatriz showcasing her talent right from the get-go as Mirabel as well as presenting to us (the viewers) a look into the Madrigal family members and their unique magical gifts. I would also say that the songs “Surface Pressure” and “What Else Can I Do?” are great character-building songs that showcases the personal struggles of Mirabel’s two older sisters. Additionally, I think the song “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” is kind of fun. Overall, I like the songs in Encanto, which definitely had the energy and warmth that one would expect to find within a Disney animated endeavor. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Germaine Franco, is solid throughout the entire film; providing plenty of jubilant energy to accompany the various scenes as well as a soft tenderness for character-built moments. Definitely a good score soundtrack for a Disney movie.

Unfortunately, Encanto, while a still a solid animated film, doesn’t quite it the benchmark that is set by the high standards of past Disney releases, with the cartoon movie struggling in a few areas that it can’t overcome. That’s not to say these points of criticisms rob the feature of being colorful fun and vibrantly entertaining, but they do hold the movie back from being something truly fantastical in the Disney library. Perhaps the most prevalent ones that many will see while watching this feature is the simple fact that Encanto is (for lack of a better term) the most safest animated feature in a few years. Yes, I do praise the movie for being a Disney animated film by retaining its own signature identity that are similar in the veins of the two Frozen features and Moana. However, Encanto just feels like the studio is going “through the motions” a bit by providing all the right stuff and checking off everything that is required for a Disney movie. Every ingredient is almost there and provides the sort of level of “comfort food” watch for a Disney animated movie endeavor, which is a great thing. That being said, the film itself seems quite contempt staying within the boundaries of what to be expected instead of going outside the lines to provide something slightly different or original. This, of course, makes Encanto having a feeling of playing it safe and doesn’t take any type of risks; providing a secure, yet quite familiar Disney animated tale that doesn’t break the mold.

In conjunction with this, Encanto (as a result of this “no risk, no reward” mantra) hits a lot of familiar beats within its narrative, which (naturally) makes the story predictable and formulaic. Within the first few minutes, it’s quite easy to guess what is going to happen and type of self-discovery journey that Mirabel and her extended family will have to go through in the movie in their own personal trials and tribulations. Again, it is quite a proven formula to play around with and, while what is presented definitely works, I sort of felt that Disney could’ve done a sort of different approach and presented those same scenario slightly different for a more dynamic and unexpected way. As a result of this, there is really no surprises or curve balls that throws at Encanto’s narrative. Personally, I kind of did want a little bit more of an adventurous aspect thrown into the mix, which definitely could’ve provided plenty of heightened excitement and a better angle towards understanding the magical casita dwelling where Mirabel’s family lives in. I mean, the secretive doors to the rooms of which the various magical family members reside is revealed in the movie, but not all and could’ve played a large role in the grand scheme of Encanto’s plot.

In addition, I think that the movie’s story lacks a worth adversary for the characters to face off against. As many know, Disney is quite well-known for providing great villains for their animated films, with the Disney villains being just as theatrically bold / memorable than the protagonist heroes. Unfortunately, Encanto doesn’t really have the classic Disney villain, which is felt in the movie and definitely aided in strengthening the narrative’s excitement level / adventurous narrative possibilities. Again, all these points of criticisms are there and, while I still loved Encanto, there is no denying the fact that the filmmakers played a bit too safe, with the film having the potential of “what if” scenario.

What definitely helps this animated feature rise above those negative criticisms is the voice talents that Encanto has enlisted, which are incredibly solid across the board. Disney animated movies have always had a great voice cast work for their endeavors and this film is no exception, with the selection of actors and actresses bring their “A” game to this animated project with plenty of energy and heart throughout. Leading the charge in the movie is actress Stephanie Beatriz, who provides the voice for the lead role protagonist character of Mirabel, the bubbly yet the only non-magical endowed girl in her family. Known for her roles in Brooklyn Nine Nine, Short Term 12, and In the Heights, Beatriz shines immensely in the feature by providing the right amount of energy and sincerity throughout her vocal performance, which gives Mirabel plenty excitement in her character as well as tenderness. Plus, much like her performance in In the Heights, Beatriz has the vocal pipes to sing and musical performances in Encanto are just as impactful and strong…if not stronger. She has the right amount of rapid fire singing that Miranda’s lyrics call for, which makes her musical numbers that much more enjoyable and (again) are filled with energy. The character development of Mirabel is a bit of a classic “cookie cutter” mold for the Disney protagonist cloth, so her journey is a tad predictable. However, it is through Beatriz performance that makes the character that much more enjoyable and certainly rises above that criticism. Plus, Mirabel is so darling and sweetly fun to watch whenever on-screen that it makes it that much more easier to root for her on her self-discovery journey throughout the film. In short, I think that Beatriz was a perfect fit for a caring, yet lively Mirabel and makes for good female lead character (flaws and all).

In supporting roles behind Beatriz’s Mirabel is actor John Leguizamo, who provides the voice for Bruno, Mirabel’s uncle, who has the ability to see the future and who is excluded from the Madrigal family. Known for his roles in Spawn, Romeo + Juliet, and Moulin Rouge!, Leguizamo has been a veteran actor throughout his career and his voice that he gives Bruno is rather good and perfectly matches the inane quirks that his character plays upon. There’s a sense of familiarity with his character, but (much like Beatriz does with Mirabel, this is overlooked with the character of Bruno, with Leguizamo finds a right balance of humor and heart to towards his character. Behind him, actress Maria Cecilia Botero, who is known for her roles in Her Mother’s Killer, La Bruja, and Lorena, does a great job in playing the voice of Abuela Alma, the matriarch of the Madrigal family clan and grandmother to Mirabel. Botero has the gravitas sounding voice, which makes her vocals for Alma that much more effective, with the character walking a fine line of trying to keep the peace, yet also wanting perfection for her family’s heritage.

Additionally, in larger supporting players in the movie, Mirabel’s two older sisters (Luisa and Isabela) have their personal moments to shine in the story and definitely have their own personal plights and of self-worthy to uncover in Encanto. Of course, both actresses Jessica Darrow (Feast of the Seven Fishes and Following Hannah Stone) and Diane Guerrero (Doom Patrol and Orange is the New Black) give exceptional voice performance in their respective roles, with Darrow projecting the right amount vulnerability within super strength Luisa, while Guerrero displays the confidence struggles within the ever-beautiful blossom flowering of Isabela.

Rounding out the cast are the other various members of Mirabel’s family, which includes actress Carolina Gaitan (Sin Senos Si Hay Paraiso and Celia) as Mirabel’s “overly emotional” weather controlling aunt Pepa, actor Mauro Castillo (Paro de mi Corazón) as Mirabel’s uncle and Pepa’s husband Felix, actress Angie Cepeda (Love in the Time of Cholera and A Night in Old Mexico) as Mirabel’s cooking / healing mother Julieta, actor Wilmer Valderrama (That 70s Show and Larry Crowne) as Mirabel’s dad / Julieta’s husband, musical artist Adessa (who makes her first theatrical appearance with this movie) as Pepa and Felix’s “enhanced hearing” daughter Dolores, actor Rhenzy Feliz (Teen Wolf and Runaways) as Pepa and Felix’s shape-shifting son Camilo, and actor Ravi-Cabot Conyers (Justine and Ode to Joy) as Pepa and Felix’s animal-talking son Antonio. Most of these characters are either secondary or minor supporting players in Encanto, but are all well-acted within their vocal performances, with the movie providing several moments for these particular family members of the Madrigal clan to shine in. Lastly, Disney veteran actor Alan Tudyk (Frozen and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) does provide a small minor role in the movie as the clueless Toucan named Pico.

FINAL THOUGHTS


To save her family’s magical gifts and her enchanted casita, Mirabel Madrigal must unravel several past memories and go on a journey of self-discovery in the movie Encanto. Directors Jared Bush and Bryon Howard (as well as Charise Castro Smith) latest film is very much a solid Disney animated film for its 60th cannon release; speaking to mantra of musical singing and colorful characters, while telling a narrative of family and of embracing self-worth. While the film doesn’t quite match the same level that the studio reached with some of their other popular releases (as well as trying to find ground within a few problematic areas), the movie itself is still very much entertaining and engaging film to watch, especially thanks to the film’s heartwarming story, various comedic bits, gorgeous animation, catchy musical songs, and a solid cast to bring these animated characters to life. Personally, I liked this movie. Yes, I definitely agree with that fact that film is probably the safest movie that Disney has created of its recent endeavors, but it is still a solid Disney movie through and through, which makes the whole feature enjoyable and fun to watch. The animation was amazing, the voice cast was fantastic, and the story was sweet. It just doesn’t beat out the likes of Frozen or Moana and (if you think about it) that is high bar of expectations to match. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is still a very favorable “highly recommended” one, especially fans of Disney and of the family friendly variety. There’s not much of darker elements in the feature, which will make it accessible for all ages to appreciate, a very suitable choice for a family movie night. In the end, while it won’t outpace some of its newer releases, Disney’s Encanto is still a wholesome and touching animated feature film from the illustration studio, proving once again the “house of mouse” still one of the leading animation studios out there for memorable endeavors in children’s entertainment.

4.2 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)

 

Released On: November 24th, 2021
Reviewed On: December 26th, 2021

Encanto  is 99 minutes long and is rated PG for some thematic elements and mild peril

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