Movie Review: ‘Encanto’

Review by James Lindorf

Disney released its first animated feature film, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” in 1937. In the following 84 years, the House of Mouse has entertained generations with 58 additional movies. Their slate of films has won 14 Oscars for Best Original Song and three for Best Animated Feature. Four years ago, Pixar, a Disney company, explored Mexican culture in “Coco” and was named Best Animated Feature that year. For its 60th feature film “Encanto,” Disney hopes that by going further south and bringing back the creative team responsible for their last Oscar winner, “Zootopia,” they will get their hands on another golden statue. “Encanto” was directed by Byron Howard and Jared Bush based on a screenplay by Charise Castro Smith and Bush, blends Disney magic and Colombian spice into the number one animated movie of the year. “Encanto” will be in theaters everywhere on November 24th.

In the mountains of Colombia, there is a small village called Encanto. It is named after the enchantment that created the valley and built the casita for the extraordinary Madrigal Family. The magic of the encanto has blessed nearly every child in the family with a unique gift. Abuela Alma (María Cecilia Botero) is the family’s matriarch and village leader; her husband Pedro’s sacrifice led to the creation of the encanto. Alma and Pedro had three children, Julieta (Angie Cepeda), who can heal you with her cooking, Pepa (Carolina Gaitán), whose emotions control the weather, and the family’s outcast Bruno (John Leguizamo), who can see the future. Alma’s grandchildren include super-strong Luisa (Jessica Darrow), shapeshifting Camilo (Rhenzy Feliz), town gossip Dolores (Adassa Adassa), who has super hearing, Isabela (Diane Guererro), the ultimate green thumb. Then there is Antonio (Ravi Cabot-Conyers), who has just come of age to receive his powers, and Maribel (Stephanie Beatriz), the one without a gift. Though she may be powerless when the magic of the encanto is in danger, Maribel will do all she can to protect her family.

The animation for “Encanto” is gorgeous and almost without fault. The character designs are beautiful, incorporating different skin tones and body types, upping the inclusivity for the audience. Each song is accompanied by a dramatic action or dance scene with surprisingly outstanding choreography. The musical elements also have a stunning use of colors that sets these scenes apart. While they are visually different because of the strong directing, they still feel like they belong in the same film with the dramatic plot. Perhaps the weakest animated element is an overly expressive jaguar whose facial movements don’t feel natural.

Maribel is the main character of “Encanto,” but this may be the closest to an ensemble cast that Walt Disney Animation Studios has ever created. Nearly every member of the multi-generational family has a moment in the spotlight and something to contribute to the story. One place that “Encanto” really stands out is in its music. The soundtrack is fueled by eight original songs by “Hamilton” creator and “Moana” composer Lin-Manuel Miranda. Unlike Moana and its hit “How far I’ll Go,” “Encanto lacks that big ballad style song that children will sing for years to come. Instead, it offers a set of more challenging songs with a fast tempo and emotional depth that will reward audiences on repeat listens. Complimenting the music is excellent vocal performances led by Stephanie Beatriz (Brooklyn Nine-Nine). She has so much warmth and personality in her voicework that it is nearly impossible not to be moved.

In “Encanto,” There are themes of living with expectations, personal and social acceptance, and family disputes taking the place of a traditional villain. The story is charming, full of heart, and a tribute to Colombian culture. However, unlike when Byron Howard and Jared Bush filled “Zootopia” with modern social commentary, “Encanto” falls back on Disney tradition and a more predictable storyline. “Encanto” is still the front runner for this year’s animated Oscar, but if the story was as bold as its characters, it could have been just the fourth animated film to be nominated for best picture. “Encanto” is a perfect movie for family gatherings this holiday season and is a 4.5 out of 5.

Rating: PG
Genre: Kids & Family, Comedy, Musical, Fantasy, Animation
Original Language: English
Director: Byron Howard and Jared Bush
Producer: Clark Spencer, Yvett Merino Flores
Writer: Jared Bush and Charise Castro Smith
Release Date: November 24th, 2021
Runtime: 1h 39m

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