Neither as generationally impactful as Frozen, nor as thematically/allegorically piercing as Zootopia, or as downright life-affirming as Moana, Disney’s latest 3D-animation, Encanto, is nonetheless a vibrant, enjoyable (albeit low stakes) journey through glittering colour and reconciliation.
Like many of Disney/Pixar’s more recent entries, Encanto aims to diversify its setting and cultural perspectives, this time, by transporting audiences to Columbia. It’s here where we meet a young Alma Madrigal, with her three infants, fleeing a violent attack on her village. After her husband is slain, a magical candle appears and creates a “Casito”, a sentient house (along with a surrounding village) that partitions itself from the surrounding horrors of reality.
After yet another Disney-patented downer opening, we are quickly introduced both aurally and narratively to “The Family Madrigal”, a high-energy, celebratory, and at-times incomprehensible opening show tune. It’s here where Lin Manuel Miranda employs his lyrical tongue twisters through the voice of Stephanie Beatriz (Brooklyn Nine-Nine). Beatriz plays Mirabel Madrigal, a plucky and vivacious teenager. Her sunny disposition radiates through the screen, despite the fact that she is the only member of her family to not receive a gift from their magical house.
Directed by Jared Bush (screenwriter) and Byron Howard, and co-directed by Charise Castro Smith (also a screenwriter), the film does away with fantasy, in favour of magical realism. The tension of the film revolves entirely around how the family interacts and operates with one another, and copes when the magic begins to fade. Encanto holds no true antagonist or villain archetype. There is also no grand quest or journey to retrieve said magic, and while each room may contain otherworldly environments and elements, the drama stays localised and grounded within the home.
Thematically the film comments on cultural displacement and those seeking refuge/asylum. The magical protective house – a dreamlike beacon of hope and security – free from all forms of war or other ungodly atrocities, is a powerful and evocative symbol. But this underlying subtext is not given as much screen time, as the far more accessible exploration of teenage angst and understanding where you belong/fit.
We know from the offset that Mirabel’s unshakable love for her family and general ordinariness “is” her gift, but the film takes its time signing and animating this discovery with varying results.
Encanto (Spanish for charm) is not without its namesake. There’s an earnestness in its modesty. A simple tale about community and belonging, with a soundtrack that grows on you as you replay some of its more catchy tunes.