Gorgeous Encanto a Loving Concerto of Familial Togetherness
The Madrigals live in a magical house hidden in a secret valley on the outskirts of an isolated village deep in the forests of Colombia. With towering mountains on all sides, the family and the villagers are safeguarded from the evils of the outside world by a mysterious, magical force contained in a shimmering candle whose flame never dies.
Since the arrival of Abuela Alma (voiced by María Cecilia Botero) in the valley and the instantaneous appearance of her musically enchanted home, every Madrigal child has been granted a marvelous gift on their fifth birthday. All save one: Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz). For some reason, she was not granted a supernatural power, while one of her sisters, Luisa (Jessica Darrow), received super strength and another, Isabela (Diane Guerrero), produces beautiful roses out of thin air.
The lovely thing about Disney’s 60th animated motion picture Encanto is how boldly life-affirming it is. When the magic protecting the Madrigals begins to fade, it is no secret that Mirabel will be the key element in the bigger picture. Her relationship with Abuela Alma and the origins of the miracle are the mystery that must be solved, and this selflessly courageous young woman is the only one in the family with the ability to do it.
There are no big villains, save for the evil that forced Abuela Alma from her homeland decades prior, but the less said about that, the better. No invaders are trying to steal the magic candle. Instead, this is a story of family. One of parents and children, of siblings learning to care for one another even when seeing eye to eye is not possible. A saga of togetherness and a commitment to doing the right thing, no matter what the cost.
That does mean the narrative can feel slight. The cadre of writers who had a hand constructing this scenario — a list which includes songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton) and directors Jared Bush (Zootopia), Byron Howard (Tangled) and Charise Castro Smith — do have trouble filling up every second of the film’s admittedly brisk 99-minute running time. There is some padding here, and a couple of the musical numbers, as boisterous and colorful as they may be, do somewhat overstay their welcome.
But the animation is stunningly gorgeous, and Mirabel is a wonderful main character. Spending time with her is a royal treat. There’s a great bit where she gives all of herself to help her nephew Antonio (Ravi Cabot-Conyers) find his inner courage to walk through the door leading to his gift on his fifth birthday. Later, there is another stellar sequence in which she ventures into the room of her missing uncle Bruno (John Leguizamo), only to discover a wonderland of sand and stone that’s as dangerous as it is spectacular.
I also liked Mirabel’s interactions with the Madrigal home itself. It is a living, breathing entity, moving pieces of itself seemingly at whim. It is immediately apparent that, while the abode adores all those who reside within its supernatural walls, Mirabel holds a special place in its heart. The duo have a relationship built on a solid foundation of trust: the house knows the young woman protects it, not because it has gifted her with some magical ability but because she loves what it has done for her family, asking nothing in return.
Miranda’s songs and composer Germaine Franco’s (Dora and the Lost City of Gold) score work in delightful tandem, with an undeniably terrific opening number featuring Mirabel introducing each member of her family along with their abilities. Another number, centered on Isabela and her realization that she doesn’t have to only grow roses all the time, is equally wonderful, maybe my favorite musical moment in the film.
It’s never a surprise where all of this is headed. What is, at least somewhat, is how bracingly emotional the filmmakers end up making the climactic moments. There’s a shared journey into the past between grandmother and granddaughter that’s sublime, such that the realization that Mirabel might possess the greatest gift of any of the Madrigals hits with a moderately unexpected impact, earning Encanto its tears. This aria to familial togetherness is a loving concerto of community I’d happily hum along with whenever given the opportunity.
– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle
Film Rating: 3 (out of 4)