With the success of “Moana” and growing need/interest in diversity in their princess line/history, Disney has been trying to pass the cultural test with all possible flying colors by adapting every kind of hero and heroine for their animated feature films. With “Moana,” and “Raya and the last dragon,” it’s clear Disney is trying to put their own iconic magical spin on every possible fairy tale they can weave with new rising stars and storytellers to pave the way for future profits and programming. “Encanto” is a Columbian fantasy tale, scored through the genius musical mind of Lynn-Manual Miranda, who had already delivered substantial musical success for Disney with his work in “Moana” and “Mary Poppins Returns.” One always hopes lightning strikes more than once so let’s see if Disney has conjured up the right kind of magic once again.
In a humble village in Columbia, the centerpiece of the town (and the story) is the Madrigals family: a family blessed with a magical house that is not only alive and vibrantly energetic but also grants each new family member as they come of age with their own, unique mystical power. From super strength, weather manipulation, and shape-shifting, there’s something extra special about every member of the Madrigals family…except for Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz). She’s the only one who never received a mystical gift and it has left her feeling disconnected and ignored by her magical-powered relatives. However, when a mysterious danger threatens to eliminate the magic from the Madrigals forever, Mirabel must find out what is causing the magic to disappear and save her family’s gifts before they are lost for all eternity.
The subject of family is no stranger to Disney’s usual go-to story focuses. Certain cultures and families have a greater emphasis on the importance of family and that is no different here. However, the strange thing about “Encanto” is that for as fantastical and family-focused as it is, the film seems to mix its signals on presenting family; often coming off sadder and head scratching than anything whimsical. Almost every plot twist, line of dialog, and the musical number has to revolve around why family is so important and how dedicated this particular family is to one another. And yet, Mirabel not only receives no magical gift she gets shunned and ignored by her family members simply because she is different from them; even from the figurehead of the family.
The prejudice towards Mirabel not only feels hurtful but also unnecessarily aggressive, even if that is the point/source of conflict for the character. The whole plot circles the looming threat of everyone losing their powers and that level of jeopardy feels a bit lacking when everyone is being an obnoxious pill towards Mirabel just because she’s different; even to the point you WANT them to end up powerless so they can see what Mirabel has been going through. The movie kinda spins its wheels around this central plot and doesn’t really leave room for much else outside of enjoying Miradna’s signature soundtrack works of art. The songs range from catchy to forgettable. They are well presented and beautifully packaged, but again, they all dance around the same issue with little variation, and even the tune pitches don’t change enough for me to say I can remember more than one song off top of my head after seeing it.
The catchiest song actually deals with the character of Bruno (voiced by John Leguizamo) who is treated even worse than Mirabel, and the more you find out the worse you feel for this character. I felt bad for him more so than anyone else in the rest of the family. Among all the beautiful colors, stunning visuals, and bouncing tunes; the film seems to mishandle its own message and sends conflicting morals about family connections that were handled far more elegantly and meaningfully in Pixar’s “Coco” then they were here. Even with a Disney film having an expected happily ever after, the cast never becomes likable or memorable enough to feel like the lessons have been learned or expressed in the right way; to us or the cast.
Overall, “Encanto” has a lot to like but not as much to love if you ask me. There’s plenty of flash and colorful music but no staying power, not during the film and certainly not after it. The message about the power of families feels disjointed and poorly arranged in a way that it contradicts itself and ends up painting the Madrigals as glorified jerks rather than a whimsical family to emulate and idolize. Once you get behind it all, there’s not much going on and at the end, the answers all seem so obvious you’re wondering why it took so long to learn the clear-cut message. But hey, at least it’s got great music.
I give “Encanto” 2 stars out of 4 stars.