Review: Encanto

The Disney magic is very much back in Encanto!

A young girl has to face the reality that she is the only member of the family who has no magical powers. But when a vision brings her portents of doom to their enchanted home and abilities, will she be completely ostracized?

It is irritating that the lingering pandemic prevented viewing Encanto in the cinema in 2021, but this catch-up has proven very enjoyable nonetheless!
There’s been some question over Disney Studio’s output in recent years, either by overextending with multiple expansive properties, or by a binging on sequels. Imagine the relief to see that this recent entry in the pantheon is actually really refreshing and entertaining.

Directed and co-directed by the minds that gave us great Disney productions such as Zootopolis, Tangled, and Bolt, the film takes place in Colombia, with the directorial team taking extensive trips to the country for their inspiration. The film is vibrant, with the visual quality you would come to expect from Disney and Pixar productions. Indeed, one might mistake Encanto for being a Pixar movie…

Audiences are first introduced to Mirabel, who lives in a magical, sentient house with her extended family. Each member has an incredible ability that was gifted to them by the house itself when coming of age, as well as their own room. Her mother has the power to heal wounds, her sister is extremely strong, for example. All of this is overseen by her grandmother, who protects them all and the magical candle that imbues the house with its ability.
Mirabel though, is not a-typical Disney lead character; her lack of abilities and estranged relationship with her family is more akin to a Pixar story. The story evolves by dumping massive strain on the characters as their family is rocked and destabilized by the changing of its members’ beliefs and perceptions.

Indeed, at its core, Encanto is a beautiful film about acceptance, generational gaps, and empathy within a family unit. Matters that are more important than ever in today’s turbulent times. Mirabel’s outsider perspective, the perspective of one lacking self-esteem or self-worth compared to her naturally-gifted peers, is more a classic tale in itself, but always relevant to many.

The music too. Goodness.
You know how most Disney musicals have that one song that isn’t very good? The song you feel they had to add for runtime, the one that the kids skip in the soundtrack? Well, that song isn’t present in Encanto; they are all bangers.
From the expositional songs at the beginning, to the side characters’ songs, to the emotional fulcrum moments, they are all exceptional, catchy and heartfelt. Especially Mirabel’s sister Luisa’s song “Surface Pressure”.
Each song is beautifully abstract, visually. Characters are lifted out of their surroundings and are sent hurtling through metaphorical visuals of their feelings. Recent Disney films have had their singers sing within the confines of the “stage” or scene they are in, but Encanto has a more 90s Disney approach to the songs. Practically music videos in their own rights.

There are less Disney hallmarks. Less gimmicks. It has no outright action scenes, it doesn’t especially have a witty or cynical animal sidekicks to speak of. The enchanted house, while certainly akin to Aladdin’s magic carpet, does not take precedent over the characters inhabiting it. In fact, its personality is subtle and its actions even more so; look away for a moment and you might miss it doing something. Objects don’t move on their own in the house, but the floor tiling might ripple and tilt to move something on top of them. It is a neat idea.
Also a well represented cast in the film as well, no one felt out of place here. There wasn’t a comic relief character voiced by Josh Gad to fill the trailer with, for example.

The only negatives are quite slight in Encanto, and one is the ending itself, so no details as to what that is. But for everything that led up to it, the ending didn’t feel quite right. There also seemed to be occasional sound mixing problems. Sometimes the lyrics in songs are muddy and hard to perceive, and while it is great to hear native Spanish being mixed into the dialogue and lyrics, the muddiness didn’t help with this either.

Overall, though, Encanto was a joyful, poignant, and entertaining experience full of colour, music and expressive characters. Highly recommended for any Disney fans out there, young and old.

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