It’s hard to believe, but this year Walt Disney Animation Studios releases its 60th full-length animated film, and what a celebration this is. The beautiful visuals, toe-tapping music, fantastical characters and important messages about family, Encanto is one of the best films that I have seen in a long time. Dare I say that I think it has Oscar potential?
Like its main protagonist, Encanto is beautiful inside and out. It is a fable with a message that is much more powerful than one might think at first blush. The seemingly shallow storyline is actually quite deep the more you ponder about it. The musical is destined to become the next Frozen even though the soundtrack doesn’t include an anthem equivalent to the tune “Let it Go” and that’s okay. The film doesn’t need it. Instead, the music and the colorful visuals play a huge role in this adventure. This original tale centers around 15-year-old Mirabel Madrigal and her magical family. But unlike Anna or Elsa, Mirabel is an average girl. She’s short, wears glasses and trips over her own feet. Compared to the rest of her family, she is nothing special.
Set in a tiny village in Columbia, the Madrigal’s live in an enchanted house “powered” by a magical candle that never goes out. It is explained early on that at the age of five, every child that is born in this family receives a blessing. They are given a door that opens to their own personal space that reveals their gift and they are allowed to move on from the home’s nursery.
This tradition began with Mirabel’s mother, Julieta (voiced by Angie Cepeda) who has the gift of healing through her cooking and baking. Her aunt, Pepa (Carolina Gaitan) can control the weather. She has two sisters, Luisa (Jessica Darrow) who is strong enough to carry donkeys and Isabela (Diane Guerrero) who makes flowers wherever she goes. Mirabel’s cousins, Dolores (Adassa) and Camilo (Rhenzy Feliz) have super-hearing and shape-shifting abilities.
Each of these family members use their gifts unselfishly for those living in their community and because of this, the Madrigal’s are well-liked and respected. But Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz) never received one of these blessings and ten years later, still lives in that same nursery with her young cousin who will face his own celebration in the coming day. She tries to help but often just gets in the way. Still, she manages to keep a smile on her face, telling others that “everything’s fine” and telling herself that “she’s okay” even when she’s not.
Mirabel also has an Uncle Bruno (John Leguizamo), although he has been missing for years. He’s the black sheep of the family, but Mirabel doesn’t know why. Her family says that “we don’t talk about Bruno” which of course means that there will be a lot of talking about Bruno.
And then there’s Abuela Alma Madrigal (María Cecilia Botero), Mirabel’s grandmother and matriarch of the family. She lost her husband decades earlier and ever since, she holds on tight to the rest of her family. However, she’s unreasonably harsh to Mirabel.
Everyone will relate to Mirabel and her seemingly perfect family. But perhaps Mirabel’s gift is finding the crack in her family’s foundation. When she discovers that the magic candle starts to flicker, it is up to her to pull her family together in a way that they never saw coming.
Directed by Byron Howard and Jared Bush, Encanto credits its screenplay to writers Jared Bush and Charise Castro Smith which was based on a story developed by six writers including Lin-Manuel Miranda. All the songs featured in the film were also written by Miranda which honestly, is some of his best work. Most of the songs are quite wordy and longer compared to traditional Disney tunes and it’s a nice change. And while none of them will stick in your head like “Let it Go”, every song here is worth a listen. The soundtrack, composed by Germaine Franco (a co-composer of the songs featured in Coco) is simply beautiful. Encanto also breaks tradition in other ways too. Mirabel’s parents are alive and well, and there is no token sidekick. (Sorry Olaf.)
Encanto also serves as an allegory of the church. As Christians, we should use our gifts and talents to benefit others rather than keep them to ourselves. We should also have the freedom to let down our guards and be imperfect with one another. In our day in age when there is so much strife within the body of Christ, I long for the world of Encanto.
Main Image: “Encanto” features the voices of Stephanie Beatriz as the only ordinary child in the Madrigal family; María Cecilia Botero as Mirabel’s grandmother, Abuela Alma; Angie Cepeda and Wilmer Valderrama as Mirabel’s parents, Julieta and Agustín; Jessica Darrow and Diane Guererro as Mirabel’s sisters Luisa and Isabela; Carolina Gaitan and Mauro Castillo as Mirabel’s aunt and uncle, Pepa and Félix; and Adassa Candiani, Rhenzy Feliz and Ravi Cabot-Conyers as Mirabel’s cousins Dolores, Camilo and Antonio, respectively. (Disney)
I write about pop culture, arts and entertainment in the greater Seattle area.