Encanto Review: Disney’s latest is a perfectly fine family animated adventure fitting for the holidays
Disney’s latest animated adventure, Encanto, takes viewers into visually vibrant story of family and finding purpose that can’t always make its thematic elements of traditional burdening work.
Right away, Encanto establishes its unique cultural identity visually with how viewers are introduced to a secluded, thriving village maintained by the magical Madrigal family living in their sentient home “Castilla.” All the vivid colors of Columbian art flow through every inch of the village as well as different musical numbers. The introduction song that serves as a big introduction to the Madrigal family comes with these distinct colors that connect to the personalities and powers of each Madrigal and another song centered on Isabella (voiced by Dianne Guerrero), a flawless Madrigal who sprouts perfect flowers everywhere she goes, just booms with amazing color. Encanto is probably one of Disney’s most visually compelling animated movies in recent time with it uses colors and features great representation in its diverse Latinx and Afro-Latino characters.
The energetic color palette is generally matched with songs from Lin-Manuel Miranda that attempt to create an authentic Latin soundtrack that slowly becomes overtaken by Miranda’s style. The opening song sung by the only Madrigal without powers, Maribel (voiced by Stephanie Beatriz), excellently feels like a local song sung in the streets for everyone to join in and has a good swing that rhythmically connects with you. Some songs can have a good local flavor to them that evokes the intimacy and personable vibes of Latin music and Reggaeton, but Miranda’s style ends up taking over the identity of Encanto’s music. His style of rapping and some generic song-speak are littered throughout Encanto’s music and it takes over the cultural identity of the music way too often. Also, if you take away the great animation behind them, the songs simply don’t stand out at all and just hit standard musical theater marks with the obvious transitions and unremarkable lyrics they have.
Even though Encanto’s music struggles to stand out, its central story surrounding Maribel trying to uncover the reason why her family’s magic that stems from the Encanto, an enchanted candle that family matriarch Abuela (voiced by Maria Cecilia Botero) obtained after a grave tragedy, is slowly burning out does have some strong aspects. Maribel is easily one of the best lead Disney characters in recent time as her story of finding her own sense of power in a powerful family that makes her feel powerless is incredibly relatable. Although she goes out of her way to love and support her family, she’s not given the same respect since she didn’t receive any powers and the pure heart she displays throughout is incredibly touching. Encanto isn’t an adventure-seeking story like many other Disney animated movies, but Maribel’s persistence in saving the family she loves perfectly wraps around your heart and tugs you along every step of the way.
Maribel’s instantly admirable qualities definitely come from Beatriz’s stand out voice work here. Whether she’s beautifully singing about Maribel’s powerlessness in her family or showing that sense of spark and love that Maribel has for life and those around her, Beatriz absolutely knocks it out of the park and delivers one of the strongest lead voice performances seen in a Disney animated film in recent time. Truthfully, the entire voice cast is great in bringing out their respective character’s distinct personality and John Leguizamo as family outcast Bruno is definitely a comedic stand out.
It’s unfortunate though that outside of Maribel, most of the other characters and their powers lack real depth. While some people, like Isabella and the super-strong Luisa (voiced by Jessica Darrow), get lengthy songs to give more depth to their personality and character arc, other characters are barely given any sort of depth. Characters like Camilo (voiced by Rhenzy Feliz), who can shapeshift, and Pepa (voiced by Carolina Gaitan), who changes weather with her emotions, are simply there for comic relief while others and their powers simply act as forced plot devices. Dolores’ (voiced by Adassa) enhanced hearing simply exists to cause a chaotic dinner scene and Bruno’s futuristic visions are way too ambiguous and are a big reason that the film’s themes don’t come together cleanly in the film’s final act.
Throughout the film, it’s easy to pick out where things are going as Abuela’s power within the family and this sense of tradition creating this stigma towards Maribel for not having powers are establishing a real reason that this family’s power is burning out. However, the film attempts to create an unnecessary mystery around the whole thing through very weak red-herrings and throwing in other plots that elongate things for no reason. Once the film’s ready to make it big mark in confronting the sense of tradition and damaging expectations set on the family, it doesn’t do enough to make it leave a lasting impact. The moments of Abuela recounting the events that led to the Encanto’s existence are very beautiful with the loving emotion that comes from the love she lost through tragedy and it’s nice that the film uses its non-magical villagers to create a sense of community coming together in the end.
However, just as the Madrigals learn a valuable lesson about their powers and what it means to be a family, Disney just throws away any possible concrete meaning of its themes with a very lame “happy ending.” Even for the nice subtle build up of its themes and interesting confrontations, Encanto doesn’t allow for its conflicts to flourish or create impact and real dialogue about damaging traditions or family hierarchy and half-heartedly tries to course correct itself after things go wrong. Just as you think Encanto’s big conflict is going to lead to interesting dialogue or meaningful themes that stick with you, it just tries to fix and wrap things up as quickly as possible leading to it severely missing some thematic opportunities.
Encanto’s forgettable music that’s burdened by Miranda’s overly familiar style and inability to fulfill its narrative potential keep it from being a true stand out amongst Disney animated films, but it still remains an excellently animated adventure that’s made generally enjoyable through its excellent lead character, and performance from Beatriz, as well as touching family moments fitting for the holidays.