Encanto (2021) Movie Review Jared Bush

Though it can't quite break out of the Disney mold, Encanto is greatly aided by a unique story, a delightful cast of characters, and a vital message.

Over the course of 59 animated movies, Disney has worked out the perfect formula for tugging at an audience’s heartstrings: create an earnest and relatable main character, weave equal amounts of joy and melancholy into the story, and sprinkle in some catchy tunes. The studio’s 60th feature, Encanto, follows this formula down to the letter, making for a familiar tale. And yet, it’s hard to resist the charms cast by directors Byron Howard and Jared Bush, as well as co-director Charise Castro Smith (Bush and Smith wrote the screenplay, based on a story from all three directors, Jason Hand, Nancy Kruse, and Lin-Manuel Miranda). This original tale, which already holds plenty of magic within its plot, is the perfect dose of comfort food for families at the end of this trying year. Though it can’t quite break out of the Disney mold, Encanto is greatly aided by a unique story, a delightful cast of characters, and a vital message.

Encanto starts out with a helpful bit of exposition to introduce viewers to the eccentric Madrigal family. Years ago, matriarch Abuela Alma (María Cecilia Botero) was blessed with a miracle in the form of a magical house, a practically sentient building that gifts special abilities to each of Abuela’s descendants. Abuela’s children and grandchildren all received gifts with no issues… until Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz), a plucky, eager girl who just longs to make her family proud. For some inexplicable reason, Mirabel is the only Madrigal without any special gift, thus making her an outsider within her close-knit family. Her efforts to be useful to Abuela sometimes lead to more problems than intended, but when the Madrigals’ house starts to lose its magic, Mirabel just might be the only one who can save it.

In many ways, Encanto resembles another recent Disney animated feature: 2016’s Moana. Not only do both movies center on a vibrant young girl eager to save her home, but they also include music from Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. Plot-wise, Encanto manages to stand out on its own. The Madrigals are fascinating characters and their magical existence seems to extend out into the real world too; as an audience member, it’s easy to be enamored with their house and powers. The filmmakers clearly had a lot of fun developing each Madrigal gift, which range from super-strength to the ability to talk to animals. Encanto is bursting with bright colors and beautifully rendered visuals, particularly when it comes to the house at its center. With tiles that drag people along like conveyor belts and stairs that turn into slides, Howard, Bush, and Smith have implemented plenty of clever quirks with the help of art directors Camille Andre and Mehrdad Isvandi.

Encanto also scores some points by not having a traditional villain. Mirabel’s conflict — her desire to prove her worth even when she has no powers to speak of — is compelling, but feels similar to other unlikely protagonists. However, in trying to work out what’s wrong with the house, Mirabel pulls other internal conflicts out of her family members, most notably with her sisters Luisa (Jessica Darrow) and Isabela (Diane Guerrero). Both girls seem pleased with their gifts, but the pressure to be perfect and useful rankles. By digging into that, Encanto finds some real-world relevance that is bound to hit home for some viewers, despite all the magic that surrounds the story.

With a songwriter like Miranda on board, it was a given that Encanto‘s music would be catchy. And indeed, the rapid-fire lyrics and toe-tapping beats fit in quite well with Miranda’s past work. At the same time, it’s hard to say if any of them will fit in among the best in Disney’s history. Certain songs will elicit stronger emotions than others from audiences, and Howard, Bush, and Smith have done well in crafting fun montages for each song. Encanto‘s music is good, but not entirely necessary. There’s plenty of heart within the story itself, and save for a few exceptions, such as the song that plays during flashbacks to Abuela’s past, the musical element doesn’t add much to the movie. Nevertheless, younger audiences will get a kick out of the familiar Disney song-and-dance routine, and even some adults will probably bob their heads along.

On top of everything else, each voice actor for Encanto rises to the occasion to make a truly memorable cast of characters. The MVP of the movie is, expectedly, Beatriz, who once again proves herself to be incredibly skilled at voice work. She brings a lively, kindhearted touch to Mirabel. It’s easy to root and care for her in her journey of self-discovery. Each member of the Madrigal family has at least one moment to shine, though John Leguizamo also deserves a shoutout for his work as black sheep Bruno. Botero also nails the fine line Abuela walks in caring for her family and wishing absolute perfection from everyone. All told, Disney likely has another hit on its hands. With Encanto arriving in theaters just in time for the holiday season, it should be the perfect bit of entertainment for families looking for something to do. Everyone could use a bit of magic these days, and Encanto certainly fits the bill with its heartwarming, if still familiar touch.

Source: Screenrant

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