Encanto (2021)

Disney has been on a roll this year and Encanto marks their third animated release (including Pixar) following Raya and the Last Dragon and Luca. Following the traditional format of the animated musical, Encanto is set in a small village in Colombia and follows the magical Madrigal family where each member has a unique gift that helps the community to flourish thanks to an enchanted candle that was gifted to the matriarch except for protagonist Mirabel who was not granted any powers and is often underestimated or seen as a nuisance and burden, especially by the matriarch, her Abuela Alma. What follows is Mirabel trying to solve the mystery of her family’s powers and why she wasn’t granted a power in the hopes that she can eventually unlock her gift. The result is a film that boasts exceptional animation filled with eye-catching colours and a world full of imagination and magic that would make audiences of all ages captivated by the wonder and beautiful storytelling.

As with most Disney animations, Encanto is a collaboration when it comes to the direction and writing as it is directed by Jared Bush and Byron Howard and written by Bush and Charise Castro Smith. What Encanto does so well is subvert stereotypes and challenge expectations and perceptions. Mirabel’s sisters are a great example of this as the strong and muscular Luisa is able to show her sensitive side while Isabela is known for her beauty and perfection but she wants to feel free and unrestricted. Mirabel’s position as an outsider works well as we are able to observe these characters at a distance and witness their growth while simultaneously seeing Mirabel develop and forge her own identity. One of the major themes in the film is finding a place to belong from Abuela Alma’s struggles as she is forced to flee her home and building a community from the ground up to Mirabel’s desire to find out where she truly belongs. The brilliance of the events in Encanto is that we don’t leave the area unlike other films such as Moana where the titular character has to venture overseas to solve the mystery, Mirabel has everything she needs within the home and her family but simply has to put these pieces together. This doesn’t make the film suffer and allows for great pacing that means we see the supporting characters more than other Disney films.

The protagonist of the film is Mirabel who is voiced by Stephanie Beatriz who is known for playing Rosa Diaz on TV show Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Diaz’s performance is fantastic and following her turn as Carla in this year’s In the Heights (with music also provided by Lin-Manuel Miranda), she is able to add her singing talents to Encanto as well as her quirky humour while also delving into the dramatic elements of the plot. Mirabel’s struggles from having no power and the way that her family view her as a hindrance. What makes Mirabel such an effective protagonist is the realism in terms of her mannerisms and attitude. She isn’t portrayed as someone who is perfect and right all the time but a flawed young woman who makes mistakes and has a good heart. Her good intentions don’t always generate good results but this doesn’t mean that she is unlikeable and makes her more relatable than a lot of animated Disney protagonists.

The songs in the film are provided by Lin-Manuel Miranda who has developed a close relationship with Disney in recent years. As expected, the songs perfectly capture the setting and emotions of the characters while incorporating signature Miranda elements such as mixing genres and singing styles to create a soundtrack that is distinguishable and unique. There are many brilliant songs on the album from the opening introduction “The Family Madrigal” to the slow and dramatic “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” and songs that are completely sung in Spanish with no subtitles which heightens the authenticity of the Colombian setting. Miranda’s soundtrack for Moana was undoubtedly a hit but with Encanto, he has proven his ability to write for film that differs in context and setting with ease without sacrificing his own artistic license.

In a year that has seen Disney release several animated films, Encanto comes out top as the most original, vibrant and creative of the three thanks to the memorable characters, stunning animation and incredible soundtrack. Not only does it capture the Colombian setting and culture fantastically, it does so in a way that is captivating thanks to the writing and development of Mirabel as a great protagonist.

What did you think of Encanto? Let me know in the comments below!

Encanto is out in cinemas now!

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