- Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for "Encanto."
- "Encanto," Disney's 60th animated feature, is its best in years.
- It uses a relatable story about an extended family, rather than a villain, to draw you in.
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"Encanto" is a beautiful and vibrant celebration of a family, filled with the enchanting magic of "Beauty and the Beast" and the heart of Disney and Pixar's "Coco."
Walt Disney Animation's 60th film is the company's best in the past six years since the back-to-back releases of "Zootopia" and "Moana" in 2015. (Coincidentally, two of its codirectors, Byron Howard and Jared Bush, also worked on "Zootopia." There's obviously some magic in that pairing.)
The story follows the Madrigal family, who've been blessed with magic after tragedy. Their large, colorful home, lovingly called La Casita, feels as if it operates according to the same charming magic that enchanted the objects in 1991's "Beauty and the Beast." The shutters wave, the tiles dance, and items move magically around the kitchen.
In addition to the magical house, all the Madrigal children gain a magical gift when they turn 5, such as super strength or the ability to heal. In turn, those gifts are used to help strengthen and serve their community.
Every Madrigal has a role to play, except the teenage Maribel (Stephanie Beatriz), who never received a magical gift when she came of age.
Though Maribel's family constantly tells her she's just as special as everyone else, it's pretty tough to believe when you're surrounded by a family of people who are constantly admired and respected for all of their amazing contributions to their village.
It also doesn't help that Maribel feels at odds with her "perfect sister" Isabela (played beautifully by Diane Guerrero), who looks like a perfect Disney princess right down to her dress and can create flowers at will.
As Maribel tries to come to terms with accepting herself, a mysterious force threatens to take away the family's magic. Maribel takes it upon herself to find the root of the problem and save the family's magic before it disappears.
'Encanto' has no real villain. That's one of its strengths.
One of the most impressive things about "Encanto" is that it doesn't have a tangible villain, a rarity in a Disney film.
At its core, "Encanto," from Howard, Bush, and the codirector Charise Castro Smith, focuses on the pressures of living up to unrealistic expectations and family ideals. What happens when those expectations are too high? What happens when you don't speak up and you cave under the weight of the pressure?
Though the Madrigal family seems idyllic to villagers from the outside, once the layers are pulled back, you slowly realize there are cracks in the foundation of what's holding the magical family together. This ranges from a black sheep in the family named Bruno, whom the family refuses to acknowledge (Disney really has it out for characters named Bruno this year) to other family members who feel under constant pressure to be perfect.
By the film's end, you may feel inspired to seek out and make amends with any family members you haven't talked to in a while.
Yeah, "Encanto" gets deep (bring some tissues), but don't worry. It's not too deep for kids. Most of that stuff will probably go over their heads, as they'll be too busy immersed in the catchy musical numbers.
Lin-Manuel Miranda's music is top-notch. He's quickly becoming the Mouse's secret weapon.
The "Hamilton" creator Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote and produced eight original songs for "Encanto," with a score from Germaine Franco.
Highlights include an infectious opener, "The Family Madrigal," which introduces the extended family; the movie's titular theme, "Colombia, Mi Encanto," which seamlessly weaves Spanish into its lyrics; and Maribel's song, "Waiting on a Miracle," which gives "Let It Go"-from-"Frozen" vibes.
When you hear, "Dos Oruguitas," which is the first song Miranda ever wrote in Spanish, you may get a bit emotional as it comes during a pivotal moment. Fans of Miranda will notice his rap stamp on the movie's final song, "All of You."
Miranda is easily becoming one of the studio's go-to secret weapons for its musicals. He also contributed music to 2016's "Moana," earning him a Grammy and Oscar nomination. Next, he's working on music for Disney's live-action "The Little Mermaid."
Miranda's prolificacy brings to mind Howard Ashman, the Disney lyricist who delivered hit after hit for a trifecta of Disney classics — "The Little Mermaid," "Beauty and the Beast," and "Aladdin" — until his death at the age of 40.
The level of detail in the film's animation is impressive
Disney, once again, has stepped it up a notch when it comes to the attention to detail in its animation.
Rats are shown during a few moments in "Encanto." Whenever the camera focuses on their small faces, it feels as if you're looking at the real thing. If rats were cute, that is.
When Maribel finds herself covered in sand and is removing small grains from her hair, you're convinced you're looking at the real deal.
That's a testament to Disney (and Pixar's) work on perfecting and testing sand in some of its shorts over the years, from 2016's "Piper" to this year's "Far From the Tree," a delightful short featuring a raccoon family that plays in front of "Encanto."
We may be entering a new golden age of Disney classics
One of the best things "Encanto" does is deliver a Latino family that authentically embodies that lived experience.
Every family member isn't one shade of brown. The Madrigal family is filled with Latinos of all shades, including darker-skinned Latinos, and every shade in between accurately reflects what an extended Latino household may look like today.
It's important to note that "Encanto" takes the time to tell a story not only about an individual but a multigenerational family as well. If "Encanto" were made 10 or 20 years ago, Isabela, the "perfect" daughter longing to be seen as something more, most likely would've been the de facto lead and main storyline. She fits the obvious Disney Princess archetype, a necessary ingredient for most of Disney's past hits.
In recent years, Disney has pushed away from stereotypical princess narratives to focus on stories and characters that are more reflective of the world around us. And they're just as good, if not better than, some of the older princess tales.
Much of that surely has to do with the changing of the guard at Disney in recent years. Ever since Jennifer Lee directed 2013's hit "Frozen" and was later named chief creative officer of Walt Disney Animation in June 2018, viewers have watched a different type of Disney lead, one who puts family and friends ahead of a love interest ("Frozen") and who has deeper communities ties ("Frozen II," "Raya and the Last Dragon"). They don't look pencil-thin. They're quirky, spunky, and relatable. Maribel follows that trend.
After Disney's triumph in this year's "Raya" and, now, "Encanto," we may be at the dawn of a new era of Disney classics. We're certainly in a new era of what a Disney
princess heroine looks like.
"Encanto," also featuring the voice talents of María Cecilia Botero, John Leguizamo, Wilmer Valderrama, Angie Cepeda, Jessica Darrow, and (Disney's lucky charm) Alan Tudyk, is in theaters November 24.