Marking its 60th animated feature, Disney hits the magical notes it needs to with the help of an overly-reliable narrative, Latin American heritage and Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Any Disney animation means cinematic magic is guaranteed to materialise. For almost 100 years, we’ve been completely besotted with its beauty. As the latest instalment in the ever-growing franchise, Encanto compasses all that mouse-eared dreams are made of—yet rests heavily on its formulaic laurels. Taking the cultural spotlight seen in Moana and Coco, the film tries to deliver a hat-trick of global celebrations, highlighting the joys and traditions of familial Colombia.
Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz) is born into a family that receives magical gifts at a young age but never receives one herself. Surrounded by relatives who use their gifts to serve the community and house with a personality all its own, Mirabel feels as though she’ll never be able to make her family proud. When the family magic is threatened and plunges their home into danger, it’s up to Mirabel to save the town and reunite her loved ones.
Even with a sprinkle of Hollywood talent and financing, Encanto is rich. It’s rich in animation—the vibrancy of each leaf and slatted tile delicious in its visual currency. We ride along on the backs of animals, become embroiled in high-octane chases and tread through water so clear, you could almost reach down and drink it. None of this is a surprise for a film of such international calibre, yet it never stops amazing the eye. However, it’s the parallel string of richness in Colombian culture that anchors Encanto’s importance and cinematic sunlight.
Since the 2016 release of Moana, Disney has seemingly gone out of its way to celebrate the diversity of culture outside the Western world. It’s easy to see why such an uplifting, positive portrayal of Colombian culture in Encanto has been so greatly enjoyed, focussing on beautifully intricate traditions and heritage, soaking in the colours, spirit and family dynamics that’s authentic to the truth. This spirit is what arguably makes our company of characters so endearing, with the wider community showing that being Colombian doesn’t mean having one set skin tone or set of features. The Abuela matriarchy is relatable to all walks of life, the rites of passage both compelling and empathetically intriguing.
Despite Encanto’s representation being bang on the money, the film falls a little flat with its typical narrative structure. We have all the Disney basics lined up: a heroine, an antagonistic force, loving sidekicks and a kick-start into a traditional character journey that’s peppered with lively tunes. While much of this is needed to have a story itself, the viewing experience becomes predictable, relying on other elements to keep attention and adoration. Encanto’s themes are being explored right on time—displacement within a family setting, forceful emphasis on being exceptional and the perils of projecting a sense of worth. It’s slightly frustrating to watch Mirabel’s family continually gaslight her feelings for most of the runtime, although Encanto possibly exudes Disney’s most realistic embodiment of loss.
As Encanto draws to a close, the arc of redemption is over in the blink of an eye. Taking so much time to set up the importance of self-acceptance, the resolutions feel half-baked, the sense of realism lost in the family’s sudden willingness to look forward and forgive. This sense of jarring isn’t helped by an inconsistent soundtrack. Even with Lin-Manuel Miranda at the helm, its songs don’t always sing the praises of Colombian musical culture. The pinnacle opening number is difficult to fully get behind, gradually building up into the Hamilton-esque musical fusion we’ve come to know and love. Nonetheless, Encanto is a successful extension of the Lin-Manuel soundtracked world we’re currently living in.
Encanto remains a Disney delight—pure and simple. An incredibly emotive depiction of Colombian family life, Mirabel’s route to self-acceptance is a much-needed moral. The themes of discontent are somewhat reflected in the deprecated narrative journey and are likely to be forgettable amongst the titan Disney additions over the last decade. Even so, Encanto still holds strong in its love for music, family and wholly magical animation.
Words by Jasmine Valentine
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