is a brilliantly drawn and heartwarming animated feature with memorable visual style, an appealing lead heroine, and a slew of new songs by Lin Manuel-Miranda who, considering this is his fourth film project to hit screens in less than six months, easily takes the title as the hardest working man in show business.
This is a surprisingly meaningful family film that deals with overcoming personal tragedies and finding your place in your own family. It's also fairly grounded, considering its central characters live in a magical house, and almost the entire family have been gifted with some kind of super human ability, which range from superior brute strength, controlling the weather, super hearing, or the ability to communicate with animals. Despite the supernatural trappings, this is not a story about heroics, and there's not even a villain here. It's also one of the few major animated features to not rely on star voice actors to draw in audiences. It's simply a story about a very special family that, despite their unique abilities, I think a lot of audiences will be able to relate to.
Set in an isolated village in the mountains of Columbia, the movie introduces us to the Madrigal family, who were gifted with extraordinary powers through the discovery of a magic candle. When a member of the family comes of age, he or she goes through a ceremony where they discover what their special gift is, and then they devote their lives to using that gift to help the locals live happily with whatever they might need. It is the teenage Madrigal daughter Mirabel (voiced by an endearing Stephanie Beatriz) who introduces the audience to her many gifted siblings, parents, and grandparents in the film's opening number. It is through this that we also learn that Mirabel is the only one in the family who has never grown into any powers, which obviously makes her feel like an outsider in her own home, though she does her best to try to hide her feelings.
Mirabel hides her feelings by trying to help out around the house as much as she can, but her usefulness can only go so far when everyone around her can shape-shift or bloom flowers on command. Even the house she lives in is alive with magic, and seems to do a pretty good job of running itself. It is the house that actually kicks off the plot of the film, as Mirabel happens to notice cracks appearing in its walls and floors. She tries to tell the family matriarch, Abuela Alma (Maria Cecilia Botero), about her worries, but she is brushed off. Regardless, Mirabel knows that her family and magical home are in danger, and when some of her siblings begin to lose their magical powers, Mirabel ends up being the only one who can take on a quest to track down family outcast Bruno (John Leguizamo), who had the ability to see the future, predicted a disaster was coming, and has gone into hiding since.
Directors Jared Bush and Byron Howard (Zootopia
) really emphasize the family dynamic here, as it is what drives the entire film. Mirabel goes out of her way for her family, because she doesn't want to be seen as inferior to any of them. And yet, as the film goes on, we learn that some of the other Madrigal family have their own issues, despite how it seems like they have everything together with their powers. In one of the film's more memorable musical numbers, her super strong older sister Luisa (Jessica Darrow) reveals that with everyone in the village so dependent on her strength and abilities, she often feels like she has the weight of the world on her shoulders. It is something Mirabel has probably never thought about before, and it adds a new level to their relationship. Through her quest to find out what is happening to her home and family, she learns that her family is not as perfect as it seems, and that they feel great weight and responsibility to everyone around them.
This is the strongest aspect of Encanto
, as the actual search for answers to the mystery of why the magic is fading is never quite as engaging as the characters or the themes that it covers. Luckily, the filmmakers seem to have realized this, so the emphasis here is on the family interaction, and bringing us into this film's world. Even if the main plot is never quite as engaging as it should be, the movie is still tremendously entertaining with its look, and especially its main character. With her huge glasses, wide smile, and beautiful spirit, Mirabel is an instantly likable young heroine that almost immediately gains the audience's support, and this is only helped by Beatriz's line readings. Her emotional journey of learning her true importance within the Madrigal family is strong, and rightfully remains the core.
Here is a visually beautiful film that is able to dig deep into its themes of how the people around us who might seem to have everything figured out are really battling their own pain, and might need us more than we think. It's a valuable lesson, and one that is expressed wonderfully. Encanto
ends up being the rare family film that respects the intelligence of both the kids and adults in the audience, and that is definitely something to celebrate.