Disney's Encanto reveals a family's intricate layers through vivid animation and one curious little girl

click to enlarge Me gusto Encanto.
Me gusto Encanto.

A Disney film that is big on magic if occasionally light on character development, Encanto still shines as a lovingly told and animated story that delves deeper into a Colombian family than the studio ever has before.

Overflowing with humor and heart, the film is set in a fictional town hidden deep in the mountains of Colombia where the magical Madrigal family lives a seemingly serene life. The magic, which came following a great loss when the Madrigals were fleeing violence, has bestowed members of the family with their own special gifts so they can be protected. These range from abilities such as being able to control the weather to having extreme strength or precise hearing.

However, one member of the family did not get such a gift. Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz) is the only member of the Madrigal lineage who did not get blessed with a magical ability on the day each child is supposed to. Feeling like an outcast within her own family, it falls to her to figure out why the magic is mysteriously fading.

The best part of Encanto is how the story and the world itself unravels before you. Taking place almost entirely within the Madrigal house, which is itself magical and boasts a glorious mind of its own, the film looks inward to find adventure as opposed to outward. Many Disney films have followed a more standard storyline, as characters go on some sort of quest to find some sort of object and discover themselves along the way. Even when well-executed, these stories can begin to feel formulaic.

As the 60th film produced by the studio, Encanto avoids the pitfalls of those familiar patterns by forging its own path. It goes far in uncovering the darkness looming underneath the bright exterior of the house. This is both a literal and metaphorical point as Mirabel must go deep within the recesses of the structure itself for answers about why the family's magic is waning. She will discover deceptively vast landscapes beautifully brought to life in awe-inspiring animation that fully captures their scope.

What isn't fully captured are many of the characters. Initially, Mirabel seems like she has a close relationship with her younger cousin Antonio (Ravi-Cabot Conyers), though that quickly gets forgotten. It is replaced by a cycling of introductions to key members of her family. They all get a hit-or-miss Lin-Manuel Miranda song that spells out how their ability relates to their character. Even as the animation is enthralling, it only develops a fleeting connection to many of the characters.

Thankfully, even though it doesn't always put in the work to fully flesh out its characters, the rest of the film makes up for it. The conclusion even goes in some bold narrative directions, complicating and deepening the story. It does ever so slightly blink in the brightness of the more vibrant ideas at play, though not in a manner that dulls the film's reflective quality.

It is in its overall focus that Encanto grasps at richer themes about how the family's magic is only part of what defines them. In revealing how supposed outcasts like Mirabel are also central to keeping a family whole, the film manages to create enough magic of its own to win over your heart. ♦

Three Stars ENCANTO
Rated PG
Directed by Jared Bush, Byron Howard, Charise Castro Smith

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