Encanto review: Disney's magical realist take on superheroes is charming but breezy
Encanto (2021 movie)
The latest stop on Disney Animation Studios' world tour, following Raya and the Last Dragon's riff on Fantasy Asia earlier this year, is Colombia. The most famous work of art to come out of Colombia (and a strong contender for the designation of greatest novel ever written) is Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, and the studio's new film Encanto pays homage to that magical realist masterwork with its story of a multi-generational family blessed by wonderful enchantments.
It's hard to miss the rhyme between "Encanto," which is both the title of the film and a word often used by its characters to refer to the miracle that made a home for them deep in the mountains, and "Macondo," the town founded by Marquez's unforgettable Buendia family in the middle of the jungle. Of course, One Hundred Years of Solitude delves deeply into sex, politics, and the bloodstained history of imperialism in Latin America — none of which are quite suitable subjects for a Disney kids' movie. So for its structure and rhythm, Encanto leans on more familiar U.S. media touchstones.
Like the X-Men, almost every member of the Madrigal family is blessed with their own unique power: Luisa (Jessica Darrow) is strong enough to lift anything, while Isabela (Diane Guerrero) can make beautiful flowers bloom all around her. But like The Umbrella Academy, the story of Encanto focuses on the only family member who doesn't have an evident superpower: Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz), the younger sister of Luisa and Isabela who desperately wants to prove she can support her family and community just as well as they can. Her lack of power seems to suggest that the family's enchantment is fading, so Mirabel decides to try investigating the source of this decline and see if it can be fixed.
Maribel embarks on a search for her prodigal uncle Bruno (John Leguizamo), who exiled himself from the family after his precognitive visions were dismissed as self-fulfilling doomsaying instead of helpful warnings against coming troubles. Mirabel's quest to find the truth involves reaching out to various other family members for help as well. Through charming songs, we learn that Luisa is starting to crack under the pressure of always needing to be strong, while Isabela actually possesses the spirit of a colorful, rebel artist beneath her golden child facade.
Encanto is directed by Byron Howard and Jared Bush, but the film's original songs were composed by Hamilton maestro Lin-Manuel Miranda. Together with Netflix's Vivo and Tick, Tick...Boom!, that makes Encanto the third film to heavily feature Miranda's touch in as many months (to say nothing of In the Heights earlier this year). It's no crime to be such a prolific artist, especially with COVID-19 delaying releases, but it also doesn't feel like the Encanto soundtrack is Miranda's best work. The songs are breezy and fun, they communicate the character beats they need to, but they probably won't be stuck in your head for days afterward.
It's not easy squeezing a multi-generational magical epic into an hour and a half, and some gaps in Encanto's mythology might leave you scratching your head (if it's true that Mirabel doesn't have a power of her own, then why does she seem to possess such a unique level of affinity and control over the family's living house…?). But a smiling tale about familial reconciliation and learning to see your relatives for who they are rather than who you wish they were is never unwelcome. In this story, sometimes families condemned to 100 years of solitude do get a second chance on Earth. B
This Disney animated film follows the Madrigals, a Colombian family blessed by a miracle that gives most of them unique powers.