‘Encanto’ weaves a magical, heartwarming and surprisingly pointed tale

Walt Disney Animation Studios’ 60th feature film proves fresh, relatable and given heaps of energy with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s reverent soundtrack

Starring Stephanie Beatriz, María Cecilia Botero, John Leguizamo, Mauro Castillo, Jessica Darrow, Angie Cepeda, Carolina Gaitán, Diane Guerrero, and Wilmer Valderrama

Amidst its dogmatic determination to dominate the entertainment industry, through the aggressive growth of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the slew of televisual entertainment coming soon on Disney+, the Disney corporation has wisely not forgotten its roots and Encanto, the 60th feature from Walt Disney Animation Studios, offers plenty of that charm and heart which gained Disney its household name in the first place.

Encanto is centred upon the extended Madrigal family, who had been blessed many years before by a miracle. This miracle protected Abuela Alma (María Cecilia Botero) and her three infant children Julieta (Angie Cepeda), Pepa (Carolina Gaitán) and Bruno (John Leguizamo) but not before Alma’s beloved Pedro had been slain during the armed conflict which they were fleeing from. The miracle – called “the encanto” – created a sentient house, known as “Casita” for the Madrigals, as well as blessing the whole family with supernatural gifts.

These gifts are used for the betterment of their village. Julieta can heal others with her cooking, while Pepa controls the weather with her emotions. Before the events of the film, however, Bruno has a devastating vision of the future which causes him to isolate himself from the rest of the family and disappear entirely. Pepa’s children, Dolores (Adassa) has enhanced hearing, while Camilo (Rhenzy Felix) is a shapeshifter. Their youngest child, Antonio (Ravi-Cabot Conyers) is due to receive his gift on the day that the film commences. As for Julieta’s children, there’s seemingly perfect Isabela (Diane Guerrero) who can cause flowers to bloom; the outwardly stoic Luisa (Jessica Darrow) whose superhuman strength makes others rely on her; and our heroine Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz), who is unique in her family for being the only one without a special gift.

Despite the strong bond between the family, Abuela Alma is concerned of the ramifications of the day’s gifting ceremony were Antonio, like Mirabel, not receive any powers. Her dismissiveness towards Mirabel only becomes worse when Mirabel sees the Casita begin to crack and the magical candle which granted them their miracle flickers ominously. Refusing to let her lack of power define her, Mirabel takes matters into her own hands to save the legacy of their family.

As with other recent Disney Animation Studios productions, Encanto is visually stunning. The bright colours from the Colombian setting and clothing creates a palette that is bristling with energy and joy. The love and respect for Latino culture is evident throughout, and the importance of familial connection is not lost. Encanto continues the work done by The Princess and the Frog and Raya and the Last Dragon to create diverse, well-rounded characters and immerse young audiences in a variety of cultures.

This love and reverence can also be felt within Lin-Manuel Miranda’s fiendishly energetic and intricate selection of songs. The echoes of In the Heights and Hamilton can keenly be felt, and it is clear that a lot of passion and joy has been injected into these moments, to produce far more moving and affecting songs than what Miranda produced for Moana.

At its heart, Encanto expounds upon the importance of family. Unlike most other Disney protagonists, Mirabel is not defined by being an orphan or, indeed, having a dead parent. Instead, she has a glut of family members – even cousins. Even though Mirabel’s family circumstances are most certainly unique, her story is relatable. Her love for her family, but feeling out of place, is something that many children and, indeed, adults can sympathise with.

Ultimately, the moral of the story speaks to the weight of familial expectation, and feeling the need to please and make your family proud (a theme that also crops up in Miranda’s In the Heights). The pressure of this expectation can be seen through multiple characters: Pepa, who attempts to always remain calm so that she does not create disadvantageous weather; Luisa, who feels that her emotional strength should match her physical abilities; Isabela, who constantly censors herself out of the need to be perfect; and Mirabel herself, who is desperate not to let her lack of gifts limit her and so tries to stay out of the way as much as possible. Encanto shows its audience the importance of staying true to yourself, and to love your relatives for who they are, instead of what you wish for them.

Encanto stands proudly amongst the incredible legacy of Disney Studios’ animated classics. A heartwarming, creative and stunning story that continues to diversify Hollywood’s offerings and makes a wry commentary upon toxic familial structures.

Encanto was released in cinemas on November 24th, 2021

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