My Encanto review, of Disney’s latest animated film:
Encanto is certainly the best film from Disney Animation Studios I’ve seen in years. I’d say I liked it even more than Moana, and it might be fighting Frozen to move up on my ranking of Disney films.
When I first heard about Encanto I was intrigued. For me, it had two things potentially going for it – music by Lin-Manuel Miranda, and a storyline that could have a pretty important message to tell. I was hesitantly optimistic about it, and I’m glad to say it did not disappoint. Encanto is certainly the best film from Disney Animation Studios I’ve seen in years. I’d say I liked it even more than Moana, and it might be fighting Frozen to move up on my ranking of Disney films. In the past decade I’d name Zootopia as another strong contender personally, but I’m a sucker for a musical and Encanto has the advantage there.
While the movie wasn’t perfect, there was so much that I loved about it. There may have been a few weak moments in plot, but I found it didn’t bother me thanks to the beautiful visuals, music, character development, and exploration of themes.
I will keep the first half of this review very light on spoilers, but in order to get into some of the things that really impacted me I’ll have to touch on some events that might be bigger spoilers – I’ll give a warning at that point!
The family Madrigal has been blessed with a miracle – every member of the family gets some sort of special, magical power when they reach the age of 5. These include magical powers like super-strength, the ability to heal through cooking, and shape-shifting. Mirabel, our main character, is an outsider in her own family because she never received a magical gift. As she tries to stay positive and involved in her family, she also discovers something that it seems no one else can recognize… there are cracks in the foundation of their magical house (Affectionately known as Casita). It’s up to Mirabel to see if she can save the house, the magic, and her family.
At the end of the day the plot is not really what this movie is about. There are some aspects of the magic that might be a bit weak if you really think about it too much. If you’re looking for more understanding or background of the magic itself, you’re not going to get it. There’s a lot that’s not necessarily explained – why is Mirabel the only one who doesn’t have a power? Where did this magic actually come from? And we don’t get answers to those question.
For me that really worked. I know not everyone could be content with that sort of approach to magic and fantasy, but it’s another thing that felt very realistic about relatable about the film – even as someone who (believe it or not) does not have magical powers. Sometimes things happen in life and there is no explanation. Some people are born a certain way and it may not make sense to us, but that’s the way it is. We don’t always get answers or get to know everything.
In some ways, despite all of the magic, the core story is not all that “epic” – and that’s anothing thing I liked about it. There’s no massive villain to fight, no huge battles. Much of it is more about “reaction” of the characters than action – or, I’d argue, the action taken as a result of those reactions. The story never felt predictable and I was intrigued without knowing exactly what would happen next.
And there’s a subtle story here too that’s a really important one. Why did Abuela need this miracle? Because she was forced to flee her home in the night with 3 babies and a backpack. Hey, that’s something that actually happens in real life. It’s not harped on, and that idea is potentially lost on some viewers, but the more we include realistic elements like this the more they may be on our minds as a society – and I don’t think that’s ever a bad thing.
The story was emotional too. I will admit I’m a bit of a crier, but the last 20 minutes or so of this movie just had me sobbing.
I won’t say a Disney movie needs to have a great soundtrack to be a favorite of mine, but if it does that certainly helps an awful lot. I’m a person who is just moved by music. I feel it strongly, and when you have the combination of brilliant lyrics and a catchy tune, I’m hooked. With Lin-Manuel Miranda on board I had high hopes, and he definitely did not disappoint. While I very much enjoy the soundtrack of Moana, I felt this one was even better.
Miranda incorporates a number of different musical styles that all work together and feel cohesive, as well as a reflection of the Colombian culture. After the third big number I couldn’t stop myself from turning to Jason and whispering “this soundtrack is SO GOOD.” I’ve now listened to the soundtrack 3 times since I saw the film yesterday and I’m just loving it. I’d also mention that it’s worth listening to the whole soundtrack, as some of the songs are recorded in Spanish as well and are beautiful, and the score itself is fantastic.
I’d cite four songs in particular that I’m really enjoying. “Colombia, Mi Encanto” is super catchy and makes me want to dance… and I have, all around the house with this song on. “Waiting on a Miracle” feels your most traditionally Disney song. It’s Mirabel’s opening number of longing and her place in the family. Think “When Will My Life Begin” from Tangled or “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana. “Surface Pressure” is in my opinion arguably the best number of the film. It’s got a great rhythm that feels fitting to the message of the song, and in Miranda style the lyrics are clever (“Under the surface / was Hercules ever like / ‘Yo, I don’t want to fight Cerberus?'”).
But the biggest earworm for me has been “We Don’t Talk about Bruno,” as I can’t get it out of my head (and as the only lyric I know right now is the titular one I might be driving Jason a little crazy right now). The song is also a really brilliant way to show more of the many characters in the family and their personalities – each of them have a distinct musical style that seems to fit them. And the ending of the song weaves together all of their various lines at once and you can hear musically how beautifully it all fits together (if you’re familiar with Hamilton, think the ending of Act 1 with “Non-Stop”).
The visuals and animation
If you’ve seen the trailer you’ve probably guessed the visuals in this film are stunning – there are bright, vivid colors everywhere and it feels full of life. One thing I really loved is how well the animation supported the musical soundtrack. There are a few songs where the characters are dancing and it feels almost like watching a real stage performance. While I would love to see a stage version of this musical someday, there is definitely something about animation that makes it feel more… well, magical. I’m not an expert on animation so I can’t go into any technical details, but I’ll just say that as an “average movie-goer” I was captivated and thought it was beautiful.
Themes in Encanto
Heads up: minor spoilers in this section!
I could go on and on about the important themes in Encanto (and that may just end up being another blog post). Even with so many members of the Madrigal family we feel like we start to really get to know them individually and see their inner struggles. At its core, I think, this movie is about recognizing that people are complex and what seems great on the outside could be hiding something else on the inside. You have Luisa, who has super-strength and seems invincible – until you learn that she’s suffering under the pressure to do everything all the time. It might make you think: when someone is talented do we put too much pressure on them? Do they put too much pressure on themselves to live up to that?
Then Isabela seems beautiful and perfect, but she really just wants to be able to be a little bit different and not live the perfect fairy tale life. I think as a society we’ve started to recognize that there is a lot of harm in perfectionism and trying to do things right all the time, but I believe so many of us probably feel that way regardless. Isabela feels her own sort of pressure and expectation to live up to the ideal image of herself that the world around her has created.
People are complex. You can’t boil them down to one trait, one talent, one mood or one emotion that might be dominant. Everyone has so much more inside them that you might not see on the surface. Their own thoughts, struggles, battles, hopes, and dreams that they don’t let out. Throughout this movie that was on my mind a lot, but even so I was frustrated with Abuela for being so mean to Maribel. I kept whispering to Jason “she’s the worst!” Then there is a sequence towards the end where they really delve into Abuela’s backstory a bit more and why she is the way she is and suddenly I realized I was doing exactly what I don’t want to be doing – judging her without thinking about why she might be that way. That’s not to say you can justify being mean or any other poor behavior, but I think it’s good to think more about where people are coming from.
I think there’s also a theme of honesty in this movie that I really appreciated. Like many families they all have their secrets, and if they were more upfront and open it would probably have fostered a better environment of understanding and avoided a lot of problems. I think this is particularly true for Bruno’s character, as they literally don’t talk about him except in whispered stories. How different would things have been if they were willing to have those difficult conversations with the whole family? This theme is also the main element of the short before Encanto called “Far From the Tree” and I thought it was very impactful.
While some adults might find the themes in this movie a bit cheesy or overt, I don’t think that makes it any less important. And after all, this is a kid’s movie and this is a lesson I think it’s super important for kids to hear. As cheeseball as it is to sum it up as ” the real miracle isn’t magic, it’s love and acceptance” – that matters. I can get on board with that idea any day.
The voice cast overall was stellar. I’m proud to see Disney taking the steps to not only present material that is more culturally diverse, but also cast people from those backgrounds. As far as I could tell every major voice actor was either from Colombia or South America, or was a first generation American born to parents from South America. Oh, except Alan Tudyk, who “voices” the toucan.
Stephanie Beatriz does the voice of Mirabel, and you might recognize her name if you’re a fan of Brooklyn 99 – though you may not recognize her voice! Her work here shows just how talented and versatile she is, as her character is the complete opposite of Rosa Diaz in this movie. She’s able to capture a lot of emotion and conflict that Mirabel deals with. I would say her singing voice was perhaps the weakest on the soundtrack though. John Leguizamo is fantastic as Bruno, another complicated character.
Another highlight for me was the voice of Dolores, performed by Reggaeton singer Adassa. As a character whose magical power is being able to hear almost anything, she speaks in a contrasting quiet, almost mysterious sounding voice that really worked. I’ll also mention Jessica Darrow as Luisa. She seems to have been relatively unknown up to this point but I hope her awesome performance in this movie leads to us seeing more of her!
FAQs about Encanto
When will Encanto be on Disney+?
It’s coming to Disney+ for subscribers on December 24th, just in time for Christmas! It will be included without any extra fee at that point.
Is Encanto worth paying for?
Yes. Go see it in the theater if you can. The visuals and high quality sound system are going to be worth it for this movie. If not, make sure you’re a Disney+ subscriber so you can watch it once it’s released there. Or buy the DVD. But I’d highly encourage everyone to go see this movie. Even if it’s not your thing it’s something a little bit different that’s worth experiencing. I saw it yesterday and I’m already debating about going back to the theaters to see it again.
How old is Mirabel in Encanto?
Mirabel is 15 years old.
Where does Encanto take place?
Encanto takes place in Colombia, though the small town and the house where the Madrigal family are (obviously) fictional. I say obviously only because I’m fairly certain a magical Casita does not exist, though I wish it did!
Is there a post-credits scene in Encanto?
No, so if you really have to use the restroom feel free to head on out. However I’d encourage you to stay through the credits if you can just because the music is beautiful.
What does Encanto mean?
In Spanish, Encanto roughly translates to charm, spell, delight, or joy. It kind of encapsulates the magic of the house and the Madrigal family.
I loved this movie, as you might be able to tell from this review. I don’t think it will replace Soul as my current favorite, but it’s definitely going to be up there. After some movies that were well received by others but not ones that I particularly liked (Raya and the Last Dragon, Luca) I didn’t have high hopes even after hearing positive reviews going into this. But it turned out to be a winner for me. I loved the message it had to share, how it didn’t feel as traditional or predictable as some Disney movies, and of course the soundtrack is going to be playing a lot around here. I can’t wait to see it again.
Have you seen Encanto yet? What did you think of it?