Review: Disney’s animated musical ‘Encanto’ delivers an empathetic brand of charm
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They’re gifted and they’re kooky, even a little spooky. It’s not the Addams Family but the Magical Madrigals. “Encanto,” the latest Disney Animation film, sweeps audiences away to a colorful, enchanted world of Colombian magical realism, introducing the Madrigal family, who have all been granted extraordinary gifts except one member, our heroine, Mirabel (Stefanie Beatriz), who has yet to discover her own magic.
Jared Bush and Byron Howard, who co-wrote and co-directed the Oscar-winning “Zootopia,” have teamed with Charise Castro Smith for writing and directing duties on “Encanto,” while Jason Hand, Nancy Kruse and Lin-Manuel Miranda contributed to the story. The result is an animated musical that’s typically rousing and compassionate, rooted in the kind of therapy-inspired personal lessons about self-worth that often underpin these movies, soundtracked by Latin pop tunes written by Miranda.
The Madrigal family magic was borne of extreme trauma and pain when matriarch Abuela Alma (María Cecilia Botero) lost her husband while fleeing violence in their village. In desperation, she cried out for protection for herself and her infant triplets, and a magical candle raised mountains around a charmed casita, where she has raised her family since. Each Madrigal receives their gift in a coming-of-age ceremony, with powers rangingfrom super strength, high-powered hearing or talking to animals to spinning flowers out of thin air, shape-shifting, future divining, weather controlling or food healing.
The only exception to the magical rule so far is the sweet, smart Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz), who never received her gift and has since felt like the family outcast, bending over backward to earn her place. As she starts to see cracks in the foundation of their beloved casita, Mirabel probes deeper into the family’s magic. She ultimately realizes that all of her family members are caught in the trap of perfectionism, believing that they have to use their gifts in the ways others want them to without remaining authentic to themselves and their desires.
The animation is a vibrantly hued and energetic swirl of almost nonstop motion, and Miranda’s songs skip from genre to genre, from traditional Disney ballads to reggaeton-inspired tunes and even a tribute to Colombia’s own rock goddess, Shakira. The script is fast and furious, packed with jokes and references. There are times where you wish everything would slow down for a moment to allow time to get to know some of the supporting characters better, but the story of “Encanto” is refreshingly, and satisfyingly, swift and contained.
Mirabel’s magic shines through in who she has been all along: a good listener, empathetic and caring. She allows her family members to share their stories and vulnerabilities and creates a safe space for their authenticity. With her diminutive stature, round glasses and curly hair, she’s like a mini super-therapist for her family; indeed, sometimes finding that person who allows you to be yourself, whatever that may be, does feel like the greatest gift of all. It’s a simple but resonant tale, but “Encanto” is a charmed and charming film that just might offer a bit of healing too.
Katie Walsh is a Tribune News Service film critic.
Rated: PG, for some thematic elements and mild peril
Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes
Playing: Starts Nov. 24 in general release
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