Despite the talents of Lin-Manuel Miranda behind Encanto’s catchy tunes, the whimsical animated musical lacks that Disney magic – much like its main character Mirabel Madrigal (voiced by Stephanie Beatriz, who was also featured in Miranda’s previous musical offerting In the Heights).
The movie expends a lot of effort and energy into its metaphors about home and family, all of which raise further questions. During the celebration of the youngest Madrigal’s powerset reveal, Mirabel sees the literal cracks in the Madrigal house that threaten the miracle (a candle) responsible for the Madrigal powers and their home’s sentience. Yet, as the matriarch of the family Abeula Alma (Maria Cecila Botero) investigates, the cracks have all seemingly disappeared. It’s later revealed that Abuela knows something is wrong, yet she writes off Mirabel’s claims in front of everyone (family and the townspeople). Even if Abuela Alma wants to keep that knowledge safe, it’s an interesting choice to claim that your granddaughter is interested in hurting the family. Plus, with the home’s awareness of its occupancies, it does nothing to back up Mirabel or warn the family.
Encanto is a visual feast for the eyes, which at times is a bit too much. The opening song “The Family Madrigal” is packed with information about the family and even gets faster and faster in its reprise, which is a feat in itself, but Mirabel herself gets swallowed up by the background images of the town and floral arrangements.
While it can be argued that it was an intentional choice, I think not. The character has a beautiful dress that has painstakingly stitched details. As she walks through the house, it pops because all the colors in the house are muted even though they’re bright colors; However, when she steps outside, it feels like everything is fighting for the audience’s attention. Add in a song full of exposition, and your brain will be working overtime to process everything.
The featurette “Journey to Colombia” is not only informative about the country of Colombia but shows a lot of real places that use bright colors but are muted and washed out. There’s a lot of attention to detail in this movie to ensure that things stay authentic to the heritage of Colombia, which makes it odd that the movie depicts the town as being as vibrant as the magical Casita. Had the filmmakers used more earth tones in the town, the Madrigal family would stand out more than they already do.
Also, the rules of this magical world seem inconsistent. The Madrigal home seems to be alive, yet when it’s discovered that a character lives in the nooks and crannies of the house, it doesn’t seem all that interested in notifying anyone of their presence. Is it supposed to be a blind spot or what? Encanto means enchantment or spell, and I really wish I knew what or who was enchanted. Was it the candle, the family, the powers bestowed to certain Madrigals but not others, or was it the landscape, the house, or the town? For example, the town and house seem to be built on the riverbanks where Abuela Alma loses her husband, yet later in the film it’s revealed she hasn’t returned to that location since that tragic night. It’s all a little confusing, I have to admit.
Perhaps something is lost in translation, which is true for the song “Dos Oruguitas.” The song accompanies the sequences that show Abuela Alma and Pedro’s past. Miranda talks about the song’s importance and meaning in the featurette A Journey Through Music, but the song lyrics aren’t translated. Granted this moment could be meant for native speaking audience members, but it isolates the rest of the audience from experiencing the mythos and further exploration of the culture. Perhaps the answer to this problem could be having the movie entirely in Spanish with subtitles.
The voice talents of Beatriz are surprising. She’s best known for her role as Rosa Diaz on Brooklyn Nine-Nine; the tough and often monotoned police office. Her voice is almost unrecognizable here, and her vocal range is truly impressive. The other stand outs in this cast are John Leguizamo as Bruno the family’s black sheep and Adassa as Dolores. Leguizamo brings an earnestness to the character that adds an additional layer of sympathy, while Adassa’s quiet performance shockingly works for the character, yet when she sings especially in the song “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” her voice has an R&B sultry quality to it.
The bonus features show how much care and detail was poured into the story’s magical realism, but I think there should have been a little more attention paid to the story the filmmakers crafted.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTS: The Big Comic Page was provided a preview copy of the film which contains tons of featurettes and behind-the-scenes material, including a ‘Sing Along with the Movie’ version of the feature, “Our Casita,” “Outtakes,” “Discover Colombia,” and “Deleted Scenes.”
I would highly recommend:
“Familia Los Es Todo” where you learn about members of the Disney animation “Familia” cultural trust and the real-life experience that inspired the characters and how the artists designed them.
“Journey to Colombia” is a featurette that goes into depth with the Colombia Culture Trust, a dedicated team of consultants who worked with the artists to best translate the culture and environments to the big screen.
Far from the Tree is the animated short that accompanies Encanto and I would argue that the short has a lot more heart and soul than the featured presentation.
Encanto is available on Digital on December 24 and 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and DVD on February 8th 2022.
The writer of this piece is: Laurence Almalvez
Laurence tweets from @IL1511