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November 26, 2022
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Life & Culture

Review: “Encanto” enchants viewers with charming storytelling

Encanto

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Walt Disney Studios has produced many animated films. The company has had its fair share of hits — like “Beauty and the Beast” and “Moana” — and its fair share of misses, like “Chicken Little” and “Home On the Range,” just to name a few. However, its 60th feature-length animated movie, “Encanto,” is an undeniable hit. 

The film follows the 15-year-old Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz). She is a member of the magnificent Madrigal family and lives in an enchanted house in Colombia. Every member of the family has been blessed with magical gifts — everyone except for Mirabel.

The film is a masterclass in animation, something audiences have come to expect from Disney. With colorful visuals and smooth animation that looks unbelievably real on the big screen, “Encanto” is just as, if not more visually marvelous as all of the company’s films to date. 

This is not to say that “Encanto” blends in with Disney’s other works, however. Because of its use of bright, eye-catching colors and its distinctive Colombian valley setting, “Encanto” stands out from the rest. This is especially true in comparison to “Raya and the Last Dragon,” the other Disney animated film that came out this year. Where that film leaned into using lush greens, rich blues and gorgeous earth tones, “Encanto” stuns with orange, pink, turquoise and more. 

Not only is “Encanto” an example of diversity in visuals, it is also an example of diversity in storytelling. Disney has a lot of white stories under its belt — “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves,” “Cinderella,” “Pinnochio,” “Mary Poppins,” “Alice in Wonderland,” the list goes on. In contrast, it has very few animated movies that feature people of color.  It’s refreshing to see even more people and cultures being represented in the media. “Encanto” truly makes it seem like the days of monotonous, eurocentric storytelling are over. Whatever Disney is doing, it should keep doing it. 

In relation to the culture, the characters are all beautifully designed. Nobody in the Madrigal family looks like another, although they all look related. For once, audiences see brown people who are not all just the same shade of brown and people with naturally curly hair who do not all have the same hair texture. It may seem minimal to most, unimportant even, but those small details are crucial for truly effective representation.

Additionally, “Encanto” offers a female-centric narrative. Not only is the main character Mirabel Madrigal a teenage girl, but the Madrigal family itself is a matriarchal unit. While there are supportive male characters who have very important roles in the narrative, like Mirabel’s younger cousin Antonio (Ravi Cabot-Conyers) and her uncle Bruno (John Leguizamo), it is ultimately the young Mirabel who saves the day. Powerful and heroic female characters who are also depicted as sensitive and loving are something movies should have more of. 

This film demonstrates Disney’s apparent commitment to making visually interesting movies instead of just recycling old concepts that worked before. One element that Disney did recycle, however, was using “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda for song writing. Miranda wrote music for Disney’s other successful animated musical “Moana” and he brought the characters to life through his masterful music making. The composer does it again for “Encanto,” this time taking inspiration from real-life elements of Colombian music and dance. 

The music that particularly stands out are the three solo songs sung by Mirabel and her two older sisters Luisa (Jessica Darrow) and Isabela (Diane Guerrero). These songs are “Waiting On A Miracle,” “Surface Pressure” and “What Else Can I Do?,” respectively. Each of these compositions are perfect for teasing out nuances in the characters and developing the tense and complicated relationships within the Madrigal family.

Somehow, Disney keeps making magic happen. Whether it’s because the company is changing with the times to cater toward more diverse audiences or because the animators have hit their stride with 3D animation, “Encanto” is a fantastic peek into the animation studio’s bright future.