Movie Review: ‘Encanto’

Director: Jared Bush and Byron Howard

Cast: Stephanie Beatriz, María Cecilia Botero, John Leguizamo, Mauro Castillo, Jessica Darrow, Angie Cepeda, Carolina Gaitán, Diane Guerrero, Adassa, Alan Tudyk

Plot: In the mountains of Colombia exists a village build around and supported by the super-powered Madrigal family. Third generation member of the family Mirabel is the only one without a ‘gift’, and she begins to suspect her presence is affecting the magic that gives them powers.

Review: It’s little wonder that this didn’t make a splash in the marketing, because that summary barely scratches the surface. It’s got more cast members than The Eternals and doesn’t have clearly defined conflicts or antagonists. There’s a lot to unpack with this one, and our youngest have been playing the songs on repeat to pick apart the truth about Bruno and the complicated dynamic between the seemingly perfect family. I mean…it’s a lot. The trailer certainly struggles to outline the story, the characters and the comedy in two minutes. They seem to have left out the musical component of the movie. Honestly, the first trailer should have been the first song that runs down the main cast and their powers.

After this high energy, whip-fast paced info-dump introduces the massive family Madrigal, Mirabel (Beatriz) begins to notice cracks appearing in their enchanted house. Everyone is distracted by her cousin Antonio being gifted with the ability to communicate with animals. Looking into the mystery, she discovers some family members powers are failing and she may be the cause. The answers may lie with her prophesying uncle Bruno (Leguizamo), but he has disappeared following a falling out with family members. Mirabel discovers that relationships between the members of the family are more strained than it looks from the outside. The message at the end of the movie isn’t anything especially grand, instead it involves characters being able to find some middle ground and understanding.

Mirabel is a very engaging character, even if it’s hard to connect her with Beatriz’s other well known character from Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Some of the musical numbers are completely insane, and it’s amazing how well she performs some of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s songs while maintaining the 15-year olds character’s energy. This is a character who would have a tumblr account if she ever got onto the internet.

Keeping track of all the sisters and cousins tacks a bit of work, and we suggest putting on the subtitles. Part of the problem is that they’re all introduced on pretty even ground while some of them play a more important role than others. When super-strong older sister Luisa (Darrow) starts singing about her personal issues I assumed that we’d work through each of the third generation characters as they seemed to have equal billing. This isn’t the case, with only Luisa and flower generating Isabella (Guerrero) playing a role. The only other significant family member is the mysterious Bruno, of whom we don’t speak of.

If it hasn’t been clear from the previous paragraphs, this is a very family focused story. The characters are super-powered, but rather than thinking of it as an animated MCU film, approach it as a Wes Anderson movie of oddball characters and expressive production design. It’s bright, colourful and heartfelt. The strongest aspect of the movie are the musical numbers, and it does feel as though it’s largely built around these scenes. The narrative struggles towards the end as it struggles to tie up all the threads, but the energy will stay with you.

Encanto didn’t perform strongly at the box office, not that many movies did these past two years, but hopefully it gets the attention it deserves on streaming. You at least want to know why we don’t talk about Bruno. You can’t hate a Disney movie that references MST3K in a song.

Rating: EIGHT out of TEN