Walt Disney Animation Studios releases their 60th feature film, Encanto, this Thanksgiving and for such a big occasion, it certainly meets those expectations as a solid new entry in the Disney canon. Encanto follows the Madrigal family, who reside in an enchanted town hidden in the mountains of Colombia. They live in a huge magical house they call their casita (Spanish for little house), and every child in the family has been granted their own unique magical abilities. Luisa has the gift of superhuman strength, Isabela can conjure flowers, Camilo can shapeshift, and so on and so forth.
Mirabel, however, is the only member of the family to not have a gift of her own, leaving her feeling like an outcast among everyone else. One night, Mirabel discovers that her casita, and the magic behind it, is beginning to come apart. No one in the family believes her, things start to get worse, and that leaves Mirabel as the only person who might be able to save it before it all comes crumbling down.
Disney’s animated ventures have come a long way since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, with the animation here looking as vibrant as ever. It’s colorful, fluid, and a genuine treat to look at. There are so many lively details not only in focus but in the background as well. The animation has come so far that if looking closely, you can see the fair-colored hair on the nape of a character’s neck. The team of animators really get to show off their might with the Madrigal’s abilities and the special rooms granted to them along with their gifts. Their bedrooms are like dream worlds. For instance, Antonio has the gift of communicating with animals. When his powers manifest, his room transforms into an endless jungle. It’s filled with many of Colombia’s fauna, from toucans to capybaras and everything in between. It’s clear that the artists at Disney put so much work into Encanto, during a pandemic no less.
In a refreshing light, Afro-latinx characters are featured in the film. There’s been controversy in recent years with films like Coco and In The Heights failing to include darker-skinned characters, just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Hollywood’s problems with colorism. In Encanto, they’re not just kept in the background. They’re part of the Madrigal family and main cast. It’s delightful to say that Felix and his son Antonio are a joy to watch and are treated with just as much care as the rest of the family. Their inclusion brings hope for better representation on screen going forward.
Stephanie Beatriz, known best from Brooklyn 99, lends her voice to Disney’s latest heroine. Beatriz imbues Mirabel with so much warmth and empathy. She’s quirky and a little weird, but she’s got a heart of gold. You can’t help but love her. Diane Guerrero (Orange Is the New Black, Doom Patrol) voices Isabela, Mirabel’s oldest sister. What at first comes off as superficial is actually a facade, with Isabela sick of having to be the “perfect daughter” and wanting to grow “less conventional” flora-like cacti with her gift. She’s tired of only growing colorful flowers and wants her true self to bloom, and Guerrero perfectly captures both her glitzy exterior and the defiance that sprouts within her.
Newcomer Jessica Darrow voices Luisa, Mirabel’s second oldest sister. Luisa doesn’t just carry all the livestock and heavy items in the town, she also carries all the burdens of the family. She never complains out of respect, but it’s reached a tipping point. She feels like she’s going to burst with the weight of the world on her shoulders and Darrow brings a genuine vulnerability to her. Beatriz, Guerrero, and Darrow are all perfectly cast and it’s quite hard to imagine anyone else in their roles, with Darrow, in particular, being the MVP of the film.
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s original songs are a huge highlight of Encanto, and further prove that Miranda just might turn out to be a good luck charm of sorts for the House of Mouse. Audiences will be tapping their feet whenever a new song kicks in. The musical numbers are fun and high-spirited while at other times emotional, with Mirabel’s ballad “Waiting on a Miracle” perfectly encapsulating what it feels like to be lost and unsure in life. It’s poignant and lyrically powerful, and with its strong melody, all of these factors work together to make a special musical piece that will leave a lasting impact.
Encanto teaches some very heavy-handed things. You don’t always know what someone’s going through on the inside. Many people, especially those closest to us, are fighting their own battles. It’s not always something that can be seen, so many often suffer in silence. Be there for your loved ones and remember that self-love is exceptionally important. Perfection is not sustainable and your gifts are not tied to their worth. Encanto mixes these pivotal life lessons with plenty of fun moments and exciting music, so you’ll be sure to leave the theater feeling warm and contented.