REVIEW: ‘Encanto’ Showcases the Duality of Family

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encanto - But Why Tho

Since the announcement, I’ve been enamored with Encanto, its vibrancy, and its expansive cast of characters. Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Encanto is directed by Byron Howard and Jared Bush, co-directed by Charise Castro Smith, with Bush and Castro Smith serving as the film’s screenwriters, and all-new songs from Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Encanto is first and foremost about family. At the film’s open, we hear about the extraordinary family, the Madrigals, who live hidden in the mountains of Colombia. They live in a magical house named Casita, in a vibrant town that is thriving thanks to the Madrigal’s magical gifts. Called an Encanto, the magic of the valley has blessed every child in the family with a unique gift. Led by the family’s matriarch Abuela Alma (María Cecilia Botero), once the Madrigals reach a certain age they get a door, and behind that door lies their power. Luisa (Jessica Darrow) has super-strength, Pepa’s (Carolina Gaitan) emotions can change the weather, Bruno (John Leguizamo) has visions of the future, Isabela (Diane Guerrero) makes fields of flowers grow, Camilo (Rhenzy Feliz) shape-shifts, Dolores (Adassa) can hear a pin drop from across town, Julieta (Angie Cepeda) can heal people with her food, and little Antonio (Ravi Cabot-Conyers) is just about to receive his door. Oh, and then there is the film’s protagonist Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz) who has not left the nursery because, well, she doesn’t have a gift.

The only Madrigal without magic, Mirabel carries the weight of sharing the family’s story but also staying out of the way. A child without a gift in a family that believes that their magic is necessary to preserving the community is a tough spot to be in. Throughout Encanto, Maribel deals with the weight of guilt for not receiving a gift and when the family’s magic begins to fade, she takes it on herself to save the magical Madrigals and preserve their Encanto.

Encanto is beautiful. It’s a fantasy world built entirely on Colombian culture, but beyond that, it’s one built on the expectations families set on their children. This isn’t an arbitrary do well, represent us well, the expectations are rooted deeply in the fear of being forced to return to the dangers and pain Abuela Alma escaped. The more they can protect and develop the Encanto, the further Abuela can keep her family safe. But with those expectations comes fear and vulnerability. Characters are pushed to prove themselves to be able to be a part of the Madrigals, forced to do what’s best for the family, and in Maribel’s, that means standing on the sideline.

This nuanced and direct look at family structure and how the generations above us bury their pain in us when they mean to protect us is one that hit me hard. It reduced me to tears multiple times throughout the film and ultimately created a story we haven’t seen in the Disney Animated universe before. Yes, we have seen films that deal with filial piety, but here,  we see the constant fear of a way of life being taken away if even one member of a family fails. That, that one element hits differently. It showcases what pressure looks like and how someone can feel alone even when surrounded by a loving family.

Encanto also makes a concerted effort to show characters that capture the diversity of Colombia and other Latin American countries. Too often casts in animation and in live-action either actively erase or passively ignore the importance of Afro-Latine in our communities. Encanto however showcases how even just one family can have a multitude of identities, and in fact, that’s usually how it is.

With its deep story, Encanto succeeds in changing up an existing formula and showing us something new. Unfortunately, the film’s songs do more to undercut emotional moments than provide more depth to them. Music is key to most Disney Animated films to push the story and drive the audience to become immersed in it. We sing along, we tap our feet, and in doing so music becomes a key experiential piece of the film. Here though, while the rhythms and beats are gorgeously strung together, Miranda’s lyrics don’t always hit.

Like Vivo (which also featured songs by Miranda), the songs in Encanto do more to distract from moments than add to them. An emotional moment will become a rambunctious musical number that doesn’t match the vulnerability from where it emerges. This is most clear in Luisa’s song which focuses on feeling like you’re going to crumble under the weight of responsibility people put on you because they see you as strong. It’s a moment that resonated with me but the choice of musical number felt disjointed from the point it was trying to make. And that isn’t the only time this happens.

That said, the music of Encanto isn’t all out of place, with some musical numbers making up for missteps. In fact, one of the most emotional moments I’ve had watching a film all year comes from hearing “Dos Orguitas” play as the film’s resolution happens. It’s a song filled with love and resiliency and just a hint of sadness. It’s the film’s heart and its beauty distilled into one point. And in a year with so many musical numbers, many of which coming from Miranda, it’s the one that has the most emotional punch and beauty.

Encanto is far from perfect, but it is beautiful. It captures the duality of family, the love we share, and the pressures we feel. The Madrigals are dynamic and diverse and that allows viewers to see their own family in the story. Sure, the music doesn’t always land, but the heart does. Encanto is a wonderful example of using whimsy and fantasy to showcase culture and family in a way that goes beyond expectation.

Encanto is playing nationwide in theaters now.


Encanto
  • 7/10
    Rating - 7/10
7/10

TL;DR

Encanto is far from perfect, but it is beautiful. It captures the duality of family, the love we share, and the pressures we feel. The Madrigals are dynamic and diverse and that allows viewers to see their own family in the story. Sure, the music doesn’t always land, but the heart does. Encanto is a wonderful example of using whimsy and fantasy to showcase culture and family in a way that goes beyond expectation.