Review by John Dugan
Directors Byron Howard and Jared Bush, who have both previously worked on Zootropolis (2016) and plenty of other Disney animated features such as Moana (2016) and Bolt (2008), have now released what will hopefully be another Disney classic, Encanto (2021). From having only seen the trailer, Encanto may first appear to be a typical quest narrative following Mirabel Madrigal (Stephanie Beatriz) as she journeys to find something to help save her family and their magic. This is certainly what I was expecting when I walked into the theater, and based on the trailers it seems this is exactly the impression Disney was trying to give the public. Whether that be because they thought a more traditional “quest” narrative more exciting to advertise, or because they want the message of the film to be something the audience discovers along with the characters (hopefully the latter reason), this subversion was very effectively done.
As a big fan of animation myself, I have been excited for this film since the teaser trailer wasfirst released months ago. From the trailers, as I mentioned before, what I expected was a film following Mirabel as she made her way into the world, independent from her family— in order to learn and grow—and be the one who ultimately saves them all. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that, in spite of my expectations, it really is a character driven piece, balancing the dynamics of large families while exploring individual relationships within them. As you might expect, the focus is on the family dynamics of the Madrigals, given a sentient house and magical gifts which they use to better the lives of everyone in their town.
While there are too many members of the family to explore the dynamics between them all in one film, each character is given a decent amount of development, and the large family dynamic feels authentic. Many of the technical aspects of the film I would say were very well done. It’s to be expected, as this is a Disney film, but the animation and music were both extremely well executed. The writing was a bit loose in some points, but because the core of the film centered around the emotional arcs of its characters, this was not as noticeable. The weakest moments of the film involve Mirabel being shoehorned into the role of the family screw up—for plot related reasons more than anything—which only serves to disrupt the flow of the film. The same can be said for Encanto’s plot itself, making clunky, awkward, or especially convenient moments purely for the sake of moving the story forward. These moments are sparse at least, but because much of the conflict derives from these exchanges, this also makes some interactions feel just as forced. Much of the film is centered around Mirabel and her two sisters, Luisa (Jessica Darrow) and Isabella (Diane Guerrero), yet the two have relatively few lines outside their featured moments, and their relationships appear surface level. In spite of this, they were still believable enough.
Overall, I would say Encanto is a fantastical, imaginative film with a foot-tapping soundtrack and an emotional center. If you’re looking for something to watch with the family, or even just for a bit of escape, Encanto is the film to see.