Going into Encanto, I was hesitantly hopeful. I didn’t want to get my hopes too high as I had been more than a little disappointed by Disney’s fare over recent years (*cough cough* Moana, Frozen II, Raya) and honestly didn’t know what to expect. But the little bits of promotional materials I had let myself see looked promising. The animation – as always – was gorgeous, the character designs looked whimsical and unique and I was in desperate need of a healthy dose of that good old Disney magic. Thankfully, Encanto delivered. It was everything I had tentatively dreamed it would be.
Encanto follows the story of the Madrigal family and Mirabel Madrigal in particular. Long ago, deep within the mountains of Colombia, a miracle was bestowed upon the family in the form of a magical candle whose flame never goes out. The candle created a magical house in which the Madrigals could live, forming an encanto, a sacred haven where a new life and a new home could be formed. As each member of the Madrigal family comes of age, they are given a special gift to help their community flourish. The gifts range from superhuman strength to shapeshifting to healing with each person receiver their own unique ability… except for Mirabel.
Mirabel is the odd one out amongst the Madrigals. No one knows exactly what to do with her and while everyone else in the family has their own magical room, Mirabel is sequestered off in the nursery, her growth metaphorically stunted from the moment she was denied a gift. That doesn’t crush Mirabel’s spirits though. She is a ray of sunshine amidst the Madrigals, a source of joy and hope despite the internal burden she carries in being the black sheep of her family and the unspoken fear that Maribel’s lack of a gift in some way signals that the miracle the Madrigals were given will some day end.
Encanto can be summed up in one word: heart. Well, two. Family is a key theme within the film as well. The Madrigals are a delightful cast to follow, each member of the family bursting with character and charm. Through Mirabel’s eyes, we get to see what a wonderful family she has and why she is so proud of them and her heritage even as she stands apart from the rest. This is a story of how much family means in a person’s life, how healing the love of those closest to us can be… and how destructive family can become.
The Madrigals are a family with secrets, key among them being Bruno, Mirabel’s uncle who could see the future and disappeared years ago without a trace. Mirabel feels like the odd one out amongst her gifted family members, but Bruno has been wiped from the Madrigal’s lives entirely, to the point that “We don’t talk about Bruno” as one of the film’s songs bluntly states. What happened to Bruno? Why did he disappear and could that relate to why Mirabel never received a gift? Desperate for answers, Mirabel goes searching for the truth even as everyone around her tells her not to.
This is not the sort of story that relies on unexpected plot twists to keep its audience engaged. It doesn’t need them. The power of Encanto comes from the love the characters feel for one another and the ways in which the audience can relate to their all-too-human struggles. Luisa, the eldest daughter, fears that everything will come crashing down if she does not push herself to her limit every day for her family’s sake. Isabella, whose seemingly effortless perfection makes Mirabel feel all the more insecure, struggles to find her true self and express who she truly wishes to be. Mirabel’s mother and father strive to protect her from her grandmother’s disapproval but nothing can still the matriarch’s fears that their miracle will be lost and once again she will lose her home and those she loves. These are struggles we all experience, ones with no easy answers. The way in which Encanto balances the love the Madrigal family feels for one another with the profound, unintentional ways in which they hurt each other is the most masterful aspect of the film’s writing.
The music in Encanto is charming and memorable with bops that will stay in your head long after the credits roll. This is no surprise considering Lin Manuel Miranda, famous for writing the hit musicals Hamilton and In The Heights, wrote all of the songs. Each number oozes with his signature fast-talking, quip-pulling, rhythm-rocking style. In a welcome departure from some recent movie musicals (looking at you, Cats) and their penchant for Oscar-bait songs, each musical number within Encanto feels at home within the story and there are also, mercifully, no comic relief mascots getting their own song and dance with can invariably wreck the pacing of a story.
Encanto is a film five years in the making and it shows in the quality of the animation, songwriting and storytelling throughout its runtime. It is the sort of heartwarming tale you will want to watch again and again, the kind you put on when it’s cold outside and all you want to do is snuggle under a blanket with a loved one and escape somewhere magical. That magic will be available from the comfort of home soon enough as Disney+ announced the film will be available to stream on Christmas Eve. I plan to watch Encanto that very day, revisiting the vibrant, gorgeous world and reveling in the joy of family with those I love most in the world. I hope you too are able to find a time to watch Encanto for yourself and step into the enchantment of all the story has to offer.