A Fun, Friendly, Family Film
You may have noticed I have been quite flexible recently with the genres of films I have been reviewing. Surprising, right? (Well, there’s no good horror films out at the moment, but lets ignore that!) And probably a lesser known fact about me: I have a soft spot in my heart for Disney films (well, the good ones of course). And so naturally when Disney released Encanto, I just had to give it the watch!
Based somewhere in Columbia, Encanto is one of those films that teaches younger ones that it’s okay to be yourself (even if you can’t lift 100 tons over your head or shape-shift or talk to animals) – it’s kind of a great example to the younger generation of acceptance and why Family (Vin Diesel, is that you?) is the most important thing you could ever have. I certainly expected the traditional Disney formula with a big bad or misunderstood character, but it definitely flips it on it’s head. It’s a lot softer, more tamed and more comforting, whilst also getting you into the groove with what will be some iconic Disney bops, much like 2017’s Coco (inevitably I have some of the songs stuck in my head; thanks, Disney). So let’s have a look see into my thoughts on this princess-less Disney movie shall we?
Encanto tells the tale of the Madrigals, an extraordinary family, who live hidden in the mountains of Colombia, in a place called an Encanto. The magic of the Encanto has blessed every child in the family with a unique gift, from super strength to the power to heal – every child, that is, except one: Mirabel. But when she discovers that the magic surrounding the Encanto is in danger, Mirabel decides that she, the only ordinary Madrigal, might just be her exceptional family’s last hope.
Encanto is a strong, character-driven story following the drawbacks of perfection, fear of the unknown, and how having high expectations whilst seamlessly ignoring flaws is toxic behaviour. The story is powerful, reminding us that kids absolutely can process the fact that people cause pain and that they (and we) can do better. Despite the whole magical element, this flick is pretty grounded in reality. Sure, maybe having a magic house and a candle that gives people powers isn’t something you would call realistic, but it’s a nice way to break it to kids (and adults) that the characters aren’t the perfect angels they think they are; and that everyone has flaws, and not having a unique ability is okay – which deeply resonates with me.
It’s a musical, to put it plainly, so singing and dancing is to be expected. It has an excellent musical setting, with artists and rhythms from Colombia that give us some excellent songs – one of the most prominent aspects in my opinion. The songs are unique to the characters and each one is different. So inspirational, so fun.
Admittedly I overlooked the animation when the trailers came out for this and didn’t think much of it, but my God is it great! You never truly realize how far animation has come in the last few decades until you’ve seen a modern Disney movie.
It’s an educational rollercoaster that hits you in the feels; something a little less chaotic and more centred on a smaller setting, with a lot of cultural influences and depictions in the mix, becoming a diverse form of animated art.
I feel that Disney having characters voiced by individuals that share the same cultural background is amazing. It makes it that much more diversified and it is absolutely the right way forward. Only recently i learned that Stephanie Beatriz (you may know her from Brooklyn Nine-Nine – iconic) voices Mirabel, and I’m all for it. Mirabel is the incarnation of the people that do what they can to contribute despite being set back, and her genuine concern that becomes more true as the film continues. It is so nice that she wears glasses and she’s not the typical beauty. Instead she is funny, smart and she really cares about her family.
John Leguizamo is in this too as the voice of Bruno! Bruno’s character does slide under the whole ‘don’t judge a book by it’s cover’ idea, but it serves well for the film. He is a delight of a character, along with the song based around him. The song is the most visually pleasing one out of an already very visually pleasing film.
There were character developments in all three sisters, and I’m in awe at how selfless Mirabel is. Isabella’s transformation shocked me the most, for someone struggling with perfection finds how they can be themselves and not try too hard at being, well, perfect. Sometimes we don’t have to find a miracle; the biggest miracle is in ourselves alone
The Influences and Culture
This film shows us the immense multiculturalism of Colombia, which includes many types of ethnic groups, traditions and traditional words from different regions. It also gives us a beautiful representation of the most recognized landscapes of Colombia – the high snow-capped mountains full of trees, the beautiful rivers, the moors and the tropical forests full of life. You have places within the film that resemble places like Valle del Cocora, Villa de Leyva, Caño Cristales and Barichara. Encanto subtly covers the issue of forced displacement in times of violence in Colombia and how, despite this, the people went on with their lives, supporting each other. It also covers topics such as family pressure, clinging to the past, self-improvement and family unity.
I feel mean for highlighting the flaws of this movie as it definitely had good intentions, but it has to be done. Obviously starting with the runtime, which I felt was a little too long to fully concentrate (though I managed to do so). Character development isn’t too generous in this movie, with only a handful of characters getting the spotlight amongst a large family; and sure, it is centred around our main character who does interact with nearly all of them, but they are quick and awkward (but hey, they are a busy bunch so there’s that to take into account). It is mentioned that the film talks about Colombian culture, but focuses more on musicals and fantasy, only being set in Colombia – the culture of that country is not really shown and the characters do not stop being fantasy, which does not bother but it would have been good to delve into the realistic aspect.
Now as much as the setting is great, being it’s own little protected village with a magical house and some very interesting independent bedrooms, I wish there were more places to explore, as most of the time you’re stuck in casita. Though the trope of characters exploring outside of where they are comfortable is used way too often (Frozen, Moana, Tangled, etc. – I could go on), it would have really made more sense to have a variety of locations. Don’t get me wrong, the visual environments are absolutely stunning and joyful to look at, but it could have been done with a little more adventure, I think. My last little nitpick is when the family gets their powers back at the end – it feels as though the film’s message of acceptance would have been stronger if the family no longer had (or needed) their abilities, and truly got to appreciate their human emotions as well. But again, just a nitpick.
My Overall Thoughts on Encanto
Though I’m surprised I was able to actually watch the film, despite all of the small distractions from the *ahem* kids running around at the back (it is a children’s film after all), Encanto is a refreshing Disney flick that doesn’t try too hard to build a complex story, but narrows it down to a narrative about something that is important to everyone: Family. Sure, it’s two hour runtime is dragged out a little bit, and not every character gets entirely fleshed out, but the mixture of some funky music, some very vibrant colours and eye-candy animation is enough to make this film a satisfying and relaxing watch. It is wholesome, morally uplifting and entertaining. I mean, hey, my sister enjoyed the film too without knowing too much about it from the beginning; so knowledge of what it’s about isn’t necessary: bring your friends, family or just yourself and treat yourself to some Disney magic with Encanto.
Looking for more Disney? Maybe not as joyful or happy, but Cruella is one of the newer editions to the Disney name, following the origins of Cruella de Vil, before her infamy, and asking the question: Was she always cruel, or better yet, Cruella? Alternatively, have a read of my review for Space Jam: A New Legacy, as a guide for how not to make an animated feature film (especially important for fans of the original, trust me).