Moviegoer: Encanto

A girl learns to see the magic in herself in this sweet animated musical

Only in theaters Nov. 24

By Diana Beechener

After a horrible tragedy leaves Abuela Alma Madrigal (María Cecilia Botero: Enfermeras) alone in the world with triplets to raise, fate gives her a blessing. A candle she was holding becomes enchanted, building a magical house beneath Alma’s feet. All of Alma’s children are given gifts—one can heal any malady with her food, one controls the weather with her emotions, and one gets visions of the future. As the Madrigals flourish, the next generation also receive gifts from the magical candle when they come of age.

         Well, most of them.

         Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz: Maya and the Three) received no gift when it was her turn. Odd, considering she has the closest bond with Casita (the nickname the Madrigals have given their enchanted home), but Mirabel takes it in stride. She tries to be proud of her family— her perfect sister who creates lovely roses, her tough sister who can lift ten donkeys without breaking a sweat, and her cousin who speaks to animals—but it’s hard sometimes to be the non-magical Madrigal.

         But the others may be joining Mirabel whether or not they want to. The candle flame, the source of the Madrigals’ power, begins to flicker. As the flame wanes, so do the Madrigals’ abilities.

         Finally, Mirabel sees her chance to be special. She’s never relied on superpowers, so she thinks she can get to the bottom of the mystery and finally prove herself. Though Mirabel does her best, her Abuela Alma only sees her efforts as the least special member of the family making things worse. Can Mirabel help her family or is the quest better left to the other Madrigals?

         Just in time for Thanksgiving, Disney gives you a movie about not living up to your family’s expectations! While Encanto may cut to the quick for some, this animated musical is a colorful delight filled with toe-tapping songs and fun moments. The film is set in Colombia, and uses elements of magical realism as a tribute to the culture. Keep an eye out for the magical yellow butterflies, a trope made famous by Colombian literary god Gabriel Garcia Marquez. There are other lovely nods to South America, including some excellent Afro-Latinix representation and an unimpressed capybara that nearly steals the movie.  

Directors Jared Bush, Byron Howard, and Charise Castro Smith tackle some complex topics with this fable. Mirabel is truly everyone that’s ever had a hard-to-impress family member. But the filmmakers are careful to show that being special is a double-edged sword. Mirabel soon realizes that her magical siblings feel intense pressure to be perfect, so they can also meet Alma’s sky-high expectations.

         The film once again features a team-up between Disney and composer extraordinaire Lin-Manuel Miranda (Vivo). Though not quite as emotionally deep as his work on Moana, this film features some great, peppy songs that you won’t mind having on repeat in the car if you have young ones. Surface Pressure is a particularly fun number that talks about coping with stress and expectations.

         Encanto is at its best when it’s focusing on family dynamics. Beatriz is especially good as the sweet and overlooked Mirabel. She’s brave and kind to a fault, and determined to prove her worth. Mirabel is a great Disney heroine (the first one with glasses!), and learning to find your own worth outside of your family is a lesson that’s certainly valuable.

         Though it’s heavy on charm, there is a bit of clutter in Encanto. An excess of characters means we don’t get development on several members of the Madrigal family. While the heart of the story is Mirabel’s relationship with her sisters and grandmother, there’s just too many other characters to keep track of. Still, I’m sure you’ll learn everyone’s names when the kids play this one on repeat—and they will.

         This holiday season, if you’re comfortable in a theater, Encanto has just the right combination of charm and messaging for the whole family. It’s a beautifully animated film with a lovely view of the importance of healthy family dynamics. And don’t be surprised if small viewers want a capybara for Christmas (don’t worry kids, it’s legal, I’ve checked!).

Good Animated Musical * PG * 99 mins.