An ordinary teenager trying to fit into an extraordinary world is not exactly the road less travelled in film, and certainly not in the realms of the animated genre, but it’s where Disney have opted to explore (again) in Encanto.
Now, as much as the general plot line of Jared Bush‘s and Byron Howard‘s outing isn’t exactly the most original, the colourful visuals, enthusiastic vocal work, and timeless message of accepting yourself, flaws and all, keeps Encanto wholly investing and joyfully entertaining.
Though set in a pre-technology adorned Colombia, the notion of how dangerous it is to compare yourself to others runs rampant throughout, something Encanto‘s plucky lead, Mirabel (voiced by Stephanie Beatriz), is all too familiar with in her magically adorned household. Tucked away in a lush mountain range, Mirabel’s family, The Madrigals, are all bestowed with a unique power, something gifted to them by a magical candle that, somewhat frustratingly, is given the most bare of explanations during the film’s oddly rushed prologue.
Mirabel’s mother, Julieta (Angie Cepeda), for example, can heal anyone through her cooking; her second eldest sister, Luisa (Jessica Darrow), has superhuman strength, literally carrying the weight of the village on her shoulders; and her cousin, Dolores (Adassa), knows everyone’s dirty little secrets thanks to her enhanced hearing. And what of Mirabel? Well, unfortunately, she was never blessed with an ability, something that she tries her hardest to not be bothered by, but, understandably, can’t ignore within the Madrigal dynamic.
As much as Mirabel is surrounded by apparent perfection – her eldest sister, Isabela (Diane Guerrero), is considered literal sublimity due to her appearance and ability to bloom flowers – the villa they all feel so guarded by is masking its own cracks. Mirabel is the only one to notice as such, but her stern grandmother, Abuela Alma (María Cecilia Boter), won’t have such imperfections brought to her attention, and the surrounding mysteriousness around why no one discusses Bruno (John Leguizamo), Mirabel’s extended uncle who disappeared from the villa after a forbidding vision, only fuels Mirabel’s concerns further as to what danger lurks ahead.
It’s not really giving anything away by suggesting the film wraps up the way one expects, honouring the fact that Mirabel’s supposed normality is ultimately what makes her so special. It’s a tried and true device that very much fits the Disney brand of believing in yourself, and Encanto enjoyably leans into such predictability, bolstered by a stunning colour pallet and a string of energetic musical numbers – courtesy of Lin-Manuel Miranda – that may not necessarily be the most memorable tunes but provide enough of a pleasant distraction when on screen.
Though far from a top-tier Disney title, Encanto, with its intricate renderings and subtle humour, is still a warm and wonderful offering that speaks truthfully and respectfully to its target audience, whilst maintaining a sense of intelligence that furthers the House of Mouse’s ability to cater to all ages.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Encanto is screening in Australian theatres from December 2nd, 2021.