‘Encanto’ charming, enchanting animated tale

Rick's Reviews

“Encanto” is a film that will entertain all ages. (Photo courtesy of Disney)

The Disney Studio has been making animated films for decades using a familiar format in a majority of their works. A hero must find a way to deal with what seems to be an overwhelming foe. The villains of these pieces – think Maleficent or Cruella de Vil – have been as pronounced and well defined as the heroic subject.

The fact the studio has diverted from that familiar path is just one of the many ways that “Encanto” is one of the most original productions in the studio’s long history of creating animated films that have become classics.

“Encanto” distinguishes itself not only by breaking tradition with the way it presents the villain of the piece, but in its deep dive into a respectful embrace of diversity. The story of a young girl’s quest to find her place in the world would have been enough to make this a first-rate offering. It’s the push to be more than just another animated film that lifts “Encanto” to such a high place.

This incredibly charming production is the tale of the extraordinary Madrigals family. They have lived a peaceful existence in the mountains of Colombia after escaping incredible hardships. It all centers around a magical house in a charming place called Encanto.

Each member of the Madrigals family has been blessed with a special power that ranges from super strength to the ability to heal. Each uses their gift to make the community a better place.

The lone exception is Mirabel – voiced by Stephanie Beatriz (“In the Heights”) – who appears to be the only family member not blessed with a power. She is still loved by her family but that is not enough to keep Mirabel from longing to be as special as her siblings.

Despite what appears to be a lack of special ability, Mirabel becomes the one person who can save her family and all of Encanto.

“Encanto” earns huge points for having Mirabel more concerned about not having the power to help her community than for her own use. It’s Mirabel’s internal struggles that replaces the more traditional villain of Disney animation history. The darkness that eventually threatens the ideal community comes from an emotional eddy that is more powerful than a dragon or witch ever could be.

Screenplay writers Charise Castro Smith and Jared Bush have given “Encanto” a much broader appeal with this approach to creating the conflict in their tale. When a film has a specific villain, there is always a tendency to feel a separation from the threat. Having the conflict arise from within the community – especially Mirabel’s drive to find what makes her special – is something that is very relatable.

As has been the case with so many of the Disney animated projects, the core of “Encanto” is a message that is universal. Mirabel eventually learns that everyone is special in their own way even if it isn’t immediately obvious.

The other strength is how Disney is pushing for more diversity in their productions. The fact this film is set in South America gives it a rich look and feel that is specific to the area. At the same time, the story has that very universal appeal. The blend of cultural diversity with a tale that fits anyone is the mark of a beautifully crafted story.

The writers even manage to offer a very different approach to the way parents – particularly moms – have been treated over the years. There is still a deeply emotional moment dealing with family but the way it is all handled feels fresh.

“Encanto” is a film born out of fantasy but it does brush up against some of the serious political issues of today. That could have been a problem had the approach been heavy handed. In this case, those issues are used specifically to establish the story.

In the case of “Encano,” it is not only a beautifully written film but it also has a stunning look under the direction of Smith, Bush and Byron Howard. This ranges from a tropical backdrop to very distinct characters.

The film has an eye-popping look to go along with the strong story. It also has one of the best scores since “Frozen” from Germaine Franco. There are several strong original songs in “Encanto” from Lin-Manuel Miranda.

“Encanto is scheduled to open in theaters Nov. 24. It is an ideal selection for any family looking for a movie to see during the Thanksgiving holidays.

Movie review

“Encanto”

3 1/2 stars

Cast: Stephanie Beatriz, Maria Cecilia Botero, John Leguizamo, Jessica Darrow, Angie Cepeda.

Director: Charise Castro Smith, Jared Bush, Byron Howard

Rated: PG for thematic elements, peril

Running time: 99 minutes

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