Leaving the theater after seeing Encanto, I couldn’t help but hum some of the music and check whether there was a soundtrack streaming. The songwriting flair of Lin-Manuel Miranda was on full display, and if you’re a fan of the Hamilton and In the Heights soundtracks, that’s reason enough to watch. But more than just a showcase for incredible songwriting and musical performances, Encanto also offered up a heartwarming, bright, colorful, and — dare I say it — magical story, one that will dazzle the young ones and move the greybeards. It’s a tale of multigenerational legacy, of familial tradition and responsibility, and learning how to be who you are, rather than who you are expected to be. Familiar themes for sure, but the story is told in a fun and exciting way.
Co-written and co-directed by Disney veterans Byron Howard (Tangled, Zootopia), Jared Bush (Moana, Zootopia) and first-time feature director Charise Castro-Smith (Devious Maids, Haunting of Hill House), the story centers on a Colombian family, the Madrigals, who were blessed with magical gifts by the titular enchanted charm: a candle whose light both shines and shadows. The story’s 15-year-old protagonist, Maribel, portrayed with aplomb by Stephanie Beatriz, is as plucky as you’d expect a Disney protagonist to be, but her struggle to live up to her family name among aunts, uncles, and cousins who possess superpowers establishes the emotional stakes early. The stakes are raised even further when her family’s magic is imperiled.
Encanto manages a story that is both fantastical and authentic. It features a voice cast that is almost entirely Latinx, including María Cecilia Botero as Abuela Alma Madrigal, Mirabel’s grandmother; John Leguizamo as Bruno, Mirabel’s uncle; Diane Guerrero as Isabela, Mirabel’s “perfect” eldest sister; Jessica Darrow as Mirabel’s other sister, Luisa, known for her strength and stoicism; Angie Cepeda as Julieta, Mirabel’s mother; and Wilmer Valderrama as Agustín, Mirabel’s father. The filmmakers traveled to Colombian cities and towns in order to really get a sense of the cultural elements they intended to reflect. The story itself grows out of Latin American folklore, and the tradition of magical realism. But while cultural signifiers are present throughout, non-Spanish speakers won’t feel lost or overwhelmed, as the themes, emotional resonance, and interpersonal dynamics are universal.
But ultimately, it’s the musical numbers, and the visuals that accompany them, that make this movie such a delight. Miranda’s trademark witty lyrics and ability to convey exposition and emotion while serving up absolute bops is fully on display. If this is the film that gets him his EGOT, it will be well-warranted. The animation sequences are kinetic and visually striking, and the vocal performances mesh perfectly with the characterization. Luisa’s solo is a standout, but there’s a third-act Spanish only song that’s an absolute showstopper. Even if you barely speak the language, the emotion comes through loud and clear, and this reviewer isn’t ashamed to admit that it brought tears to his eyes.
Heavy emotions aside, there’s still an abundance of whimsy, wonder, and fantastical fun. It’s vibrant, lively, and sweet, and the characters, while rooted in archetypes, are layered and complex enough to each have their own unique appeal. This is a family and setting you’ll enjoy spending time with, and will want to revisit over and over. It merits a big screen theatrical watch, but will likely be a big part of your Disney Plus rotation regardless. ¡Me encantó mucho!