Encanto is Disney’s biggest cultural phenomenon since Frozen. Walt Disney Animation continued to make successful films, but nothing came close to the 2013 hit. Since musicals like Moana and Frozen II tend to make a stronger impression, Lin-Manuel Miranda followed up the former with his own Latin inspired musical. Miranda had a ridiculously busy 2021 that included In the Heights, Vivo, and Tick, Tick… Boom! Though he still hasn’t won an Oscar, Encanto managed to win Best Animated Feature and top several Billboard charts with its soundtrack. I’m glad the sixtieth Disney animated movie made such an impact, but it was far from the traditional Disney magic.
Unlike Tangled, Encanto was another original project centered around the next marketable culture. This time Disney was influenced by Colombian culture and a Colombian Cultural Trust was formed similar to Raya and the Last Dragon. The non-Hispanic directors Jared Bush and Byron Howard made Encanto their next project after Zootopia. The story changed many times, but family was a constant theme. Though it later gained new life on Disney+, Encanto wasn’t a success at the box-office. Most people blame the Pandemic, but I’m pretty sure there was a lack of interest. Although I didn’t take part in the obsession, I do understand Encanto eventually connecting with a new generation of Disney fans…
Mirabel shows off the Casita
Encanto looks and sounds different than most Disney animated movies, but it is similar to Coco. Both are about large Hispanic families righting wrongs across several generations. I have no problem with Pixar experimenting, but I just haven’t been a fan of the new direction Disney has been taking. Diversity is expected, but I’d like something with animals or a fairy tale every once in awhile. There’s so much emphasis on family and complex emotional drama. My brother and I saw Encanto in a packed theater, but the audience of children wasn’t very lively. The traditionally animated raccoon short Far from the Tree didn’t get much of a response either. Encanto was hailed for its use of transgenerational trauma, but is that really what kids want to see? Luckily the colors are vibrant and the songs are enough to keep kids distracted. There’s a considerable amount of complex backstory, but it is easier to follow than Raya and the Last Dragon. I’m neither Hispanic nor Colombian, but Disney went the extra mile to ensure the setting and community was accurate. Unlike In the Heights, Hispanic characters have different skin tones that I never expected to see in an animated movie. There’s brown skin, light skin, and darker Afro-Latino skin.
Encanto was inspired by Colombian folklore and history with a twist of magical realism. The Madrigal family flee their home in order to escape the Thousand Days’ War. Tragedy gives the family a miracle candle that shields their community in a magical Encanto protected by mountains. The Madrigal family lives in a magical Casita come to life. Between Encanto and Moana, Disney really likes living inanimate objects lately. Similar to the water in Moana, the Casita shifts its architecture and helps the protagonist on her journey. Most members of the Madrigal family are given a gift that they use to help their community. Encanto is like a superhero movie without the action or villain. Lack of romance and Disney villains continue to frustrate me. Now it’s just familial love and characters who end up looking bad for the sake of tension. Encanto feels more aimless than usual with one location and an ensemble cast of 11 family members. Disney found it particularly difficult fitting so many multilayered characters into a 90 minute kid’s film.
Encanto has a mostly Colombian cast that Spanish audiences may recognize more. Brooklyn Nine-Nine actress Stephanie Beatriz voices the quirky Mirabel Madrigal. Mirabel is an awkward 15 year old teenager and the first person born to her family that doesn’t have a gift. As a Disney heroine, Mirabel is unique for her large glasses and mostly plain appearance. The movie was originally about Mirabel desperately wanting a gift, but it was appropriately changed to Mirabel feeling left out and seeking purpose in her family. The Madrigal family is made up of three generations. María Cecilia Botero voices the stern, but well-meaning family matriarch Abuela. Abuela has been holding onto the magical candle ever since her husband Pedro was killed. She was left with fraternal triplets that all received gifts from the Casita once they reached a certain age. Angie Cepeda voices Mirabel’s caring mamá Julieta who can heal injuries with her cooking. I expected Colombian cuisine and staples like coffee, but there’s not too much focus on food.
Julieta gives her daughter motherly advice along with her equally supportive husband. Fez himself Wilmer Valderrama voices Mirabel’s accident prone papá Agustin who benefits from his wife’s cooking. Mirabel’s older sisters are Isabela and Luisa. Diane Guerrero is mostly known for her TV roles, but she makes the perfect Isabela. Isabela represents the beautiful primadona golden child who has the power to make flowers bloom. Jessica Darrow has the right kind of deep voice for the buff Luisa. Luisa has super strength and does most of the heavy lifting. A big muscular woman was wierd for Disney, but she ended up being a standout character. Julieta’s sister is Mirabel’s lighter skinned Tía Pepa. Carolina Gaitán voices the high strung Pepa who has the ability to change the weather with her mood. She’s the polar opposite of her shorter Afro-Caribbean husband and Mirabel’s Tío Félix, but they’re a nice interracial couple. Lesser known singer Mauro Castillo voices the fun loving Félix who doesn’t have a gift just like his brother-in-law Agustin. Mirabel technically has people in her family she can relate to, but it’s different for people married into the family.
Mirabel’s cousins are Dolores, Camilo, and Antonio. Latin singer Adassa voices the soft spoken Dolores who has the gift of super-hearing. Dolores is my personal favorite character since her power is useful and I like the humming sound she makes. Runaways actor Rhenzy Feliz voices the mischievous Camilo who can shapeshift. Since his gift is used mostly for comic relief, Camilo isn’t given much of an arc. Child actor Ravi Cabot-Conyers voices the youngest Madrigal Antonio who receives his gift at the beginning of the movie. Dolores and Camilo are definitely mixed, but Antonio is the spitting image of his dark skinned papá. Antonio is a little sweetheart who has a close relationship with his cousin Mirabel. He worries about not getting a gift, but he’s also sad that Mirabel doesn’t have one. The gift giving ceremony is a major event involving the entire community. Antonio chooses to walk with Mirabel and Abuela officiates the ceremony by reciting the responsibilities of his gift. All members of the Madrigal family (except Mirabel) receive a magical door leading to their much bigger bedroom that represents their gift. It’s a cool Dr. Who concept, but I do wish we saw everyone’s room.
Since Antonio loves animals, he’s given the ability to talk to animals. His bedroom is a jungle treehouse filled with Colombian animals like jaguars, capybaras, and toucans. You’d think Disney’s focus on diversity would make it difficult to include Alan Tudyk, but he once again voices an animal companion. Even though Pico the toucan isn’t much of a character. Mirabel continues to feel isolated, but she finds purpose when cracks start to form in the Casita and the magic starts to go out. So Mirabel sets out on an adventure to save the miracle. The trailers are kind of false advertising since she technically never leaves home. Mirabel tries to get answers from Dolores since her hearing should be enough to solve most problems in the movie. She points Mirabel in the direction of Louisa who felt weak at the time the magic started to wear off. Louisa opens up about the pressure she feels doing all the heavy lifting and it makes her even more relatable. She points Mirabel in the direction of their Tío Bruno. Who I haven’t mentioned since we don’t talk about Bruno. Disney sure does like that name after its other explicit use in Luca.
Bruno is the mystery relative who was ostracized by the family and community for his gift of seeing the future. Mirabel journeys into his perilous sand covered tower where she finds a broken vision that shows her at the center of everything going wrong. Despite warnings from Pepa, Félix, and the rest of her family, Mirabel’s papá ends up seeing the vision and Dolores overhears everything. In terms of humor, I didn’t think Encanto was very funny, but the dinner scene is comedy gold. Dolores passes the information to everyone as they start to freak out. Colombian singer Maluma voices Isabela’s lovesick suitor Mariano who remains clueless to the family losing control of their powers. As they storm off, Mirabel follows a mischief of rats to a space between the walls. SPOILER ALERT! She chases a mystery figure who ends up being Bruno. John Leguizamo is easily the most well known actor in the movie. I knew he was Spanish, but I never realized he was Colombian. Leguizamo has the right kind of skittish voice for the reclusive Bruno. Though his “acting” and mannerisms are odd, Bruno never left since he still loves his family. Mirabel tries to convince Bruno to reinterpret his vision.
Antonio discovers them using his rat companions and gives them the space he needs to see a new vision. I’ll admit Isabela showing up in the vision came out of nowhere, but she has been not so secretly resenting her younger sister throughout the movie. Mirabel is led to Isabela’s floral bedroom where she has to reconcile with her oldest sister. Isabela also opens up by admitting she doesn’t want to marry Mariano and she doesn’t want to be perfect either. There was originally supposed to be another imperfect guy in Isabela’s life, but it would’ve been too much. Instead Isabela embraces an imperfect cactus and Mirabel for encouraging her to let loose. Encanto may not have a villain, but Abuela comes across very antagonistic when she repremends Mirabel for her actions and openly admits disappointment in her for not receiving a gift. Mirabel accuses Abuela of hurting the family and being the reason the magic is dying. It’s enough to completely destroy the Casita and extinguish the candle for good. Mirabel runs away, but she’s soon joined by Abuela who explains her entire tragic backstory and reason for holding on as much as she did. Despite the complex nature of family trauma, everything is resolved in only 15 minutes.
Abuela embraces Bruno, Bruno is embraced by his sisters, the community comes to rebuild their Casita, Dolores admits her feelings for Mariano, and Mirabel helps everyone work together without their gifts. It would’ve been a fine moral to end on, but the magic returns anyway. The only difference is Mirabel being the glue that holds her family together. Encanto was the most ambitious computer animated movie Disney made at the time. Despite the Pandemic, animators still managed to make research trips in order to get Colombian architecture and clothing right. There’s so much detail packed in every dress and pancho. Each member of the Madrigal family has an outfit that reflects their gift. Except for Mirabel who has pictures from everyone else’s gift. Character design is a bit stylized, but still recognizable to the Disney brand. Colors stand out the most with Mirabel’s side of the family dressed in cool tones like blue, indigo, and purple. Meanwhile, her cousins are dressed in warm tones like red, orange, and yellow. Bruno stands apart with his trademark green pancho.
As pleasant looking as the movie is, Encanto will mostly be remembered for its Lin-Manuel Miranda soundtrack. Like Hamilton, every song serves a purpose in moving the story along. I just wish they weren’t filled with so much slang. Despite taking place sometime in the early 1900’s, I expected Disney to once again incorporate modern slang into the movie. However, Miranda does respect Latin tradition by writing songs in English as well as Spanish. The spirited “Colombia, Mi Encanto” is the primary theme that was used in promotions of the movie. “The Family Madrigal” was deliberately written to introduce every member of the family. Though it’s an entertaining bit of exposition, it does become very rambling near the end. Similar to the final song “All of You” that incorporates every family member with several styles mashed together and characters practically talk singing the entire thing. They couldn’t resist a reference to “Let it Go,” but there are several attempts at an Oscar bait song. “Waiting on a Miracle” is Mirabel’s “I Want” song where she freezes her family to express her desire to belong. It’s very similar to Jasmine’s new solo in the live-action Aladdin.
Isabela’s song “What Else Can I Do?” is probably the most underrated. It’s a good way to show Isabela’s transition from perfect appearances to messy colors and mismatched flowers. Though it’s Louisa’s song “Surface Pressure” that ended up making a stronger impression. Louisa carrying her family is represented by action scenes that include Hercules, the Titanic, and dancing donkeys. The beat is infectious, but the “tick, tick” lyrics are suspiciously similar to Tick, Tick… Boom! The only song that truly deserved Oscar attention was “Dos Oruguitas.” A Spanish folk song that beautifully depicts Abuela escaping the war and losing the man she loves. An English version can be heard during the credits, but it’s better in Spanish. Yet every song pales in comparison to the impact of “We Don’t Talk About Bruno.” Bruno isn’t an antagonist, but the ominous lyrics and sinister imagery is as good as classic Disney villain songs.
Pepa and Félix talk about their hurricane wedding, Dolores mentions hearing Bruno in the walls, Camilo gives him an unflattering description, Isabela brings up her perfect life, and Mirabel pieces together the prophecy all before dinner. The song gets more catchy everytime I hear it, but I still don’t think it’s a perfect song. It’s another song that mashes together several styles and not every portion is easy to remember. There’s a difference between a popular song and songs that deserve a Best Original Song nomination. The Oscars made the mistake of performing the song anyway and disappointing countless viewers with a lame remix. “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” did receive unprecedented attention on the US Billboard Hot 100. “Surface Pressure” reached No. 8, but “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” managed to top the charts at No. 1. Encanto is like the Madrigal family, not perfect, but it means well.
Mirabel and her family