Review: Encanto (2021)

Encanto (2021)

Directed by: Jared Bush, Byron Howard, Charise Castro Smith | 109 minutes | animation, comedy | Original voice cast: Stephanie Beatriz, María Cecilia Botero, John Leguizamo, Mauro Castillo, Jessica Darrow, Angie Cepeda, Carolina Gaitan, Diane Guerrero, Wilmer Valderrama, Rhenzy Feliz, Ravi Cabot-Conyers, Adassa, Maluma, Rose Portillo

He himself is too modest to blow high, but Lin-Manuel Miranda has developed into one of the most influential people in the entertainment industry over the past fifteen years. Like no other he knows how to translate the lively energy ‘from the street’ to the stage and the silver screen. Affectionately dubbed a “hip-hop version of Rent,” his very first musical, “In the Heights,” made it to Broadway in 2008, earning him four Tony Awards, including Best Musical. His real big break came with ‘Hamilton’, the musical that tells the story of one of the Founding Fathers of hip-hop and R&B, Alexander Hamilton. A groundbreaking production with an all-black and Hispanic cast that captivated audiences and critics alike, earning Miranda 11 Tonys and a Pulitzer Prize. He also won a Grammy and an Oscar nomination for the song ‘How Far I’ll Go’ from the Disney film ‘Vaiana’ (2016) and appeared as lamplighter Jack in ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ from 2018.

It seems that everything Miranda touches turns to gold. The same goes for ‘Encanto’ (2021), the Disney animated film for which he composed the music and co-wrote the story. One of the catchiest songs, ‘We Don’t Talk about Bruno’, made it – thanks in part to TikTok – to number one on the US Billboard Hot 100 and (as the first original Disney song ever) the UK Singles Chart. The catchy Latin pop song breathes the same dynamics that the film also has. Disney wants to be more inclusive and has already produced several films in recent years with ‘Vaiana’ (Polynesian culture) and ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ (2021, South-East Asian culture) to give shape to that ambition. And also think of Pixar’s ‘Coco’ (2017) and ‘Luca’ (2020). ‘Encanto’ is set in Colombia and honors South American culture. The heroine is far from your average Disney princess. 15-year-old Mirabel Madrigal has cheerful, bouncy curls and a believable figure. In addition, she is the first Disney heroine to wear glasses. Mirabel is one of the youngest members of a wonderful family, in which everyone has a special gift. Everyone except Mirabel.

‘Encanto’ does not shy away from showing the impact that the colonial ruler had on the South American tribes, because grandmother Alma Madrigal used to be attacked by armed invaders who took her from her village when she had just given birth to her triplets. hunted and killed her husband Pedro. However, that traumatic event also gave her a miracle: a magic candle that protects her and her children from the strangers and creates for her a wonderful house – La Casita – hidden between the high mountains. All her descendants are also born with a gift, which reveals itself at the age of five. One can heal people with her cooking skills, the other controls it again with her emotions. The following generations of Madrigal will also be given magical powers: Mirabel’s one sister is as strong as a bear and her other sister can make the flowers grow. Her niece has super hearing and her nephew can shape-shift.

Mirabel has a hard time with being the odd one out, especially now that her youngest cousin Antonio is about to be blessed with his own gift. A very recognizable emotion, because we all feel excluded from time to time. Mirabel remains positive and does her best to help prepare the party for Antonio in her way. But when he does get a magical power, it becomes too much for her and she flees from the party. In a quiet corner of La Casita she suddenly notices that the house is beginning to show cracks. In a panic, she runs to her grandmother, but she waves it away. No one else sees the cracks in the walls. But is that really so? Is the magical stronghold of the Madrigals, who have brought prosperity and wealth to the entire village, slowly crumbling? And what does the prediction that her missing uncle Bruno made ten years ago have to do with that? Mirabel is determined to find out and save La Casita and her family.

Directors on duty include Jared Bush and Byron Howard, who previously directed ‘Zootopia’ (2016) on behalf of Disney. They are supported by Charise Castro Smith (“The Haunting of Hill House”), who is also one of the screenwriters. Miranda also contributed to the script. But he mainly leaves his mark on the film with no fewer than eight brand new songs. In this he interweaves Latin Pop with a barrage of puns that we know from rap music. This results in swinging and catchy songs that fit in perfectly with the world of youth. Disney chose to put on an all Latin American cast. Then some lesser known names (only John Leguizamo and singer Maluma are known to the general public), one must have thought. But that makes the film a lot more believable and authentic. Stephanie Beatriz (who we previously saw in the series “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”) stars as Mirabel. She manages to find a nice balance between feelings of melancholy that belong to the feeling of being an outsider (which she sees again in her rejected uncle Bruno), and the cheerful (grand) daughter with a big heart for her family. Her relationship is particularly interesting with Grandma Alma (María Cecilia Botero). Scarred by her trauma, she watches over her offspring like a lioness. She is clearly upset with the fact that Mirabel has not been given a gift and is concerned about Bruno’s prophecy ten years earlier. The conflict runs high, but the film finally manages to bring grandmother and granddaughter back together in a heartwarming way, in a touching scene where many people will not keep it dry.

Besides the emotional resonance and the recognizable themes of family, feelings of guilt and the idea that you are disappointing someone else, wanting to belong and (self) acceptance, ‘Encanto’ is also a joy to watch and listen to. Just take the miraculous house, with its moving roof tiles and floor tiles, doors and windows swaying to the rhythm and stairs that can turn into slides when the time comes. La Casita fascinates beyond measure, with its many hidden rooms, corners, turrets and cellars. She has her own way of communicating with her residents and often makes for a smile. Just like the many word and image jokes that pass by during the songs. ‘Encanto’ is not only very colourful, but also very lively; the film breathes authentic Latin American energy and respects Colombia’s culture, customs and customs, down to the smallest detail in decor and clothing.

What is special is that, despite all those magical and supernatural elements, ‘Encanto’ is actually ‘just’ a film about the dynamics that occur in every large, close-knit and diverse family and cause tension and unity. About a family in search of new harmony. With a traditional grandmother, a caring mother, the beautiful but sometimes insufferable older sister, the hard-working and self-effacing other sister and the insecure teenager who simply wants to be seen and heard for who she is. That is what makes this film, even though it is set on the other side of the world, so recognizable and it is not difficult to embrace the Madrigal family.

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