Written by: Hannah Tran | November 18th, 2021
Encanto (Jared Bush/Byron Howard/Charise Castro Smith, 2021) 3½ out of 4 stars.
It’s clear that Disney’s magic hasn’t faded with their latest release, Encanto. Although it may lack the grand adventure and conflict seen in other Disney stories, it delivers an authentically heartwarming tale filled with strong and lovable characters, which is what the company does best. Following Mirabel, a young Colombian woman who struggles as the only non-magical member of a family blessed with magical abilities, Encanto is a refreshingly character-driven and universal fable that successfully pays tribute to the history of magical realism within Colombian art.
It goes without saying that Disney’s animated construction of Mirabel’s world is completely captivating. Between the ornate details and vast array of colors, it more than delivers on filling each individual frame with immense thought, skill, and beauty. Beyond the way in which it is brought to life, exactly what is being brought to life is equally impressive. The characters, clothes, buildings, and magic are uniquely designed to immediately invite the audience into this world and understand everyone within it.
And the visual beauty of our protagonists feels well-earned by the well-written personalities they possess. Mirabel, in particular, makes for a wonderful heroine with identifiable struggles that are perfectly brought to life through the voice talent of Stephanie Beatriz (In the Heights). While flawed in relatable ways, Mirabel has strength in her gained understanding of the struggles faced by other members in her family. With this focus, Encanto creates a nuanced and realistic message about acceptance and how empathy for others’ experiences allows us to comprehend their actions and be better able to give and receive love.
But while the uplifting message of the film generally overpowers any of its noticeable flaws, there is still a nagging feeling that the story could have been taken even further. Encanto’s 99-minute runtime doesn’t allow room for this, but the story moves quickly, and this can leave some of the most interesting characters underused. And although all the songs (by Lin-Manuel Miranda) throughout are fun and memorable, there are a few that pause the momentum and could have been whittled down to give room for even deeper development of both story and characters. Still, much like Mirabel’s family, the limited imperfections of the film are largely overshadowed by the amount of heart it has to offer. Within the enthralling world of Encanto lies a worthy narrative to capture the painful complexities and the incredible power of cultural history, individual acceptance, and familial love.