Grade:  A-/B+
Animation
Rated PG

While most of the country was complaining about COVID, Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton) had an amazing 2021. He directed the bio-musical tick, tick . . . BOOM!, co-wrote the screenplay for the film version of his college project In the Heights, and composed the music for Netflix’s Vivo and Disney’s Encanto. It’s the big-production soundtrack, songs, and visuals that wow you immediately in Disney’s 60th full-length feature. Awash with bright colors and vibrant music, Encanto is a celebration for the eyes and ears.

Maybe that’s why I felt the plot by comparison was less striking. It’s almost a Hollywood convention that something has to be done or the magic will be lost, whether it’s a teenage boy going Back to the Future to fix things or Encanto’s Mirabel needing to trust her premonition that the magic of the candle that created their living house that bestows special gifts on the Madrigal family will be lost unless she can follow her instincts to save the Casita.

Set in Colombia—home of Nobel Prize-winning magical realist writer Gabriel García Márquez—Encanto is the first Disney animated feature to spotlight a Latinx family and hero. Stephanie Beatriz gives voice to 15-year-old Mirabel, who is cheerful and upbeat despite being the only family member not to have received a special power from the house. It’s a mystery to everyone—especially Mirabel’s grandma/abuela Alma (Maria Cecilia Botero)—why the house didn’t bestow a gift on her, but they choose to forget about it. Mirabel goes about her business despite not having superhuman strength like older sister Luisa (Jessica Darrow), or the ability to make flowers out of nowhere like oldest sister Isabela. Aside from Mirabel, everyone in the family has a special gift that enriches the community, which honors and celebrates the family as a result.

But every family has a member that they don’t talk about all that much. After “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” went viral, even people who haven’t seen the film know that for the Madrigal family it’s Mirabel’s uncle (John Leguizamo), who was cast off by the family because he was the voice of doom and gloom predicting the candle and house would lose their power. As Disney publicity teases, will “the only ordinary family member” save the day?

It took a second viewing for me to warm to the plot and its obvious metaphorical, “Dumbo’s feather” suggestiveness, but I do think it’s the kind of story that will resonate with families on many levels. One welcome message is that you don’t have to be special to love life and be special. The plot may never equal Miranda’s music or the character design, backgrounds, and animation supervised by directors Jared Bush (Zootopia), Byron Howard (Bolt, Tangled, Zootopia), and relative newcomer Charise Castro Smith. But collectively Encanto is a solid Disney entry that seems to get better with every viewing. Plot included.

As for Miranda, how much better could life get? One song from Encanto went viral while another, “Dos Oruguitas,” was Oscar-nominated for Best Original Song. Looking ahead, Miranda also composed songs for the live-action Disney version of The Little Mermaid—now in post-production and slated for May 2023 release. That’s frosting on the cake, because Miranda said it was the animated Little Mermaid that inspired him to become a composer in the first place.

Entire family:  Yes
Run time: 102 min. Color
Aspect ratio:  1.85:1 widescreen
Featured audio:  DTS-HDMA 7.1
Studio/Distributor:  Disney
Bonus features: A-/B+ (includes sing-along version)
Includes:  Blu-ray + Digital Code
Trailer
Amazon link
Rated PG for some thematic elements and mild peril

Language:  0/10—Squeaky clean

Sex:  1/10—One line about wanting five babies tonight, but that’s it

Violence:  2/10—One character cuts her hand, there’s a destruction scene, a man’s wrist gets broken but immediately fixed, and it’s implied that Mirabel’s grandfather sacrificed himself so his family could live

Adult situations:  1/10—There is some wine drinking but no drunkenness

Takeaway:  Encanto won the Golden Globe for Best Animated Motion Picture and has to be a frontrunner to win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film.