One of the worst things about the pandemic is that it has not been kind to musical movies or those with new IPs, as people have had to weigh the risks of going to a movie theater. Jared Bush and Byron Howard’s “Encanto”, which features songs written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and focuses on the fictional and magical Madrigal family, is one such casualty if its reported $120 million budget is to be believed (Variety reported it had a budget of $120 million, but Business Insider reported it to be $50 million), as it has only earned a measly $206 million, which should put Disney in the red after advertising costs.
Which is a shame, because “Encanto” is really, really good.
The film focuses on Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz), the only member of the family to be denied a gift from the magical candle that protects it and gives life to their sentient house, Casita. Everyone else has a magical room complete with a door with a portrait of them on it, with each of their rooms being bigger on the inside just like the TARDIS from Dr. Who and themed to match their powers. Instead, she sleeps in the nursery with Antonio (Ravi-Cabot Conyers), the youngest member of the family who is the next to receive his powers.
The Madrigals are composed of the family head, Abuela Alma (María Cecilia Botero), whose husband died years ago when they had to flee their previous home due to some war in which the candle first appeared and saved them; her children: Bruno (John Leguizamo), who is thought to have left long ago due to his ability to see controversial visions of the future; Julieta (Angie Cepeda), who is also Mirabel’s mother and has the power to cook food that can cure any ailment; and Pepa (Carolina Gaitán), who can control the weather and often creates storm clouds when she’s upset; their spouses: Augustin (Wilmer Valderrama), Mirabel’s father and Julieta’s husband; and Félix (Mauro Castillo); and the children of the family, which include Mirabel and her older sisters, Luisa (Jessica Darrow), who has super-strength; and Isabela (Diane Guerrero), who is described as being perfect and can make flowers appear and bloom; and Pepa and Félix’s children: the aforementioned Antonio; Dolores (Adassa), who has super-hearing; and Camilo (Rhenzy Feliz), who can shapeshift into anyone.
That’s a very large cast, and it inevitably leads to Mirabel, Bruno and Abuela being the focal points of the film, with Luisa, Isabela and Antonio serving as secondary characters, and everyone else having very flat background roles.
I really didn’t mind that, especially the parent characters, didn’t have much to do, because they all contribute to both the vibe and the ignorance of this large family. Even characters that don’t really have arcs, like Félix, have key roles in important parts of the film, such as his vocal contributions to one of the best songs in the film, “We Don’t Talk About Bruno.”
Visually the film looks great, with the filmmakers finding plenty of creative ways to introduce physical humor into the film via Casita, but it’s also elevated by Miranda’s excellent lyrics combined with fantastic tonally-variant scores composed by Germain Franco. Like “Moana”, another Disney film Miranda wrote music for, the songs in this will probably outlive the popularity of this movie.
On a narrative basis, the film is simple yet effective. The main conflict involves the family’s magic going away due to the overbearing way Abuela runs the family that initially caused Bruno to leave, and that makes Isabela forced into pursuing a relationship she doesn’t want. At its core, “Encanto” is about a family struggling to come together and understand each other, who are distracted by the status and privilege their magical gifts have given them, and it’s easily the best film Walt Disney Animation Studios has put out in years.
It’s unfortunate that the pandemic was not kind to this film when it was in theaters, though it’s great that so many people are discovering it for the first time on Disney Plus. I suspect its reputation will grow in the coming years, and memory of its bad box office score will eventually fade.
“Encanto” gets a 9/10