Somehow, a movie I randomly watched near the end of the year ended up becoming one of my favorite, if not my personal top, films of the year. Last time was Into the Spiderverse which oddly was also an animated film, so I suppose Encanto is in good and rarefied company.
I had considered seeing this film during its limited theatrical release, but, well, everything *points to the entire world*. Thus, ended up seeing the film the day it was released on Disney+. I regret not giving it money directly in theaters though not really because, again, everything. However, I have no regrets viewing the animated film because it is incredible and deserves all the eyes it can muster.
Look, Encanto has all the trappings of a classic Disney film: great music, magical realism, intriguing characters, cathartic moments, solid story and plot, a spunky heroine/savior, and all with just a twist of Latin flavor. And its not just a palate swap. Every aspect of film from character design and movement to music to the actual story and core conflict of the film is directly influenced and tied to the Latin, specifically Colombian, culture and identity.
Obviously, the music is one of the most memorable and defining aspects of a Disney film/product, and Encanto does not disappoint on that front. Another collaboration with Lin Manuel Miranda since Moana was so successful, the award winning composer added his talents to the music of the film. Add stellar performances by cast and even more impressive professional dance sessions turned into animation sequences, and I honestly have trouble thinking of a single musical number in this movie that doesn’t utterly, borrowing the parlance, slap.
Each character gets a musical moment though, admittedly, the larger focus is definitely on Maribel and her sisters as they each get an individual song that relates their own specific turmoil and obstacle and how their struggle relates to the family at large. At this point, I am sure if you had even the mildest interest in Encanto, you have probably come across “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” and “Under the Surface”, and if you have not, go immediately Google both. Seriously, you will not regret it. However, for me “Waiting on a Miracle” is the song that really hits all the feels and emotions as it really is the one I relate to and oddly fits the best as far as my position in my family (though I am not the youngest by any stretch).
Beyond the music and animation, again which are all truly top notch, the narrative of this film is what drew me in. It is unlike anything else I have seen from Disney, even from Pixar. Encanto relates a story dealing with the intergenerational trauma brought on by an elderly matriarch, and family, dealing with the aftermath of becoming refugees from an ongoing war as the main family (the Madrigals) were forced to leave their homes by an encroaching military force and rebuild their lives somewhere new. Yeah, and that is not a metaphor. It is literally the opening sequence of the film as we see Abuela Alma running from soldiers and have to witness her husband surrender himself to those soldiers to buy his wife and the other refugees time to get away. This is old school, true tragedy Disney animation happening with the caveat that the events on the screen are unconditionally based on real past and present events. The nearest parallel would probably be Mulan but that was centuries before, largely mythologized at this point, and is not still on ongoing story with ramifications in the present.
I give kudos to the mouse for taking on such a story with a legitimate attempt at being informative, respectful, and still delivering an entertaining and uplifting narrative. The aspect of this film that I found to be most surprising is that there is no villain in this movie; in fact, there barely is an antagonist. Once more, I really had not seen that before in a Disney animated film. The closest comparison are potentially Moana or Inside Out. But even those don’t really work as a comparison. Yes, Te Fiti is a victim in Moana, but the goddess without her heart is still very much an active threat against everyone across the islands until she is saved by Moana’s actions and restored to her true self. Joy is not evil in Inside Out, but she very much acts against Sadness and the other emotions, and ultimately against Riley, solely because of her need to be in charge and lead Riley’s development and experience. On the other hand, the most antagonistic individual in Encanto is Abuela Alma, but her actions actually do come from a place of genuine concern and desire to do the right thing and protect her family and community.
Yes, Abuela goes about her attempt to ensure the safety and legacy of her family in the wrong way, but her actions and desires are utterly understandable given her backstory. Even so, the film does not completely absolve her of her past sins, and her reconciliation with Maribel is the integral action that makes everything at La Casita okay again. Thus, while there is a conflict in the story, no one is the “bad guy” and the actual resolution requires for the family members to bare their souls and issues and accept one another for who they are, flaws and all. There have been these elements in other Disney, and Pixar, animated films, but not quite executed in this manner with this level of craft and relatability.
Encanto is one of many films that have suffered less than stellar reception because of the ongoing global circumstances, but it has, thankfully, gotten a second change and boost from the move to streaming. I genuinely believe it will be one of those films that gets more attention, praise, and a larger audience as the years progress and deservedly so. If you have the chance, absolutely watch this film.
One last bit that I found interesting but wasn’t sure how to approach: the powers given were interesting in their purpose and distribution across the familial lines. I don’t know if that was intentional as commentary or plot devices/points, but will be interesting if that topic enters the discourse and conversation around the film.