Encanto (2021)

JARED BUSH, BYRON HOWARD

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB

USA/, 2021. , . Story by Jared Bush, Byron Howard, , , , , Screenplay by Charise Castro Smith, Jared Bush. Cinematography by , , . Produced by , . Music by . Production Design by . Film Editing by .

An enchanted village in Colombia is lead by the magical abilities of the Madrigal family, who are ruled with uncompromising determination by the elderly Abuela Alma (, singing vocals by ), a woman who came to this place decades ago after outrunning a civil war and losing her husband in their escape. Left alone to raise her baby triplets, Alma was gifted a powerful candle that created an enchanted house around which the village of Encanto grew, and to each member of her family the candle granted a magical gift once reaching a ceremonially significant age: one relative has phenomenal strength and can lift just about anything, another is a shapeshifter, one controls the weather with her emotions and another grows flowers by the same method.

Only one member of the family has been sent away because of his gift, Alma’s son Bruno (voiced by ), who had the power to see the future and it made him an unpleasant harbinger of trouble for his concerned grandmother. That’s not nearly as upsetting as the fact that granddaughter Mirabel () has not been giving any gift at all, and has been haunted by this supernatural impotence ever since. When she learns that her family’s magic is in trouble of being extinguished, which could spell trouble for the whole village (why, we’re not really sure), Mirabel decides that she must be the one to go on a quest to fix the problem and finally prove that she belongs in her family despite not having what it takes to be an equal to her relatives.

A Disney heroine who wants more, where on Earth have we seen this before? In this genre, you just need to keep it fun and colourful and no one will have too much to complain about (certainly not the kids), but while this one is not nearly as derivative as the same year’s similarly-themed Luca, it is interesting just how many of these animated Disney films repeat the same theme of the odd person out who needs to find a way to be accepted by their community (whether it’s a bug, a car or people from other exotic places like Hawaii). What’s keeping this one from enveloping you in its tender emotional embrace as seen in the far superior Coco, however, is that the Mexican-set film had a clear and concise plot to go along with its visual dazzle; one can say easily say what Encanto is about thematically (family should stick together), but a lot of the time it’s hard to know what is actually going on. Maribel falls into some rather haphazard situations that involve her estranged uncle and his visions (not clear) that result in arguments with her grandmother (with whom she has quite the bone to pick and it feels like it comes out of nowhere) before we then decide in the conclusion that they can risk losing all their magic because they can exploit the local villagers to build a house for them instead (and they’re only too happy to do it, for some reason, and…then the magic returns…for some reason).

To make things weirder, there are songs that feel superfluous to the action, and much as he did with Moana, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s decidedly bland lyric writing (who needs poetry when you can just have people say literally everything they mean) interrupts the story instead of furthering it along, and most of what he has come up with for the soundtrack (outside of Germaine Franco’s beautiful score) is remarkably unimpressive. The writing on this one feels as if the filmmakers started with the finale and worked their way back, and what they plotted out just doesn’t fit together well enough to make the most of the wonderful array of characters and the beautiful animation.

Academy Award:  Best Animated Feature
Nominations: Best Original Score; Best Original Song (“Dos Oruguitas”)

Golden Globe Award:  Best Animated Feature
Nominations: Best Original Score; Best Original Song (“Dos Oruguitas”)

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