By Briony Havergill, Film and Television, Third Year
Set in a fantastical version of Colombia, Encanto follows the Madrigal family as they struggle to preserve the miracle that was gifted to their matriarch, Abuela Alma (María Cecilia Botero). Each member of the family has a unique magical ability, all except the protagonist, Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz). As the family begin to crack under the weight of Abuela Alma’s high expectations, Mirabel uses her natural gifts to save the Madrigals from themselves.
At the core of Encanto is a set of heavy, emotionally-charged themes, from generational trauma to the pressures of perfectionism and expectations. These are dealt with in a surprisingly sensitive and accessible way, largely through the songs written by Lin Manuel-Miranda. Some of these musical numbers segment these themes neatly, perhaps too neatly, which may be off-putting to older audiences. However, I believe that the songs break down these difficult concepts into satisfying, bite-size chunks.
Encanto features a large ensemble cast of characters, which inevitably means that some characters don’t get enough development or screen time. Fan favourites Dolores (Adassa) and Camilo (Rhenzy Felix), Mirabel’s cousins, have such aesthetically pleasing character designs and interesting gifts that they could have been put to more use in the film.
However, this large cast results in some excellent ensemble songs, such as We Don’t Talk About Bruno, which is the best original song to come out of Disney in a while. Each Madrigal sings about Mirabel’s mysterious Tío Bruno (John Leguizamo), who is said to have ‘disappeared’. The colourful palette, expressive animation, and ingenuitive use of each character’s gifts makes the sequence a delight to watch; whilst the talented voice cast and Miranda’s signature songwriting flair make it a privilege to listen to.
It is evident that Disney put considerable thought and effort into its representation of Colombia in Encanto. Disney established a Colombian Cultural trust to advise on the film, undertook a research trip to Colombia in 2018, and hired an entire cast with Colombian heritage.
Despite this, it is disappointing that the main writing and directing team is all American, and that the presentation of key cultural elements (i.e. food and aspects of dress) seems to be more of an amalgamation of Latin America than specifically Colombian. However, I am not Colombian, and I acknowledge that this means my viewpoint on accurate representation is at best limited.
Overall, whilst Encanto does not have the scope or sense of adventure seen in other recent Disney films like Moana (2016) or Frozen 2 (2019), its heartfelt focus on family, captivating animation, and catchy songs ensure that it fits firmly within the upper echelons of Disney’s catalogue.
I will be returning to Encanto for a rewatch soon, eager to relive the magic.
Featured Image: IMDB
Did you find Encanto truly magical?