Encanto (2021)

Quick Summary: A tale of the family Madrigal who live in a house that has blessed every child in the family with a unique gift — every child except Mirabel.

I had heard many people talk about this, and almost all good things. So I went in with high expectations, and this was good enough to meet them. In the last few years, Disney has released Moana, Big Hero 6, Raya And The Last Dragon, and Zootopia, so it’s fair to say they’re on one hell of a roll, the only major blot being Ralph Breaks The Internet (and maybe Frozen 2, I haven’t seen it so can’t judge). It may be too soon to judge but it does seem like they’re making progress to reclaim their crown from Pixar. While I don’t see that happening, the gap is closing, and not because Pixar is getting worse, but because Disney is getting a lot better.

Everything about this is really good, mostly non-American cast (US, not the continent), and I’m only personally familiar with two of the people who did the voices: Stephanie Beatriz and John Leguizamo. I like that Disney are going that route now, casting people who are true to the character rather than just getting random sitcom performers to do “ethnic” voices. All are really good, but Jessica Darrow needs highlighting as someone who really deserves to have her career made by this.

In terms of performances, this is really a showcase for Beatriz (it’s helped that in Mirabel, Disney seem to have created a visually interesting character they can market the hell out of). You never feel you’re listening to a 41 year old pretending to be a teenager, her vocal performance has the perfect mix of youthful exuberance and teenage angst/depression. This is doubled when she sings, I’m still not entirely sure how she nailed some of the rapid vocal tracks for the opening song.

About the opening song, it really sets the tone. On the surface, it’s happy and joyful and danceable, but when you listen to the lyrics you get a slight sense of sadness and “I don’t belong”. Her panic when the kids ask what her power is and she tries to distract them, her clear envy of her “perfect” sister, and then it’s capped with how casually her sister says “oh she didn’t get one”. It’s the first sign that this film has the potential to break you.

It lives up to that potential, and then some. Everybody is talking about We Don’t Talk About Bruno, when really they should be talking about Surface Pressure. It’s not as catchy, but a lot more emotional and has great storytelling. The reaction to it will break, just the words “i think you’re carrying way too much”.

On the subject of music, it’s clear from this and In The Heights that Lin Manuel Miranda is REALLY good at natural music, especially for opening numbers. He adjusts the universe so that it’s not the characters making the music, it’s the world. It adds a sense of playfulness to the whole thing and elevates a very good film to a great one.

It’s not perfect, there are a few moments (as in, 3-5 second bits) where the music doesn’t flow as naturally as it could, some of the characters could be better developed, and it would have really helped the ending if we saw more of how the non-family members live in that town.

But overall this is a great film about emotional abuse, parental pressure, and feelings of worthlessness. Probably the most emotional film I’ve seen this year, but also the most joyful. Strange how it can do both so well.

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