Plan your screen time with the weekly What to Watch newsletter. Sign up today.
Directed by Jared Bush and Byron Howard
Written by Charise Castro Smith and Jared Bush
Featuring the voices of Stephanie Beatriz, Maria Cecilia Botero and John Leguizamo
Classification G; 100 minutes
Opens in theatres Nov. 24
Despite my fervent hopes, Disney’s Encanto didn’t quite cast a spell on me. As much as I love movies about misfits who ultimately find their purpose, as fascinated as I am by Latin American cultures and as desperate as I am for a movie to transport me to a place I clearly will not be travelling to any time soon, I was disappointed.
It’s odd, given the people involved, and the research that went into a solid idea. Co-director Byron Howard made Zootopia and Tangled, and Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote eight songs for the animated musical. A team travelled to Colombia in 2018 to get a feel of the location where the story is set.
Encanto is centred around the idea of exploring the complexities within a multigenerational family. Although the movie is suffused with Colombian textures, adding punches of magic realism into the plot, the story is too confusing to take away any clear images or messages. A few days after watching it, I’m hard-pressed to remember a particular sequence that was breathtaking. I can’t even think of a standout Miranda song that captured my attention enough to hum a hook.
Encanto opens with Mirabel Madrigal (Stephanie Beatriz) introducing us to her extended family. There’s the matriarch, Alma (Maria Cecilia Botero), lovingly called abuela (grandmother), Mirabel’s older siblings Luisa (the strong one) and Isabela (the perfect one with a floral touch), cousins Dolores (who hears everything), Camilo (the shape shifter) and Antonio (the one about to be blessed with a gift). Then there’s her mom and dad, aunt and uncles – and they all live together in the magical Madrigal casa.
“But what is your gift?” the kids in the town ask Mirabel.
Turns out, Mirabel doesn’t have a gift, which makes her an oddity within her family. She tries to make up for her perceived shortcomings by being a people pleaser. On the day that five-year-old Antonio takes part in the special ceremony meant to reveal his gift, Mirabel sees cracks in their magical house. When she tries to alert her family, they don’t pay her attention. In fact, her beloved abuela tells Mirabel to stay out of the way.
However, Mirabel grows more certain of what she saw, and the repercussions it could have on her family’s powers. She sets out to unravel the mystery behind a vision her Uncle Bruno (John Leguizamo) experienced before he disappeared. Solving that mystery will help the Madrigals keep their magic alive.
If the plot had stuck to the magical Madrigals and Mirabel as the odd-girl-out, together facing some kind of external challenge, it would have been an easier narrative to follow. But the filmmakers make the tension come from within this multigenerational family. And this is where things get confusing.
There’s an origin story as to how the Madrigals got their magic, which has to do with a community exodus. Why this exodus happens, and how that results in the Madrigals receiving their gift, isn’t fully explained. And so there’s a lack of clarity when it comes to understanding the exact threat to the Madrigal clan. Why is the gift of magic too hard a cross for the Madrigals to bear? Why were they chosen in the first place? The questions kept me from being immersed in the narrative.
This isn’t to say the story doesn’t move you in parts. There’s a warmth in Mirabel’s mother’s ability to heal through her food – that’s a gift many people can intimately understand. Despite those moments of affection, however, Encanto ends up being overwrought rather than enchanting.
Special to The Globe and Mail
In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.