The team of Bush and Howard has really turned into the modern-day version of John Musker and Ron Clements. For Howard, Encanto is the 4th Disney feature he has directed (Bolt, Tangled, Zootopia). Howard co-directed Zootopia with Bush, who co-wrote the screenplay for that film as well as Encanto and Moana. This film was also co-written and directed by Charise Castro Smith and stars Stephanie Beatriz and John Leguizamo. The music is written by the incredibly talented Lin-Manuel Miranda.
I first watched Encanto in theaters back on thanksgiving weekend and really enjoyed it. Then I watched it about a week after it was released on Disney+ and I honestly loved it more the second time. It is such a well-animated film with great colors and fun Colombian-theming. The whole film basically takes place in and around the Madrigals magic house (named Cassita) but it’s amazing how it still manages to take us to a variety of fantastical settings using the different rooms in the house. I found the setting to be really ingenuitive and well executed.
Lin-Manuel’s soundtrack really is perfect for the film as it seems to encapsulate the Columbian musical styles very well. I’ve heard some complaints that you can’t easily sing along to the songs, but I would argue that after you listen to them a few times you can definitely pick them up and sing along. I mean we can’t expect a movie that takes place in Colombia to have American songs so we can sing along. I personally love Surface Pressure and We Don’t Talk About Bruno.
Let’s Talk About Bruno
One thing I love about Encanto is how well the introduce a large number of characters and give you a reason to think you know a little about each of them, but it doesn’t stress about giving each character a complex character arc. Many of them have a very simple little arc (Luisa, Bruno, Isabela) and all of them at least get a moment or two, but for the most part they let the movie focus on Mirabel. This was a breath of fresh air after watching Eternals try to give an emotional and complex character arc to 10 different characters and fail in each and every one of them. Seriously though, there were some moments in this film that I found rather touching. Such as the moment when Mirabel watched Antonio get his gift and the family celebrate together as she looked on as the only one without a gift. Also the moment when we meet Bruno and find out he has been eating dinner just on the other side of the wall from the kitchen where the family eats dinner just because he still wants to feel part of it. All-in-all it was just a really heartfelt and touching film.
I do have one pretty major complaint…the ending. Right after Mirabel and Abuela have their big argument the house proceeds to fall apart and everyone loses their magic gift. The leads us into what is called the dark night of the soul (to use a story structure term). That basically refers to the lowers point of the plot where it seems like all is lost. There is typically a fair amount of descending action before a story wraps up after that, but in the case of this film it seemed like they ran out of time and just hastily put it all back together. Abuela finds Mirabel by the river, their is a touching song that reminds Abuela why they were given a gift in the first place, immediately followed by a song where Mirabel helps get everyone to work together and put the house back together. Once this happens, everyone gets their gift back and the movie ends. It’s literally like 8-10 minutes from that low point to the end and it felt lightning quick as I watched it. I also was a bit frustrated that the movie ended with the family in the exact same position as they started except that they’d learned a lesson. I would’ve loved to see the family not get their gifts back and realize that they are more than just their magical gifts.
Best Animated Film of the Year?
It’s close, but I’d probably still give the nod to The Mitchells vs. The Machines for that accolade from 2021. However, Encanto is still a great movie that earned itself a top 20 spot in my ranking of all movies from Disney Animation Studios. I’m interested to see how this one will be remembered in a few years, and also how it will be represented in the Disney Parks. I’d love to see Cassita built in Epcot!