There is a lot to enjoy with “Encanto”.
Walt Disney Animation Studios’ 60th feature film is almost unbelievably gorgeous. (We say “almost” only because the studio’s previous production, “Raya and the Last Dragon,” from March was equally striking.) The Colombia-inspired designs and brilliant specular highlights suggest that, in a few months, this should be the movie you see on every 4K HDR TV when you walk into a Best Buy.
In addition, “Encanto” is more interested in exploring themes that arise from belonging to a large extended family. In this case, it’s a family full of magical abilities, but, really, the dynamic at play can be found in families all over the world.
And yet, the story told in “Encanto” never reaches magical levels.
Of course, it’s quite enjoyable, this music-infused story of a girl struggling to find her place in her family. But in the hands of “Zootopia” director Byron Howard, it never delivers a hard-hitting emotional punch.
The daughter is Mirabel, 15 (voiced by Stephanie Beatriz), whose extraordinary family, the Madrigals, live hidden in the mountains of Columbia, in a magical house with a personality of their own.
Madrigals are important to the villagers who live around them, because when a family member turns 5, he or she receives a special ability through a magical door that appears in the house and opens into a space. delighted. For example, Luisa (Jessica Darrow from “Feast of the Seven Fishes”), one of Mirabel’s two sisters, is strong and powerful, so much so that she spends her days in the village doing all the necessary work. And then there’s her other seemingly perfect sister, Isabela (Diane Guererro, “Doom Patrol”), who can grow plants and bloom flowers.
And the gift from Mirabel? Wellâ¦ his ceremony came and went without being granted anything. Nevertheless loved by his family – in particular by his parents who support him – Mirabel continues as if his normality was not serious. She is happy to help the family in any way she can.
“Maybe your gift is a refusal,” suggests a girl from the village.
Wow. Hard burn, kid.
On the day of the ceremony for Mirabel’s 5-year-old cousin Antonio (Ravi Cabot-Conyers), the matriarch of the magic-obsessed family Abuela Alma (MarÃa Cecilia Botero) asks Mirabel to please stay away.
This is proving difficult to do for Mirabel in general as “Encanto” progresses. She begins to fear that the family will lose their magic – something her grandmother doesn’t want to admit, at least to anyone other than herself.
Mirabel begins to believe that the clues to what is going on may lie in her uncle, Bruno (a reasonably funny John Leguizamo). His catastrophic visions are the reason, as the family sings, “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” – one of eight original songs composed for the film by Lin-Manuel Miranda of “Hamilton” fame.
Will Mirabel, with Bruno’s help, be able to solve this mystery before the cracks that are increasingly forming in the structure of the house really tear the family apart?
Much like a large family reunion can be, âEncantoâ is large and often messy.
Its story – attributed to Howard, Miranda and co-directors Charise Castro Smith, playwright, and Jared Bush, who also co-directed “Zootopia” – unfolds in spurts and never quite finds its rhythm. While the megahit âZootopiaâ was too slow, âEncantoâ is mostly too fast considering all the characters he’s trying to juggle. Many of them are not really felt, which is disappointing.
It probably doesn’t help that it’s a cartoon without a real villain. Yes, her grandmother sometimes upsets Mirabel, but she is a good woman who has long been forced to flee her home with her husband and their triplets. Ultimately, it’s the situation that is the antagonist of âEncanto,â and it only works so well as a storytelling device in the film.
Plus, the key elements of an animated musical – the vocals and the songs – are fine here but nothing special.
Beatriz, who appeared this year in the big-screen adaptation of Miranda’s musical “In the Heights” and was still fun as tough cop Rosa Diaz in the recently concluded charming sitcom “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”, is certainly acceptable as a Maribel. But you can’t help but wish she found a way to bring up this attractive character, who is not difficult to relate to.
Moving on to Miranda’s songs – starting with the staging opening number, “The Family Madrigal”, and including the key Maribel-Isabela duo “What Else Can I Do?” – are nice but generally not great. It’s surprising, if only because of Miranda’s immense talent.
When you factor in her spectacular looks, “Encanto” has enough going for it that it isn’t hard to give her a recommendation. It would definitely be a suitable choice for an extended family outing over the holiday weekend.
Nonetheless, with its universal themes and clever ideas, it seems like it could have been far more than the sum of its well-meaning parts.
“Encanto” is rated PG for certain thematic elements and slight hazard. Duration: 1 hour 49 minutes.