Director: Jared Bush, Byron Howard and Charise Castro Smith
Writer: Charise Castro Smith and Byron Howard
Stars: Stéphanie Beatriz, John Leguizamo
Synopsis: A young Colombian girl faces the frustration of being the only member of her family without magical powers.
Earlier this year, I wrote an op-ed on family-friendly animated films and why they shouldn’t have villains. So when I looked Encanto, and I found out that there was no typical antagonist, I knew I was going to have a blast. Encanto was released in late November of this year and was directed by Jared Bush, Byron Howard, and Charise Castro Smith. It centers on the extraordinary Madrigal family, whose special gifts have allowed the village of Encanto to prosper for three generations. Each member of the family has a special gift, with the exception of Mirabel. However, when the magic begins to wear off, Mirabel must find the source of the problem and find a solution.
The story of Encanto is special to me because of his human nature. Mirabel may be our central protagonist, but she is not the only one under pressure from the family. Every Madrigal has received a gift, but with it comes the pressure to be perfect. Luisa’s song, “Surface Pressure,” says it clearly, “I’m pretty sure I’m worth nothing if I can’t be of help. It’s a film that allows each character to be real. There is no easy solution to the family problem because it is based on their complex relationships and their fears. This thematic complexity is delivered through simple lyrics and by allowing each character to share their point of view. Her message that gifts don’t define you will resonate with audiences and Encanto stand out among animated films, not to mention the many musicals that have been released this year.
History is not the only well-crafted element of Encanto. The cinematography of Alessandro Jacomini, Daniel Rice and Nathan Warner is the cornerstone of Encanto. Although I have been impressed with recent versions of Disney Animation Studios (Raya and the last dragon, Frozen II), none have the fluidity and precision in their cinematography that permeates Encanto. No shot appears static or dull. On the contrary, cinematography has a similar energy to that of a Spielberg, where the camera moves with the characters and frames them expertly without needing to cut between shots. This forward momentum is reinforced by the editing of Jeremy Milton, because the scenes are linked together with ease.
And speaking of recent Disney Animation releases, the animation style of Encanto moves the individuality slider up to eleven from previous entries. Encanto shares much of the lighting design and textural details that permeated Frozen II and Raya and the last dragon. But what is it that fixes Encanto apart from it’s character design. Each person in the Madrigal family is distinct in their expressions, movements and shapes. And these designs immediately convey who these people are. Dolores’ stature and big eyes are a reflection of her shy demeanor. Mirabel’s bushy hair and glasses show just how exceptional she is. And Luisa’s massive build contrasts perfectly with her facial expressions, underscoring the pressure placed on her in a physical and real way. Even the magical house, Casita, receives personality by the way the bricks and doors move. This attention to detail is creative and fascinating to watch.
Speaking of the characters, the vocal performances are among the best in the business. Stephanie Beatriz, known for her role as Rosa in “Brooklyn Nine Nine”, brings Mirabel to life. Her performance brings Mirabel’s emotions to the fore, making the forced happiness, curiosity, anger and desire audible to the audience. It’s a completely different performance from his work on television, and it creates a sympathetic track for the film. The supporting cast is also well established; with John Leguizamo, Jessica Darrow and Maria Cecilia Botero creating particularly memorable performances in their respective roles of Bruno, Luisa and Abuela Alma. Each member of the cast harnesses the pressures on their characters in subtle ways that add depth to every performance. And when these pressures are revealed, the film accentuates these emotions through the musical numbers of Lin-Manuel Miranda. His signature rapid-fire lyrics are fully on display in Encanto, delving into the feelings and history of the characters with ease. In addition, the vocal performances and animation work also emphasize these ideas. Each character has a signature rhythm to their song that personifies their characters. The film pulls all the cylinders in these moments, bringing together the vocal performances, story, editing, animation and cinematography to reveal the thoughts and feelings of these characters. Lighting and environmental changes are used to release the charged emotional states of the characters. All these elements combine to create intoxicating musical numbers full of emotion and energy.
But it’s not just Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical numbers that shine in Encanto. Germaine Franco’s score propels the story from moment to moment. He injects the film with a magical vibration at every point of the film. It accentuates the emotional exchanges between Mirabel and the other members of the family and allows the film to feel like a real musical comedy despite only seven numbers.
Meeting a new family can be a daunting task, and the Madrigal family is no different. Corn Encanto ‘Its leadership and intimate history make it easy to know who is who, what is what and why every member of the family matters. It is a film that delights in empathy and in breaking the gaps that form between generations. As I said at the start of the article, this is one of the best of the year, and a movie for the whole family.