The meaning of family is determined in Disney’s colorful delight.
Disney’s 60th animated feature “Encanto” is the studio’s fourth feature to have a Latin American spirit after “Saludos Amigos,” “The Three Caballeros,” and “The Emperor’s New Groove.” If you haven’t heard of the first three, then look them up, because they are equally delightful. In “Encanto’s” case, I must say it’s a joyful, colorful, and wondrous one. Taking a break from the traditional villains and romance, it’s more concerned about its own views about the meaning of family. You get the black sheep, the disapproving parent/grandparent you want to make proud of you, and the youngster to tie everything together. Never underestimate your kids.
It’s also the third movie this year for Lin-Manuel Miranda to bring out the best of his musical talents, after “In The Heights” and “Vivo.” When you hear the characters in rap form, when you see the colors of the rainbow, and when you feel the rhythm of the music, you can tell Miranda knows his material, and it’s really high-spirited.
The set-up is simple: a tragedy has given Abuela Alma Madrigal and her three kids a miracle, a special candle which could bless their growing family with magical gifts. You have to reach a certain young age to open a magic door, and that’s when you receive your gift. That’s when we enter the magical world of Encanto, Columbia. And if you start to get annoyed by the “M” word, I’ll try to stop.
For example, regarding her three children, Bruno (voiced by John Leguizamo) can see the future, Julieta (voiced by Angie Cepada) can heal people through her cooking, and Pepa (voiced by Carolina Gaitan) can control the weather through her emotions, and believe me, she gets emotional.
Another example, regarding Julieta’s three daughters, Isabela (voiced by Diane Guerrero) can make flowers bloom everywhere, Luisa (voiced by Jessica Darrow) is big and strong, and Mirabel (voiced by Stephanie Beatriz) didn’t get a gift.
That’s when Uncle Bruno disappears, which is why “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” and thats when Abuela (voiced by María Cecilia Botero) loses her love for Mirabel. And this young lady has been trying so hard to help her family out the best she can, but all she gets in return are Isabela insulting her and a gift basket, known as “The Not So Special Special Package.” At this point, the one who looks up to her is her little soon-to-be Dolittle cousin Antonio (voiced by Ravi-Cabot Conyers).
But why wasn’t Mirabel not given a gift? Why did she cut her hand on a broken roof tile. The first question I can’t answer, but the second one is the house is in danger, the magic is in danger, and so is her family. That’s when she must find Bruno to see her future.
“Encanto” was directed by Bryan Howard and Jared Bush, the two behind “Zootopia,” the best animated film of 2016. Here, along with Miranda’s writing and lyrics, they take us inside a colorful world with flexible characters, a wise sense of humor, and excellent voice work.
Sure, the stormy aunt and flower sister can be a bit exhausting, but we’re not only concerned about them. We’re worried about Mirabel, and where she’ll find herself in saving the magic. Beatriz gives her best voice work in that role, and she’s full of spirit and levity, the kind that made Kristen Bell so fun in “Frozen.” Leguizamo also has some funny moments, but he’s putting more effort in his voice than in the last “Ice Age” movie “Collision Course.” And Botero is uniformly excellent as the grandmother, and that’s what “Abuela” means in Spanish.
I’m still amazed at how “Jungle Cruise,” another Spanish-themed Disney movie (but live-action) was a big hit, despite it being released in theaters and on Disney+, because that film was such a dark and dreary film, compared to the brightness of “Encanto.” Yes, it has to be gloomy at times, but there’s actual meaning inside them. It explains how the family is really threatened, and like “Coco,” another Spanish-themed Disney movie (that’s animated), it all pays off quite well.