COLOMBIA. A place outside of time – we’re always looking for cell phones to get an accurate picture of situations in movies. Right, and there’s no radio here or electric lights, if I’m not mistaken. So it’s a fairy tale: I see. It’s all about the Madrigal family, which is led by Abuela (voiced by Maria Cecilia Botero), widow, mother of triplets.
Founder of a rural haven for relatives and fellow refugees. By fire keeper on a magic candle who gifts her children and grandchildren with super “Gifts” and keep the city safe. She’s a great woman, I mean.
But Abuela isn’t perfect – who is she? – and we’ll get in to that in a bit.
We meet her granddaughter Maribel (Stephanie Beatrice), the only Madrigal without magical powers. She gives us madrigals through upbeat songs: her mother Juliet (Angie Bike) can cure illness with her cooking, sister Louisa (Jessica Darrow) is super strong, sister Isabella (Diane Guerrero) can plant flowers, aunt Pepa (Carolina Gaitan).
Moods affect the weather, little cousin Antonio (Ravi-Cabot Connors) can talk to animals, and there’s something else I’d like to sum up just by saying “etc.” legend. One might think that Mirabelle’s talent is the ability to create catchy notes through musical numbers. That are sure to please, but that’s wrong. It’s the wrong Madrigal as the script calls, and you have to deal with it.
However, he is not the only one who is not a match for the Madrigal. No one is allowed to talk about their uncle Bruno (John Leguizamo). Who was banished from the magical and intelligent home of a family called Cassita. Maribel uncovers this buried family secret as she investigates the potential threat to Madrigal’s magic manifested in a crack in Cassita’s wall that only she seems to see.
This leads to a bit of a search for Maribel, who sniffs behind the walls of the house and finds herself on the set of Indiana Jones, singing a few more songs as she unravels the plot. But Abuela won’t have it; he prefers to cover up family matters and pretend they don’t exist, believing that it will burn the candle. But as anyone who gets at least a C in Psych 101 knows, hiding the ugly truth will never work. So perhaps Maribel has found her goal: to shake up the tradition in the name of enlightened progress.
Encanto is an instant eye-catcher:
Lots of colours, inspired character designs, and rich, deep backgrounds. An adorable casita with tiled floors and stairs that turn into slides. The sequence where little Antonio recognizes his talent and rides through the woods on the back of a jaguar is amusing.
The other, trying to resolve the rivalry between Mirabelle and her “perfect” sister, Isabella, is just as emotionally touching as well as visually beautiful. It’s not unexpected. Only Disney animation studios don’t save money and present themselves at par.
Maribel is a brave teenager who does her best to avoid insecurities. It’s easy to love and empathize. She sings a song that mentions “unspeakable invisible pain”, but we never see her think like Elsa; it is the primary source of Encanto’s bright and fast tones, which dominate despite some relatively complex objects. Refreshingly, Maribel isn’t a princess herself and doesn’t face criminals.
The only possible bad guy here is an abstraction – an ancient notion that suggests power can protect a family or nation even if it’s an illusion. It’s a riff across the intergenerational rift where Maribel challenges Abuela’s control stemming from Madrigal’s past trauma and a deep fear of showing vulnerability.
Sounds complicated, right? It’s not.
The film is pretty awful in the way it incorporates its ideas into a lively aesthetic, filled with light comedy, a series of catchy and funny songs, quite enjoyable. (My initial tendency to interpret the story as a commentary on the need to dissolve the British monarchy turned out to be a little strained.)
To continue – and who better to do that than a scapegoat? Encanto doesn’t end with the action-packed mess of many other similar films because it’s more about restoration than destruction. And recovery is always about emphasizing hope for the future rather than longing for the past. Encanto is hilarious, witty and witty, firm in his multi-generational appeal.