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Review: Encanto (2021)

Encanto (2021)

Directed by: Jared Bush and Byron Howard and Charise Castro Smith

Premise: An animated film. Every member of the Madrigal family has a magical power except for Mirabel (voice of Stephanie Beatriz). When the family’s magic begins disappearing, Mirabel must restore the family’s powers.

What Works: Encanto succeeds as a musical. The songs come steadily and each of them are fun. In any good musical, the set pieces are used to present exposition and develop character and plot. Encanto does this especially well in the opening number which establishes the tone of the film and introduces each of the family members. Encanto possesses energy and humor. This is the story of a young woman who is the black sheep of her family and the filmmakers find the humor in Mirabel’s awkwardness. Aside from the music, the strongest element of Encanto is the film’s complex family relationships. Mirabel can only save her family’s magic by exposing their suppressed tensions and that puts her on a collision course with her grandmother (voice of María Cecilia Botero). But the family matriarch isn’t really a villain. The conflicts of Encanto are built on tradition and misunderstanding and the family tensions come across authentic and interesting. Encanto is also frequently visually arresting. The family magic is oftentimes presented creatively on screen but the film also possesses more subtle details. The color and texture of the characters and settings consistently pops and Encanto possesses a vivid flavor of the world in which it takes place.

What Doesn’t: The storytelling of Encanto is inefficient. The film begins with a prologue that it doesn’t need. Mirabel’s investigation of her family history takes her on a winding road to the truth. Putting Mirabel through challenges makes dramatic sense; she ought to earn her revelations. But these sequences come across as padding. The tasks seem arbitrary and Mirabel doesn’t learn enough about herself or her family to justify the elaborate set pieces. Encanto recycles a trite storytelling trope common to family-oriented films; Mirabel searches for an external solution to her family’s problems only to discover that the real solution was inside of her all along. This cliché is especially unsatisfying in Encanto because it is not earned. Encanto is a story of family reconciliation but it does not build up to that moment. The characters only forgive each other because the story formula dictates it and the climactic scenes come across hollow and perfunctory.

Bottom Line: Encanto mostly makes up for its narrative shortcomings with energy and humor and music. It’s a satisfactory animated feature that is never particularly memorable but makes for suitable family entertainment.

Episode: #881 (December 5, 2021)