Taking place in the hills of Columbia, Encanto follows the journey of Mirabel, a member of the Madrigals, a family who each received unique magical gifts after being hit with tragedy when seeking refuge from displacement. All except one; Mirabel. As the only ‘normal’ person in the family, we watch Mirabel’s turmoil unfold while she struggles to serve the community without the use of magic, to which the rest of the family has such easy access.
A warm, feel-good tale of inner strength and determination, Encanto follows strong themes of familial pressure and personal freedom. This movie was a refreshing addition to the Disney catalogue. Unlike recent additions, such as Frozen II and Raya And The Last Dragon, Encanto was fairly lowkey in comparison. Rather than being obsessed with the grand-scale, epic climax, Encanto made sure to leave sufficient room for storytelling. In addition, with the plot focused predominantly on one family and one location, the intimate nature of the film left ample time to focus on character and world-building.
While I wish that some characters could have been explored in more detail, Disney nevertheless succeeded in making each member of the Madrigal family distinctive and unique.
With an explosion of psychedelic colour with an ethnic Columbian twist, the fluid visuals will hold your attention from start to finish. Filled with symbolic imagery, creative scene transitions, and vivid detail worked adoringly into every frame, the aesthetic of Encanto harks to a more modern version of the Disney renaissance.This was particularly prevalent in the musical numbers, the majority of which were plot-driven and character-focused. Each song was used as a clever tool for either exposition or characterisation while drawing out cheerful, collective foot-tapping throughout the theatre.
Much like the nature of the film, the scale of the music was also more lowkey, a welcome change from the usual orchestral-filled, diva-lead rambunctiousness that we’ve come to expect from the typical Disney number. Instead, much of the Encanto soundtrack had a more bass-heavy feel and was tactfully more sparing with the deafening stringed instruments than some of its predecessors.
While the script could have benefitted from a bit more humour, the Encanto storyline ultimately held up well. It begins with a strong emotional hook, presenting the audience with Mirabal’s ongoing struggle with self-worth, while the growing conflict unfolds neatly with a concise line of intrigue and a definite goal.
MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW
However, the ending itself presented a remarkable opportunity which, at first, I thought Disney had been bold enough to seize with both hands. That is before they unceremoniously tossed it away last minute. Ending with the tragic breaking of the magic and the death of their sentient casita (house), the Madrigals are faced with the harsh reality of life without their gifts, the thing on which they have so heavily relied.
While hard to swallow, it presented the film with the difficult but essential message that loss is a part of life, and while painful, there will always come a time when you have to learn to live without something. Furthermore, the imagery of the Madrigal house being rebuilt through blood, sweat and tears as opposed to springing up as a result of magical power, as it had done before, was extremely powerful.
There was a moment in which I was deeply impressed by these subtle yet very mature undertones. That is until they reverted back to the Disney-fied ending of everybody suddenly getting their powers back, Casita comes back to life and everyone lives happily ever after the end. And yes, I get that the ending was ‘Disney-fied’ because it is a Disney movie – but there’s no harm in changing up formula every once in a while, right? Especially if it would ultimately make for a stronger message.
To have seen the Madrigals accept their loss and rebuild their lives in the face of it would have made for a far more powerful and unconventional ending, laden with messages that emphasise the values of hard work, finding the magic in normality and making the best of what you have.
It’s a shame Disney didn’t have the courage to break with their conventional ‘perfect ending’ formula.
END OF SPOILERS
Ultimately though, Encanto is a charming, aesthetically beautiful tale of self-worth and familial dynamic. 100% palatable to all age groups, Disney has provided us with the perfect warm and fuzzy film to cuddle up to this Christmas – and we can guarantee that you’ll be singing the songs for days to come!
Whether it’s with your little ones, or just yourself and a big pile of mince pies and popcorn, Ecanto is sure to leave you feeling lifted.
What were your thoughts on Disney’s big 60th? Do you think they hit the mark? Let us know in the comments below!