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Encanto Review

Walt Disney Animation Studios teams Zootropolis’ writers/directors Jared Bush and Byron Howard – along with co-director Charise Castro Smith – up with Moana maestro Lin-Manuel Miranda for their landmark 60th feature – a magical family adventure packed full of Latin rhythm. Following the Southeast Asian-inspired fantasy Raya and the Last Dragon and the Norwegian set Frozen II, the latest animated feature delves into the colourful mountains of South America, in one of the studios most intimate and relatable dramas yet.

Encanto centres on the magical multigenerational Madrigal family, who live in an enchanted house in the beautiful rolling hills of Colombia. Each of the Madrigal children gain a unique power on their fifth birthday which they use to help their community. However, there’s one exception to the rule – Maribel (voiced by a brilliant Stephanie Beatriz) – who’s the only Madrigal to not inherit powers. Forced to grapple with her disappointment as the latest family member is set to gain theirs, Maribel begins to see cracks appear in the La Casa walls which nobody else can see, taking it upon herself to discover the root of the problem before the family’s magic ceases to burn bright.

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Unlike previous animated instalments, the narrative in this magical family drama is uniquely positioned as more of a mystery than a typical Disney quest or adventure. There also isn’t an evil villain to defeat or overcome, but more of a delve into the family’s dynamics and history to try and uncover what’s creating the cracks (both physical and metaphorical) in the walls.

While the low-key scope might disappoint some who are looking for the next Moana, the introspective and emotional exploration of strained family dynamics and societal pressures make for a more relatable feature. The central theme of finding your place in the World, paired with a heartfelt celebration of uniqueness, results in a beautifully empowering tale. With all the magic of Beauty and the Beast, and all the heart and musicality of Moana and Coco, the latest animated offering certainly evokes significant aspects from existing Disney canon, while exploring a brand new and rich culture.

Featuring the first Disney female protagonist with glasses, Mirabel (voiced by an energetic Stephanie Beatrix) is an enthusiastic and driven heroine with the family’s best intentions at heart, yet can’t shake the feeling that she’s not quite good enough. It’s fantastic to see what would be typically considered as an ‘outsider’ or ‘misfit’ as the lead, as opposed to Diane Guerrero‘s ‘perfect’ Isabela, who’s the typical Disney Princess archetype. Bush, Howard and Smith have crafted an organic multigenerational family, each with their own unique power and arc, for a story which charmingly subverts certain Disney archetypes – particularly when it comes to Jessica Darrow’s Hercules-esque Luisa and John Leguizamo‘s long misunderstood Bruno.

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The vibrant tale is brought to life by some of the most photorealistic animation I’ve seen from Disney yet. The fluid motion in the diverse hair types is so wonderfully realised, along with the intricately detailed textures (such as sand and water) and the spot on global illumination, resulting in a beautiful vivid offering. The setting is marvellously colourful and full of life, particularly in the tardis-esque anthropomorphic house, packed full of delightfully ornate tiles and unique magical rooms filled with flowers, sand or a tropical jungle.

The soundtrack consists of eight brand new original songs from Lin-Manuel Miranda, featuring toe tapping rhythms, intricate multiple melodies and witty word play raps, particularly in the introductory ‘The Family Madrigal’. Highlights include ensemble piece ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’ and the earworm ‘Surface Pressure’ – ‘Waiting on a Miracle’ brings the ‘Let it Go’ vibes, while the beautifully emotive ‘Dos Oruguitas‘ will certainly mean a lot to certain audiences.

Verdict

Encanto is a vibrant and magical family adventure packed full of heart, soul and toe tapping tunes, courtesy of Lin-Manuel Miranda. An emotional celebration of being your true self, brought to life by dazzling animation and a collection of wonderfully unique characters full of depth.

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