Walt Disney’s 60th animation boasts songs from Lin-Manuel Miranda and a fine voice cast, but it’s hampered by contradictory messages and a lack of sparkle
This musical, boasting a lively voice cast and original songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda, has been promoted as the 60th “canonical” film from Walt Disney Animation Studios. But however well-meaning, this milestone movie could almost represent a creative crisis for Disney – it feels like yet another step down the cul-de-sac of bland, algorithmically generated entertainment: more Stepford content from the dream factory. There are some nice moments and sweet show tunes, but Encanto feels like it is aspiring to exactly that sort of bland frictionless perfection that the film itself is solemnly preaching against, with a contrived storyline that wants to have its metaphorical cake and eat it.
Our heroine is Mirabel Madrigal: a smart, introspective, bespectacled teen living with her extended family in a magic house with a mind of its own in an idyllic village in a magically created valley somewhere in Colombia (“encanto” means enchantment or spell). She is voiced by Stephanie Beatriz, who recently had a small role in Miranda’s musical In the Heights but is probably still best known for playing the supercool tough cop Diaz in the TV comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
Mirabel’s grandma is the formidable matriarch Abuela (voiced by María Cecilia Botero), who lost her husband many years ago, and for whom this magical house was mysteriously created at the time, apparently rising up in defiance of this great sadness. And all of her children and grandchildren turn out each to have a magic power, of which Abuela is intensely proud. Mirabel’s mum Julieta (Angie Cepeda) can heal people with her cooking, and I guess only a pedant would ask why she doesn’t heal Mirabel’s eyesight. Mirabel’s sister Isabella (Diane Guerrero) is a perfect Instagram-style princess who can make flowers bloom with her sheer loveliness. Her other sister Luisa (Jessica Darrow) has super-strength and can lift buildings. Her aunt Pepa (Carolina Gaitán) can control the weather and cousin Dolores (Adassa) has super-hearing. This is a pretty heteronormative household but her cousin Camilo (Rhenzy Feliz) can shapeshift because he doesn’t know who he is yet.