Formulaic and predictable. For all its magic, cheerful colors, and spicy music, ENCANTO is a bland animated motion picture that is ironically devoid of Disney magic. While the characters and performative dimension of the mise-en-scene are paint-by-numbers in the Disneysphere, the biggest star of this film is the gorgeous set and production design! On a more philosophical level, Encanto can be read as a post-modern deconstruction of a meritocratic society in exchange for an ideological utopia built upon the foundation of socialism. Accompanied by musical numbers that do little more than service the plot, Encanto reminds me of an animated motion picture better suited for Disney+ than a theatrical run. Even with songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the (billed as) 60th Walt Disney Animation picture fells more like it’s the product of an assembly line operated by a committee of non-player-characters rather than the imaginative culmination of writers whom care. Ironically, it ostensibly becomes the very societal expectations and perfection, which its pedantic and overt message is preaching against. There is little to no gravitas to the conflict, there is lacking a true character of opposition, and the central character is nearly unrelatable because she achieves everything she wants without any measurable loss. Without meaningful conflict, there is no drama.
The Madrigals are an extraordinary family who live hidden in the mountains of Colombia in a charmed place called the Encanto. The magic of the Encanto has blessed every child in the family with a unique gift — every child except Mirabel. However, she soon may be the Madrigals last hope when she discovers that the magic surrounding the Encanto is now in danger.
The central character in Encanto is Mirabel, and in her magical family, she is the only one without a gift. Mirabel’s grandmother Abuela is the formidable matriarch and leader of her influential family in the secluded town of Encanto, where she lives with her family in the magical Madrigal compound named La Casita. La Casita is a house with a mind of its own, right out of the silent French cinema classic The Electric Hotel (1908). After Abuela lost her husband during a pillaging and burning by (what is most likely) colonial soldiers, her great sadness and loss manifested itself into a magical candle that created Encanto and the mountains that shield it from the outside world. And while Mirabel doesn’t have any special gifts, the rest of her siblings and cousins do. And Abuela is immensely proud of each and eery one of her kids, while she tolerates Mirabel. Mirabel’s mother can heal people with her cooking (but why doesn’t she heal Mirabel’s visual acuity???), while her father can (hmm…guess he doesn’t have an ability either, but he’s obviously well-adjusted). Isabella and Louisa, Mirabel’s sisters, have the powers of flower conjuration and super strength respectively. Her aunt is a regular Storm (X-Men) because she can control the weather. One of her (poorly written and under-developed) cousins has super hearing, and another cousin can shape-shift because he is still discovering his identity (eye roll). Family Madrigal is made up of a bunch of self-congratulatory manic overachievers whose supernatural superiority is a neurotic group symptom of general unhappiness.
After a crisis besets the family and they lose their powers, it’s up to Mirabel to save the family, which equates to saving Encanto. Mirabel’s quest is to learn the secret of a long-lost cousin’s vision that placed Mirabel in the middle of the prophesied crisis. Skipping to the predictable end, the only way that the crisis can be solved is by completely destroying La Casita and rebuilding with a new foundation, which is philosophically, a manifestation of Encanto and Madrigal traditions, values, and beliefs. And instead of a foundation build upon individual contributions, Family Madrigal is now a community build upon the foundation of familial socialism, in which there are no individuals, just the group. Essentially, the entire structure of La Casita and Family madrigal had to be completely destroyed and rebuilt to accommodate Mirabel’s lack of a gift. Wonder if she even though to learn a new skill? Develop a talent? Which she has, she sings and dances beautifully. Perhaps Mirabel saw her world as unfair, but with a little critical thinking, perhaps she could’ve developed a method that didn’t require the dismantling of her entire world to rebuild it according to her standards. If everyone is the same with no regard for knowledge, skills, or abilities, then where is the incentive to learn, develop, and improve one’s self and society??? In the end, it’s the post-modern theory that favors the loss of the individual in exchange for a group identity that ultimately wins in the town of Encanto.
Flavorless and unsatisfying as this animated movie is, it did manage to execute some things well. Like the production and set design, for examples. The writing may be bland, but the design is spicy! You will be delighted at the bright colors, geometric shapes, and at times fever dream sequences. None of the songs are particularly memorable (hmm, kind of like this movie), but they are fun while they are on screen and the music will undoubtedly put you in the mood to grab a bite to eat at your local Colombian restaurant. Since this is the first Disney animated movie to take place in Columbia, I would’ve appreciated learning more about Colombian culture. Philosophically, this movie is incredibly problematic. But it is colorful and fun for an hour and a half, so you can best enjoy it as background noise while your focus is elsewhere.
Ryan teaches American and World Cinema at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.
Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1