Review: Disney’s ‘Encanto’ enchants with awkward teen heroine and catchy tunes from Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda

  • Starring Stephanie Beatriz from ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine,’ the film tells the heartwarming tale of a magical family in Colombia
  • Although the characters at the centre of the film, the Madrigal family, have supercool abilities, they have problems just like everyone else
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A still from the film “Encanto,” which features music written by “Hamilton’s” Lin-Manuel Miranda. Photo: YouTube/ Walt Disney Animation Studios

Disney Animation’s 60th film Encanto introduces a dysfunctional Colombian clan we can all relate to as we prep for our annual Christmas dinners.

The fabulous Madrigals have supercool abilities, but similar problems to your average family in the musical fantasy, fuelled by a tonne of peppy new Lin-Manuel Miranda songs. Directed by Zootopia filmmakers Byron Howard and Jared Bush, Encanto centres on a teenager who doesn’t feel special around her astounding family members, though she learns that each has their own role to play for a happy collective. While the narrative doesn’t totally land, the voice cast is solid and the vibe is consistently joyous.

Enthusiastically played by Stephanie Beatriz (Brooklyn Nine-Nine), Mirabel is a 15-year-old member of the large Madrigal family, who live in an enchanted house and are celebrities in their Colombian mountain village. Decades ago, matriarch Abuela Alma (María Cecilia Botero) was saved from tragedy by a magical candle, and ever since then, each child born into her family has been given a special ability when they turn 5: Mirabel’s extremely buff sister Luisa (Jessica Darrow) is super-strong, their “perfect” sibling Isabela (Diane Guerrero) can conjure up beautiful flowers, and gossipy cousin Dolores (reggaeton singer Adassa) has crazy good hearing.

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Mirabel is the one exception, having never received a gift, and it makes her feel like an outsider in her own home. However normal she might be, Mirabel is the first to notice something wrong with the mojo that makes the Madrigals special, and when no one really wants to listen to her warnings, she goes on a quest to fix it so she can finally live up to her grandmother’s lofty standards. Along the way, she learns of the insecurities underlying the various Madrigals’ cool talents and meets her long-lost uncle Bruno (John Leguizamo), who became estranged from the family because of his gift of prophecy.

Stephanie Beatriz, known for her role as Rosa on the show “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” voices the main character, the awkward teen Mirabel. Photo: EPA-EFE

Co-written by Bush and Charise Castro Smith (The Haunting of Hill House), Encanto utilises Miranda’s songs (like those he wrote for Moana and Vivo) for exposition and character development. The Family Madrigal is the catchy opening number sung by Mirabel breaking down the main characters, Waiting on a Miracle is a stunning “I Want” song that’ll be many little girls’ favourite tune, Surface Pressure is a window into the metaphorical weight Luisa carries on her muscular shoulders, and We Don’t Talk About Bruno acts as the film’s delightful ensemble show-stopper.

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Miranda’s accordion-powered music is a part of the movie’s overall spotlight on Colombian culture, and the various different Madrigals pop amid this vibrant landscape, courtesy of some outstanding animation. Beatriz’s Mirabel is a poster child for awkwardness – however, that plus a wonderful sense of humour and big heart make her a quite enjoyable character to watch on a journey of identity and acceptance. And voiced endearingly well by Leguizamo, Bruno arrives later in the proceedings but still manages to hijack Encanto as the family’s scene-stealing, oddball black sheep.

(L-R) Luis Miranda Jr, Luz Towns Miranda, Lin-Manuel Miranda and wife his Vanessa Nadal arrive for the world premiere of “Encanto” at the El Capitan Theatre in Los Angeles, California. Lin-Manuel wrote the music for the film. Photo: EPA-EFE

The plot, however, lets them down after a great start gives way to a third act that seems to miss the film’s central point. Also, the family is so huge that some interesting supporting characters get lost as the story shifts to Mirabel’s main quest, and the movie just doesn’t have enough time to flesh out the fascinating relationship between the Madrigals and the neighbours who hang on their every deed.

But some storytelling misfires won’t keep this movie being loved by kids and Hamilton junkies. From the catchy tunes to the lovable Mirabel, Encanto conjures a winning musical tale about universal family ties.

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