Byron Howard and Jared Bush’s “Encanto” features art that is certainly enchanting but lacks tension.
“Encanto” presents the story of Mirabel as she tries to find her role in a family full of magic. When a threat to the source of her family’s magic appears, Mirabel takes it upon herself to solve the mystery.
The first thing that has to be noted when discussing this musical is just how beautiful the animation is. The colors are vibrant and plentiful, the attention to detail is unrivaled and the characters are all unique. Mirabel’s outfit is littered with stunning yarn crafts dedicated to her family members. Never before have I thought that I needed to see yarn animated, but now that I’ve seen it done perfectly, I cannot go back. In future animated films, if I cannot tell the thread count of the character’s sheets, I might be disappointed; that is the bar that this insanely talented animation team has set.
The songs in this musical serve a purpose and aren’t forced in. Lin Manuel Miranda’s style certainly shows and the songs do an excellent job of highlighting Mirabel’s anxiety about feeling inferior to everyone around her. The song “Surface Pressure” stands out in particular as an example of how to build up a character and plot through song (even if it caused my partner to casually mention that she would leave me for Luisa).
One issue with “Encanto” is that it has no villain or external force to help build drama or excitement. Any tension that is generated is usually dispersed within seconds by something silly. All of the drama is within the family, which can certainly be enough to carry a film, but it falls short here. At one point Mirabel’s father, played by the underused Wilmer Valderrama, shouts “I was thinking of my daughter!” but because the character had shown almost no interest in his daughter to that point, it fell flat. Similarly, a seemingly normal sibling rivalry suddenly becomes central to the plot but is resolved just as quickly and fairly unsatisfactorily.
That isn’t to say that the plot is devoid of charm. The concept behind the characters bounces between clever and genius. Mirabel’s mom, Julieta, cooks food that heals physically as opposed to just spiritually like normal mothers. Her aunt Pepa generates storm clouds when she is worried, which is most of the time. “Encanto” is full of characters like these that are relatable and likeable.
The characters are voiced by an extremely talented cast, headlined by Stephanie Beatriz as Mirabel. Beatriz is perhaps best known for her role as the grumpy and sarcastic cop, Rosa Diaz from “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” Mirabel, in contrast, is an uppity teenager with pipes that cares about everyone and everything, which Beatriz excellently conveys. Beatriz is joined by John Leguizamo, of Super Mario Bros infamy, who delivers a heartfelt performance as Bruno, the mysterious outcast of the family. While these two are the highlights, the rest of the cast give strong, convincing performances.
“Encanto” is certainly worth a watch, if for no other reason than to see talented artists do what they do best. It isn’t a perfect film but it is an enjoyable one that has something for everyone.
Star Rating: 4 /5
“Encanto” is available for streaming only on Disney+