The end credits for today’s animated films run for so long that if you live within a mile or two of your local theater, you might make it home before all the production supervisors and effects animators and character technical directors and environment-look supervisors and visual effects artists and crowd/fix animators and layout artists and lighting and compositing artists et al. get their due.
It takes a studio village. It usually takes years. And in the case of the vibrant, gorgeous, eye-popping, colorful and, well, enchanting “Encanto,” you can see the effort of every single individual listed in the credits come to full flourish on the big screen. Disney’s 60th animated film is one of the most beautiful in the long and storied history of the catalog, and a surefire contender for best animated feature of 2021.
With crisp and assured direction from Byron Howard and Jared Bush (with lead screenwriter Charise Castro Smith co-directing), a bounty of catchy new songs by the ubiquitous treasure that is one Lin-Manuel Miranda and fantastic voice work from the ensemble cast, “Encanto” is a magical and warmhearted journey with lovely messaging about the importance of family, some genuinely funny set pieces and those stunning visuals that fill every corner of the screen. If you could hug a movie, this is the kind of movie you’d want to hug.
Whereas so many Disney fairy tales feature ambitious and adventurous young characters who yearn to escape the walls of their gilded palaces or homes, “Encanto” is all about the wonders INSIDE and around a particularly special household: the multistory casita occupied by three generations of the Madrigal family. The candy-colored home is the centerpiece of a town nestled deep in the mountains of Colombia, and it’s a character unto itself, as the tiles ripple like dominoes and the bedroom doors are glowing, mystical entryways to bedrooms occupied by various family members with special gifts.
Meet the Madrigals:
• Abuela Alma (Maria Cecilia Botero) is the family matriarch, who was gifted with a continually glowing special candle during a time of great tragedy when she was a young mother – a candle that sits in a windowsill and is the source of all the magic within the house.
• Julieta (Angie Cepeda) can heal any ailments with her cooking, while Julieta’s sister, Aunt Pepa (Carolina Gaitan), controls the weather with her feelings. Cousin Dolores (Adassa) has super-hearing, while another cousin, Camilo (Rhenzy Feliz), is a mischievous shape-shifter.
• Julieta’s daughter Isabela (Diane Guerrero) is a classic animated beauty who makes flowers bloom everywhere, while Isabela’s older sister, Luisa (Jessica Darrow), has Thor-level strength.
Then there’s Julieta’s third daughter, Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz), who is the heroine of our story and, in classic underdog-Disney fashion, is also the black sheep of the family, as she has no magic gift and has a propensity for getting in everyone’s way and messing things up, no matter how good her intentions. Abuela can’t hide her disappointment with Mirabel, Isabela is constantly mean girl-ing Mirabel, and everyone else pretty much ignores her or tells her to get out of the way.
One of the cool things about “Encanto” is how the townsfolk aren’t fearful of the Madrigals or assembling a mob to destroy this mysterious and supernaturally gifted family; it’s quite the opposite, as they depend on the Madrigals’ special talents to keep the village thriving, and enjoy flocking to the home for special occasions. It’s a wonderfully diverse, vibrant community where music and joy are the order of the day.
Until the inevitable darkness on the horizon.
When Mirabel is the only one to see cracks in the house (literally), indicating the candle could soon blow out and all the magic will be lost, things start to go terribly wrong, and of course, Mirabel is blamed and shunned. Still, she remains determined to save her family, even if they don’t appreciate her. In the meantime, we’re introduced to a key supporting player, John Leguizamo’s hilariously eccentric Uncle Bruno, who disappeared years ago and becomes a reluctant ally to his fellow outcast Mirabel.
From a flashback set to Miranda’s Spanish-language “Dos Oruguitas” to the rousing ensemble numbers “Welcome to the Family Madrigal” to “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” to the Mirabel/Isabela duet “What Else Can I Do?” to the anthemic “Colombia, Mi Encanto,” the songs in “Encanto” are infectious and instantly memorable. Blending just the right mixture of comedy, heartwarming family drama and thrilling adventures, this is one of my favorite movies – animated or otherwise – of the year.