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Only counting their canon-animated films, from the beginning to now, The Walt Disney Company has made 60 animated films. That’s incredible, and the fact so many of them are influential classics, award-winning staples, and pop culture fixtures is impressive. Not all of them are great, and some are really bad, but considering the context of the time period they were released, you can understand what was going on behind the scenes with them. Still, to have a pretty good overall batting average is what a lot of animation studios hope to have. While the number of amazing films doesn’t wash away a lot of the problematic and troubling elements the company has, I’m glad to have been able to see the different generations of Disney films be released and see how things have changed for the studio for better or for worse. How about we see how well their 60th animated feature turns out? Let’s dive into the world of Encanto!
Co-directed by Charise Castro Smith, Jared Bush, and Byron Howard, and co-written by Charise Castro Smith, and Jared Bush, the story stars Mirabel Madrigal, voiced by Stephanie Beatriz. She is one of the many children of the Madrigal family in Colombia, a family who has been blessed with many of the members having their own “miracles” that make them special. One sibling can shapeshift, another is super-strong, or can hear from miles away, and you get the idea. Mirabel, on the other hand, has no powers and feels like a disappointment among the family members. One night, after the celebration of a new sibling getting the power to talk to animals, Mirabel gets visions of the house falling apart and the magic leaving the family. What is going on exactly? Why does no one talk about Bruno? What is going on with the house and the magic?
The first thing to really notice about the overall story is how smaller-scale and personal it is. There’s no “this will be the end of the world as we know it.” plotline or something that could change the face of the earth as we know it. A mass majority of the film takes place either within the magical house or adjacent to it. It doesn’t turn into a globe-trotting adventure, and instead becomes a more intimate story about family and legacy alongside the stress and pressure brought upon by the previous generations. The “miracles” you see within the film are not just a creative quirk given to a majority of the family members. Instead, the powers represent the different struggles of certain members of the family. For example, Luisa is super-strong, but her gift is also causing immense stress of having to carry the weight and legacy of the family on her shoulders. Pepa and her ability to control the weather via her emotions create so much pressure to always be sunshine and peachy and never sad. Isabela has to be constantly perfect, and while she looks like she does it effortlessly, there is some real turmoil under her facade. Camilo can shapeshift, but you can look at it as a perspective on both finding out who he is and having to have a certain look to help with the image of the family. The execution here reminds me of something you would see in something via Pixar or in something akin to a film from overseas. While they could have spent a little more time expanding or exploring some of these ideas, I love that they went in this direction with the powers and the main conflict being the bond between the family members.
It’s also, simply put, nice to see the team make a film that’s entirely focused on a family. It’s not Mamoru Hosoda’s level of focus, but the fact that they keep the family as the main focal point and don’t really leave some of the members out as secondary characters is great. They have done this before, where they introduce a whole family, but most of them get sent to the background. Here, while some family members get more focus than others, the overall family still plays an important part to the story. The igniting point still might be Mirabel and her relationship with her grandmother, but how many animated films have you seen that keep the family as the focus? Even Pixar has been hit-and-miss with the family dynamic in their films.
Animation-wise, Disney is always going to be showing off how much they spent on their animated films. The time and care that goes into their animated films show why they are at the top of their game. The gorgeous color palette makes this one of the most visually stunning animated features of the year. The designs are also improving from the usual Disney look, and while some of the typical Disney designs are there with the eyes, the fact the main cast has so many different body types is impressive. The voice cast is also great. You have a film full of Latinx and Colombian representation, and for the heck of it, one cameo from Alan Tudyk. Still, outside of that, we have an incredible cast that includes Stephanie Beatriz, John Leguizamo, Wilmer Valderrama, Angie Cepeda, Jessica Darrow, Diane Guerrero, Maria Cecilia Botero, Rhenzy Feliz, Carolina Gaitan, Mauro Castillo, Adassa, Ravi-Cabot Conyers, and Maluma. Of course, this is a musical, with a score by Germaine Franco, and songs by Lin Manuel Miranda. Out of his two animated offerings this year, Encanto has the better song list than Vivo, and I enjoyed Vivo a lot for its music.
Now, there are a few nit-picks that build up over time. Personally, the film should have been longer. Disney is gonna Disney, and for some reason, most of their animated fare is always 100 minutes. Not to say there needs to be a regular runtime for certain animated films, but they could have easily expanded upon the story and themes a little more to really dive into the story. It would have also helped pace out the songs due to how many there are and how close they can be to one another. It might be the fact that Disney, even though they are pushing themselves a little further now than in previous films, is still feeling like they are held back by their own identity as a brand. It’s going to start hurting them once other studios start going outside of their own boundaries as Sony has. There is much more competition these days, and Disney needs to remember that they can be beaten at the award game if they are not careful. Hopefully, they can, but this is just the animation critic side of me coming out.
Even with the small complaints, Encanto is quite possibly the best Disney animated feature in ages. It, at the very least, might be my favorite animated film from Disney in a good long time. It doesn’t quite beat a few other animated films of the year, but it’s going to be in the top five. That is, unless some other films come through my animation-loving targeting. Now then, next time, we will be covering Back to the Outback, the final Netflix animated feature that they are willing to tell you about. I mean, there is also Green Snake and the other animated films they are bringing over, but unless you hear it from them, you won’t know. Either way, we have some animated films to talk about this month!
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