By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
Walt Disney Animation Studios continuing plan to explore other cultures through their films has always been enlightening even though they aren’t always educational. Their latest, Encanto, is a mixed bag of wonder created by a committee.
Byron Howard, Jared Bush and Charise Castro Smith introduce us to a latino world where mysticism is still practised. The backstory reveals how the Madrigal family became the town’s founders and protectors. A magical hacienda (called a Casita in the film) emerged out of the candle and it’s been protecting this clan for generations, so long as it keeps burning. It’s easy to ignore one factual problem of living in the middle of nowhere and nothing has been said further about those pesky conquistadores.
What’s past is past, which looked ripe to expand upon within this world, but instead, the story shifts to the present, and a future which depends on how Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz) can right all that’s wrong in her home. She’s the odd duck out because she hasn’t inherited none of that ol’ black magic. The rest of her family has abilities to keep their clan safe and tend to the upkeep of the town that’s developed around the estate.
This film doesn’t explain why the folklore of Columbia matters. Nor do we get to see anything resembling the legends or lore of the land. We do see the Madrigal family love to sing and dance, but as for why that matters, no one is the shaman. That lays on Alma (María Cecilia Botero) and she’s not as connected to the Astral plane as I’d hoped. She’s an Abuela—the grand matriarch—instead, and I never got the sense she is a mystical figure protecting this Spanish Camelot from external forces which we see little of.
The reason Mirabel can find cracks in her home is obvious. She believes she no longer belongs in this family since she hasn’t found her true potential. Everyone else has, and they love to praise their ability in classical Broadway fashion. That seems conceited than appropriate for a court whom others visit from time to time.
Unfortunately, none of the songs are all that memorable. My guess is that composer Lin-Manuel Miranda ran out of inspiration after Moana. When considering the paint-by-numbers output this studio has been pumping out on a frequent and predictable basis, Encanto’s charm will not last forever.
3 Stars out of 5