Disney introduces a new “Disney Princess” who is neither a princess nor looking for a prince. In “Encanto,” the heroine is a quirky girl who isn’t perfect, skinny or beautiful, but still has enough empathy and spunk to save her family. That shouldn’t be a spoiler because this is family-friendly Disney so happy endings are expected. Getting to the happy ending is what makes the difference and Jake Bush and Charise Castro Smith’s story under Byron Howard (“Tangled” and “Zootopia”) and Bush’s (“Zootopia”) direction gets us there with the joyous music of Germaine Franco (score) and songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda.
That doesn’t mean “Encanto” doesn’t have some worthy social commentary. The matriarch of the family Alma Madrigal (María Cecilia Botero) was crossing a stream with her husband somewhere in Colombia when the men chasing them kill her husband Pedro. Left with her three children–Julieta, Pepa and Bruno, Alma is saved when the candle she has been holding becomes enchanted. The magic of the candle protects the Family Madrigal by hiding their small village and then by giving their house the ability to grow and grant each child some gift. The house is a living entity, capable of growing, moving, helping and expressing its feelings.
Alma’s children were the first to be given magical powers. Julieta (Angie Cepeda) can heal things with her cooking. Pepa (Carolina Gaitán) can control the weather, but when she’s feeling bad, the weather also becomes bad. Bruno (John Leguizamo) was given the ability to predict the future, but like Cassandra of Troy, he is not always believed. Bruno has left the family and no one talks about him.
Alma is now the grandmother, Abuela, and matriarch of the house. Julieta has married Agustín (Wilmer Valderrama) and they have three daughters: the perfect Isabela (Diane Guerrero) who can make flowers appear everywhere, the big-boned Luisa (Jessica Darrow) who has superhuman strength and the youngest Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz). At her coming-of-age ceremony, Mirabel didn’t receive a special door and room as the house granted her no special power.
Pepa married Félix (Mauro Castillo) and had three children: Dolores (Adassa) who can hear everything, the shape-shifting Camilo (Rhenzy Feliz) and Antonio (Ravi-Cabot Conyers).
The family uses their skills to help each other and the villagers. The villagers depend upon them, especially on Luisa to get a lot of the hard work done. The whole Family Madrigal is preparing for Antonio’s door ceremony when he will leave the room he has been sharing with Mirabel and the magical house with grant him his own room along with his special gift. The family is a bit worried that things will not go as planned because of what happened with Mirabel. Even Antonio is nervous, but Mirabel walks him up the steps and Antonio is given the ability to communicate with the animals and opening his door, he enters a room that is larger inside and includes a jungle filled with friendly animals.
During the celebration for Antonio, Mirabel sees cracks suddenly form in the house. She runs to tell her family, but the cracks have disappeared. Mirabel is puzzled but certain of what she saw. She then learns that Abuela believes her and has been worrying. Asking Dolores, Mirabel then learns that her sister Luisa has been feeling pressured by her responsibilities and the dependency of the villagers.
Mirabel feels that somehow her uncle Bruno holds the key and entering her room she finds a broken pieces of greenish glass. Putting them together, she finds Bruno may have predicted that Mirabel was connected to the cracking of their magical house.
Isabela isn’t happy either although she is about to be engaged to a handsome villager, Mariano. Dolores is in love with Mariano, but feels she can’t go against what Abuela has decided. However the engagement dinner is a disaster and when Mirabel is blamed, Mirabel decides the answer lies with Bruno.
The film is a lesson in family obligations and the magic of love. What’s wonderful is that Mirabel is not thin, she’s a bit klutzy and she wears glasses. This is a Disney heroine that probably has lots of bad hair days. Mirabel also belongs to a family that has different hues of skin color, including the Afro-Latinos as you can see from the poster that features Antonio with a toucan perched on his arm.
Mirabel isn’t looking for a prince. At the end, only Dolores is matched up with a potential husband (Mariano). Mirabel and her older sisters, Isabela and Luisa, have no man on the horizon and Mirabel doesn’t need the help of a man to save her family. Yet she doesn’t save the house or her family alone. It does take a village.
As for the score, it is pleasant, but none of the songs sank their hooks into my mind to become an ear worm but some will definitely be good on the dance floor. As the odd person out amongst my own siblings, I certainly felt touched by Mirabel’s struggles, but Bush and Smith’s script showed that everyone had problems, even those who seem perfect. Howard and Bush’s direction was well-paced and the laughs were definitely there.
“Encanto” premiered that El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood on 3 November 2021. It released theatrically in the US and UK on 24 November 2021. In English and Spanish.