‘Encanto’ is semi-charmed
“Encanto” begins as all animated Disney films must—with the traumatic death of an elder. Abuela Alma Madrigal (María Cecilia Botero) recounts the story of how long ago some machete-wielding villains cut down her husband just after she gave birth to triplets. To compensate the widow, the universe provides her with an everlasting, superpower-granting candle and a fabulous casita in the Colombian countryside. In this enchanted abode, Spanish tiles animate and bring your slippers to you in the morning and a sentient stovetop ensures you never have to worry about over-charring your elote. Their house also helps to shelter other campesinos in the village, providing a sort of trickle-down magic to the neighbors.
Alma oversees a growing clan of Madrigal family descendants, all of whom boast powerful brows and supernatural talents except for our bespectacled, big-hearted shero, Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz). Her mean older sister, Isabela (Diane Guerrero), a perfect beauty whose every touch turns to an explosion of roses, says, “Maybe your gift is being in denial.” Mirabel’s other sister, Luisa (Jessica Darrow), is a donkey-carrying, river-rerouting powerhouse. And her young cousin Antonio (Ravi Cabot-Conyers) receives the gift of talking to animals, so he can commune with coatis and capybaras and ride a jaguar around the house. Overall, it’s a lovely home unless you have allergies to flora or fauna.
A plethora of other gifted family members hold up a flawless façade because Abuela does not want to admit the cracks are beginning to show in the casita. When Mirabel starts to investigate, Abuela hisses, “The miracle is dying because of you.” Jeez grandma.
Directors Jared Bush, Byron Howard and Charise Castro Smith jam the screen with flowers and fireworks and tropical birds. Because it is not possible to have a musical about Latinos without the presence of Lin-Manuel Miranda, he does eight songs. Perhaps he needed more time, because these lack the juice of his best work. It’s helpful at least that the family surname, Madrigal, rhymes with magical.
Miranda penned a whole song called “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” but this is a professional review and we must. As voiced by John Leguizamo, Mirabel’s uncle Bruno is locked in the attic like Rochester’s unfortunate first wife in “Jane Eyre.” Behind glowing green eyes, he’s troubled by untreated mental illness and dark visions of a Madrigal family futures. But Mirabel rescues him from his prison between the walls and they go about keeping the candle burning.
The film would have benefited from a few more adventures, a little less teenage angst and, though this rarely said about the expressionless uber-rodent, we could’ve used a bit more capybara. “Encanto” is comfortable to be a toucan-bright and passable entertainment that contains at least a few truths about the pressure to forever play the same roles in our families.