As Disney celebrates its 60th anniversary, it’s interesting to observe how far it’s come in its efforts to celebrate diversity and in its depictions of the world’s different cultures. Encanto is a slice of magical realism, set in a fictional settlement hidden somewhere deep in the Colombian jungle. Gifted to its original settlers by unknown powers via a magical candle, and presided over by the stern Alma Madrigal (voiced by Maria Cecilia Botero), this is a place where the very walls and floors are sentient, moving to accommodate and assist all who pass through its doors. (Note to self: I need a place like this.)
Alma’s children and her extended family are blessed with bizarre magical ‘gifts,’ which range from super-strength to the ability to create exotic flowers at will. Only one of the Madrigals has missed out on these abilities and that’s Mirabel (Stepanie Beatriz), who tries not to feel left out as everyone around her performs eye-popping wonders at the drop of a proverbial hat.
Then one day, Mirabel sees something strange: the Madrigal’s beloved home breaking asunder as, for some unknown reason, it begins to lose its magic. She tries telling the others what she seen, but Alma instructs her, in no uncertain terms, to keep her mouth shut. Could it be that Mirabel is like her mysterious Uncle Bruno (John Leguizamo), who also had dark visions, always got blamed when things went wrong – and eventually went missing?
As you’d expect from the House of Mouse, the animation here is dazzling and the many different characterisations are beautifully realised. Throw in some original Latinx-flavoured songs by man of the moment, Lin Manuel Miranda, and you have a rich and vibrant feast that seems tailor-made for festive viewing, even though there isn’t a snowflake or a sprig of holly in sight.
If Encanto has a weakness, it’s in its storyline.
While the film concentrates on the importance of family and how being ordinary should never be seen as a failing, the story’s narrative arc features no sense of threat, no real danger. The worst that can happen to the Madrigals is they might lose their fancy house and their super-powers and will have to content themselves with being just like the other people in their community. Which really doesn’t generate enough suspense to make me care enough about the outcome.
Perhaps I’m being churlish – and I’m hardly in this film’s demographic. As I said, the animation here is state-of-the-art and the music will have you dancing in your seat. If you have youngsters who need entertaining and you’re looking for a feel-good festive treat than Encanto could be exactly what you’re looking for.