Encanto film review (2021)

Disney’s latest animated feature, Encanto, is rich with Latino representation. The animation is simply stunning, but what tugs at your heartstrings is the message it sends about the importance of family and accepting someone for who they are.

Disney’s Encanto is finally here, and it’s one I’ve been looking forward to for awhile now, especially as a Latino-American. The studio’s first release in 2021, Raya and the Last Dragon, was all sorts of fun with a fantastic story, stunning animation, and great characters. It’s something I’ve come to expect from most Disney animated projects, and although there have been some bumps on the road with not-so-great movies, Disney mostly stays consistent when delivering content. After seeing Encanto, it’s yet another phenomenal experience, delivering incredible charm and vibrant visuals from the very beginning. As mentioned, I’m Hispanic, and seeing this kind of representation offers a sense of nostalgia and, in many ways, hope for the future with other creators potentially following suit.

Encanto revolves around the main protagonist, Maribel Madrigal, and the Madrigal family who live surrounded by mountains in Colombia in a place called the Encanto. The Encanto is blessed magic that comes from a candle with a never-ending flame which, in turn, blesses every child with a supernatural ability known as a “gift.” Well, every child except Maribel. Despite her having no gift, she may prove to be her family’s only hope when she begins to discover they may be at risk of losing the magic of the Encanto for good.

Like most Disney movies, what always catches my eye from the very start is the animation and the music. I know I usually say this with every new Disney film, but this may be the best visuals I’ve seen in any Disney animated movie. This only goes to show how Disney is continuously upping its game and always working to create breathtaking animation. This film’s use of color in accordance with the background it’s trying to represent felt very familiar and accurate to the Colombia I know. Considering how my wife is Colombian and I’ve been to Cartagena, there’s a specific city there where many of the buildings are different, bright colors, with a variety of big doors consisting of distinct colors as well. Even some of the streets are colorful.

When seeing the house, which is full of life and has a mind of its own, have all these different colors and how it interacts with the Madrigal family, it sort of reminded me of how I felt being in Colombia at times. Of course, none of the houses move on their own or communicate with you in different ways, but I think the filmmakers were trying to capture the magic and vibe Colombia gives off by including this, and it was a very nostalgic feeling seeing it being displayed in this manner. Even the outside is full of life.

There’s a specific river they show in the movie, which I’m more than sure it’s inspired by a location in Colombia known as Cano Cristales, which is also known as the “River of Five Colors.” In Encanto, you see all the different colors from this river and it’s a beautiful thing to see real life being recreated in an animated format. Some other Colombian representation is on display with the people itself, as you can see various characters come from all kinds of different backgrounds based on how they look and how they speak. It’s very accurate in that regard. There’s even arepas with cheese in the movie, and that’s as Colombian as it can get.

Despite all the Colombian details, I wish I would’ve seen a bit more. Encanto is most definitely a Latino movie, but I wish I would’ve seen or heard some of the different accents and slang the people use in their language, as well as some other music. Colombian artist Carlos Vives is featured in it with some songs, but I was hoping for a bit more. The Colombian people sure do love their Salsa, so it would’ve been nice to hear a bit more of it. Regardless, the music is great, considering it’s coming from the masterful Lin-Manuel Miranda. That being said, his sound is starting to become somewhat familiar. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not hard to come to the conclusion Miranda is behind the music when you hear since some of the sounds sound similar to that you hear in other films and plays, such as Moana and In the Heights.

The voice cast is full of Colombian performers, including John Leguizamo (Bruno Madrigal), Diane Guerrero (Isabel Madrigal), Angie Cepeda (Julieta Madrigal), Wilmer Valderrama (Agustin Madrigal), Carolina Gaitan (Pepa Madrigal), Adassa (Dolores Madrigal), Mauro Castillo (Felix Madrigal), and Colombian musical artist, Maluma (Mariano Guzman). Being that Encanto is based in Colombia, it’s only right for voice actors with Colombian ancestry and backgrounds voice the characters in the movie. That being said, the same criticism still applies. Where is the Colombian slang and so on? I mean, it’s still very much Latino and maybe the creators were trying to cater to everyone else, especially the Latino community, and not just Colombians. But still, I don’t think it would’ve hurt the film at all. In fact, it only would’ve made the overall viewing experience better since it shows the creators did their homework and the voice actors also had the complete freedom to improvise with these characters and make it their own. Colombians have a very distinct accent, so I was hoping they would’ve dug into that a bit more. Nonetheless, and don’t get it twisted, it’s still a fantastic piece of representation, but there’s always room for improvement.

As performances go, the voice acting is phenomenal. Beatriz is fantastic as Mirabel and it’s great to finally see her getting bigger roles. It’s been an incredible 2021 for her, considering she played Carla in Jon M. Chu’s In the Heights, and now she gets the leading role in a Disney film. It can only go up from here. Part of Mirabel’s charm and why certain viewers can relate to her is because she’s sort of an outsider looking for acceptance. Although she’s loved, at the same time, she’s also different compared to most of her family members, and I think many of us can relate to a situation like this. Credit is owed to Beatriz for being able to bring this character to the screen and make her extremely likable to everyone watching.

Some other stand-out characters are Leguizamo’s Bruno and Guerrero’s Isabel. Bruno, in many ways, is in a similar situation to Mirabel’s. Although he does have a unique gift, he’s also very weird, which makes him sort of an outsider as well. It’s great to see him and Mirabel establish a connection over this because, at the end of the day, they long to be accepted for who they are. Ultimately, this is the message of the movie. No matter who you are and no matter what special traits or abilities you possess, all people want is to be loved by those they love the most, regardless of the situation. This is why I found Isabel’s character to be equally as interesting. From the outside looking in, she’s the picture-perfect individual and gets virtually anything she desires. Deep down, however, she longs for something more than just being perfect. She wants to be accepted for all the other sides of her no one sees and hopes people don’t see her in a different light because of it. Encanto does a spectacular job with its imagery when breaking down these characters and each of them have something different to offer.

Encanto is all about Latino representation and it tells an important message people need right now. It doesn’t matter who you are and you do and don’t possess. You are special and loved. The spoiled side of me wanted a bit more Colombians themes in terms of the language and how Colombia is shown as a whole. But, it’s still expertly crafted with its animation, story, and music. Latinos, and all kinds of people in general, should be rushing to the theater to see this.

Score: A

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