For as long as I can remember, I have been obsessed with all things Disney. But I can’t remember a single movie that has enchanted me the way Jared Bush and Byron Howard’s Encanto did. As I write this review, I have watched the film three times already, and on every rewatch I find myself falling in love with the magic of Encanto.
How could I not? There is so much to love about Encanto, I could probably write a 3000+ words thesis paper on it. Instead, I’ll keep my movie review as short and precise as I can, and tell you the top 4 things to love about Encanto.
1. The Plot: Encanto Is Not Your Typical Heros’ Journey
With dazzlingly colorful animation, beautifully drawn vibrant characters, and a spellbinding soundtrack from Lin Minuel Miranda, Encanto follows the journey of Mirabel, an apparently average girl next door born in a family where every member has a special gift, or “miracle”, and living in a house that is made of magic itself.
But when the magic of their casita begins to fade, it is up to Mirabel to save her family’s miracle.
Sounds familiar right? Several of Disney’s latest works have been trying to break out of the typical fairy tale comes true themes, in much the same way. With heroines like Moana, Raya, Anna, and Elsa, it’s pretty obvious the direction Disney has been trying to go for the past few years: stories that may begin with a once upon a time but without Prince Charmings coming to the rescue.
Encanto and its Mirabel also fall in line with this same direction…and yet, the movie stands out from all of the above in some of the most radical ways.
And here’s what’s radical about Encanto, why it’s so mesmerizing no matter how many times you watch it: it’s a story about inner conflicts, about learning to love your family and seeing them for who they are. There’s no villain, no monster to track down and defeat. Instead, the demons that Madrigals need to fight are the demons that you and I struggle with every day: generational trauma, toxic relationships, and dysfunctional families.
The result of this unexpected realistic approach to a Disney movie is phenomenal: Encanto isn’t a movie that you love simply because of its colorful animation, upbeat songs, or exciting adventures; the real magic of Encanto is in the way it speaks to you and makes you see yourself in the portrayal of its characters.
It’s relatively easy to fight a threat that is external and tangible. If you think about it, facing off a physical monster with physical strengths and weaknesses is actually quite easy; when compared with trying to fight a threat you cannot see, hear, feel or touch.
How do you fight against a fear that you have never faced? How do you fight a fear that is inherited, passed down from your grandmother to your parents, and then down to you?
And that’s the threat the family Madrigal faces in Encanto: the fear of loss, the fear of being made powerless and homeless, the fear of death.
It’s a fear that perhaps only those of us from countries born of violence and oppression can relate to. Perhaps that is why Encanto seems to be such a hit with people of color, people like me who have grandparents that survived genocide and colonization.
Instead of the typical quests to obtain a magical object that will fix all problems, Encanto‘s heroine Mirabel needs to open her eyes to the truth of her family and learn to see them beyond their gifts and talents. Instead of a true love’s kiss to break an evil curse, kindness and compassion save the family Madrigal from losing their gifts.
2. The Dazzling Representation Of Colombian Culture
With brilliant animation and a celebration of vibrant colors, creators Jared Bush and Byron Howard add yet another not-so-subtle political message in Encanto: this extraordinary fantastical family is actually a family that has been displaced, generations of people who built a home out of nothing at all.
This is the kind of representation that has been largely absent in the film industry; to find it in a Disney movie, one meant for children, is extraordinary. And the careful attention to details with regards to Colombian culture, food, traditions, and even communication styles all goes to show that the creators were not aiming to add diversity for the sake of it, but with real honest intentions to promote inclusivity.
3. A Cast Of Incredibly Flawed & Relatable Characters
On every rewatch of Encanto, I find myself in tears even though I know what is to come. And the reason for this because every character in the family Madrigal is undeniably relatable, realistic, and loveable. Never mind, that they can heal injuries with food, control the weather with their mood, or grow flowers and move mountains–the Madrigals are memorable not for the gifts they have been given but for their own individual personalities.
Take Lousia for instance: the strong, reliable older sister who does not let anyone see how she struggles to stand tall while carrying all the greatest responsibilities. Her moments of self-doubt and weaknesses were painfully relatable for anyone who is the eldest in the family.
And of course, we must talk about Bruno–the black sheep of every family. He was such a painfully accurate representation of family members who don’t fit in and are eventually outcasted, it broke my heart to see his story being misunderstood by everyone he loved.
In the end, it is the family Madrigal themselves who will capture the magic of the movie Encanto, not because they are magical but because they are flawed and relatable.
4. An Undeniable Soundtrack That Weaves The Story Perfectly
There are several unforgettable and profoundly deep messages to reflect on after watching Encanto. When Mirabel sings the song Family Madrigal, she does so with pride and passion, but it is painfully clear the way she removes herself from the narrative of her own family’s story. In Waiting For A Miracle, she talks about how badly she wants her family to see her as someone worthy, not realizing that she herself was measuring her own family’s worth by their gifts.
I could go on and on about how each of Lin Minuel Miranda’s songs for this movie beautifully reflects a deeper message that stays with you, but then this review would become word vomit.
Instead, I’ll just say this: every song in Encanto weaves seamlessly into the movie to portray a story about a family that is remarkably relatable and adorably flawed.
And if you have not yet watched this movie, you are sorely missing out.