Encanto is a heartwarming but predictable fantasy family drama

Length: 102 minutes
Directors: Byron Howard, Jared Bush
Writers: Jared Bush, Charise Castro Smith
Cast: Stephanie Beatriz, John Leguizamo, María Cecilia Botero, Diane Guerrero, Jessica Darrow, Angie Cepeda, Wilmer Valderrama

In theatres from 25 Nov 2021 (Singapore); 8 Dec 2021 (Philippines)

3.5 out of 5 stars

Disney's latest animated film, Encanto, is about a family in Colombia with magical powers. In line with the movie's showcase of Hispanic culture, with an all-Latino cast, its story was inspired by magic realism, a genre closely associated with Latin American literature.

Most of the members of the Madrigal family, headed by their elderly matriarch, Abuela Alma, each possess a magical ability bestowed upon them by a magic candle. This candle appeared before Alma many years ago when she and her husband were escaping from murderous thugs (likely a reference to Colombia's long history of conflict and displacement, but this isn't explained. Well, it's a movie primarily targeted at children, after all.)

Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz) and Bruno (John Leguizamo) in Encanto. (Still: Disney)
Outcasts Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz) and Bruno (John Leguizamo) team up to save their family's magic. (Still: Disney)

Alma's husband was sadly killed, but the candle uses its power to save her by giving her three babies special powers and creating an enchanted enclave in the mountains shielded from the outside world. Alma herself doesn't have any power, but she raises her gifted children and her grandchildren, using their magical powers to build a village and benefit the community.

The Madrigals' abilities include super-strength, control over the weather, and creating flowers from thin air. The main character, Mirabel, is the only Madrigal offspring who mysteriously wasn't gifted with any power, so she feels like an outcast in her own family.

Some of the Madrigals' gifts are perplexingly less useful powers, such as shape-shifting to look like other people – how does this ability help the village?

The Madrigal family possesses magical powers in Encanto. (Still: Disney)
The Madrigal family possesses magical powers in Encanto. (Still: Disney)

The family's magical powers suddenly begin to disappear one day, however, and Mirabel takes it upon herself to save their magic.

The movie is heartwarming, though quite predictable for adults. There were also too many characters to feature (11 in total), which left insufficient screen time to develop the conflict between the core characters, Alma and Mirabel. Despite the amazing abilities of the characters, don't expect big-scale action – there's no traditional villain to fight. At its heart this is a family drama with a message to love your kin regardless of their abilities.

Encanto is a "break-into-song" musical, with eight songs written by Lin-Manuel Miranda (who also wrote another recent musical featuring the Hispanic community, In the Heights.) The Madrigals mostly sing about the pressure of unfair expectations foisted upon them; the tunes are not bad but none are really memorable, like Miranda's hit song "How Far I'll Go" from that other musical he wrote for Disney, Moana.

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