By Nichole Harwood
How far would you go to save a family that doesn’t believe you can save it? This is a question that the main character of Disney’s latest animated film Encanto explores as the youngest girl and only ungifted child in the family Madrigal, Mirabel, searches relentlessly for a way to save her family.
Mirabel is met with countless obstacles, including multiple confrontations with the head of the family Abuela Alma Madrigal (affectionately referred to as just Abuela), who continues to deny that any danger to the family exists at all. Despite this, our heroine continues forward, determined to save her family and home.
What is the best word to describe this film with a straightforward plot and charming main character?
Brilliant. From the characters to the music to the final resolution, Disney’s Encanto can only be described as brilliant.
Set in early 20th-century Colombia, the film goes out of its way to explore Colombian culture while focusing on making each character relatable to anyone watching the movie. Even if you can’t understand each inner crisis each member of the house of Madrigal experiences, chances are you know someone who does.
This all starts with our main character Mirabel. Despite being the only ungifted child in a house filled with other family members brimming with creative and unique superpowers, Mirabel never once comes across as bitter towards any of her family members. Despite this, the film doesn’t go the extreme other direction either of making Mirbel angelically perfect as she expresses both envy and despair in her heartbreaking number “Waiting On A Miracle,” where she tries to convince herself she’s okay being the lone powerless member-only to break down as she admits to herself she’s not.
Mirbel’s inner look into her desperate situation isn’t the only time the movie takes a moment to explore the inner workings and complications of being human as it highlights both of Mirbel’s older sisters, Luisa and Isabella, in their respective musical numbers. Luisa’s talent is by far the most useful with her super-strength. However, because of its usefulness, she finds herself struggling under the figurative and often literal weight of her family’s and the village’s demands to carry all the responsibility thrown onto her. Her song “Surface Pressure” is one that any oldest child of a family will easily relate to with her lyrics:
“Under the surface
I feel berserk as a tightrope walker in a three-ring circus
Under the surface
Was Hercules ever like, “Yo, I don’t wanna fight Cerberus”?
Under the surface
I’m pretty sure I’m worthless if I can’t be of service.”
The last note is remarkably striking as it reflects the ugliest thoughts we keep to ourselves regarding self-worth and responsibility. In parallel, while I didn’t connect to it as strongly, Isabella’s number “What Else Can I Do?” is easily just as impactful to the movie as it explores the mind of a middle child who is seen to be perfect and has little choice but to continue to reflect others ideas of perfection all while struggling to keep her desires buried.
Encanto doesn’t shy from tackling dark issues in its dialogue when not in a musical number either. The character of Bruno, the missing uncle who supposedly ran from his family, is probably the movie’s most pure character as he talks with his niece regarding his decision to hide from his family when he realized his powers (the power to see the future, which often predicts bad situations) were causing other distress.
“My gift wasn’t helping the family…but I love my family,” Bruno tells Mirabel as he justifies subjecting himself to a lonely lifestyle to spare others’ grief.
These small examples, from the lyrics to the song to the characters’ dialogue, really make Encanto special. Movies generally shy away from hearing main characters tackle their inner issues or at the very least only let one main character tackle these issues. In Encanto, we don’t see just one, but multiple characters tackle their inner issues while still connecting to what often drives these issues or gives life to them – love for their family.
That isn’t to say the music, comedy, or Encanto’s animation aren’t also brilliant. They are. But what drew me was that the movie stepped forward and tackled what it means to be in a loving family. Sometimes that love can cause you to be filled with self-doubt or even weigh you down with pressure no one asked you to take on. Happily ever after doesn’t mean everything will be perfect and no good family is.
I won’t spoil the conclusion or what is responsible for the danger to Mirabel’s family’s magic. Still, I will tell you that Encanto will leave you enchanted from beginning to end while making you confront actual issues we all struggle with in a way that shows that you are not alone in this world.
If this movie isn’t an instant Disney Classic, I have no idea what else could possibly be.
Film Score: A+++++ (can I add more pluses?)
Those interested in watching Encanto can find the movie on Disney +
Want to check out more movie reviews? Check out our last review Cruella 2021 Review: Brilliant but Neither Bad or Mad!