2021, PG, 99 min. Directed by Jared Bush, Byron Howard, Charise Castro Smith. Voices by Stephanie Beatriz, María Cecilia Botero, John Leguizamo, Diane Guerrero, Jessica Darrow, Ravi Cabot-Conyers, Angie Cepeda, Wilmer Valderrama, Carolina Gaitan, Mauro Castillo.

REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Nov. 26, 2021

The Madrigal family’s enchanted casa is imaginatively alive in this Disney computer-animated musical showcasing Latin-infused songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda (In the Heights, Hamilton). From the outside, this fairy-tale mansion nestled in the Colombian mountains is a carousel of color, its multi-pastel adobe façade accented by vibrant purple and pink bougainvillea, a welcoming front door painted teal. (Yes, there’s a passing resemblance to Cinderella’s castle.) But its exquisiteness goes beyond a strikingly otherworldly appearance. The Madigral home is possessed, not by ghosts or demons, but by a miraculous candle with an eternal flame that its long-ago recipient, the somewhat tyrannical family matriarch Abuela Alma (Botero), stubbornly believes will never snuff out. The shutters flap open and shut to wave hello; tile floors ripple to respond to a question; and window seats shrug when stumped for an answer. What’s more, shoes catapult to land into feet; coffee pots tilt to pour themselves; and open cupboards release dishes to set the dinner table. It’s a blast to anticipate what this spellbound abode will do next, making it the best thing about Encanto.

In keeping with the movie’s fantastic premise (call it “magicky realism” – it’s a kid’s movie, not Gabriel García Márquez or Isabel Allende), the candle bestows a unique gift upon each person in the Madrigal lineage once he or she reaches a certain age. That is, all except for poor Mirabel (Beatriz), Alma’s bespectacled teenaged granddaughter, who was not granted any extraordinary aptitude in the family door-opening ritual performed years ago. For Mirabel’s maxi-biceped sister, Luisa (Darrow), it was superhuman strength; for her pretty and perfect other sister, Isabela (Guerrero), it was the ability to make flowers instantaneously bloom. But not all special knacks are appreciated, such as exiled Uncle Bruno’s Cassandra-like talent for seeing the future. The family’s black sheep of sorts, he presaged the fall of the house of Madrigal upon the future extinguishment of the talisman’s not-so-eternal flame, an unwelcome vision that Mirabel likewise witnesses not long after her beloved home literally begins to crack up. Guess who’s going to save the day?

With its bold visual sense and fanciful storyline (credited to six writers, no less), Encanto feels like a companion piece to Coco, but it has nowhere near the same emotional heft as that far superior 2017 Oscar-winner. Miranda’s musical contribution is respectable (the best song is performed in Spanish), though not terribly memorable for either grade-schooler or parent. Granted, there’s nothing to dislike about this latest animated film in the Disney canon (No. 60!), but there’s also not much about it that sticks either, except for that crazy casa. ¡La tiene mucho encanto!

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Encanto, Jared Bush, Byron Howard, Charise Castro Smith

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