Animated movies really have made some incredible strides lately, and that includes what they’ve done in catching up to which cultural values will most progress the film medium as a whole. It’s sad though that not enough people respect animation as mature art, they often just look at its stylized designs and only see how much merchandise they could sell. A movie doesn’t need to be moody and serious with preachiness about a relevant topic to be seen as beneficial to the filmmakers and audience alike, all it needs is a source of passion made with a desire for the wellbeing of the audience. That’s what Encanto does so well, it’s not so much concerned about being a good movie, but more so on entertaining, satisfying, and feeding healthy morals, and the artistic quality just comes naturally.
Yet this is still a tonally inconsistent Disney movie and has many familiar problems of one. The very first scene, of course, starts with the main character, Mirabel, as a child, because every Disney movie is apparently required to begin that way. She isn’t given enough time with everyone in this gigantic family she lives with, almost as if this whole scenario would have worked better as a TV show. Although they do each have a form of personal development by the end, the family members all act like they’re those dumbed-down sitcom tropes all competing for who can make the most impactful scene. The strong sister, Luisa, is probably the biggest offender of that, with her horrible techno song fueled by autotune, her superhero-inspired phrases, and the way she runs on the magical moving floor tiles like it was a treadmill. Not to mention nobody in this family seems to have jobs, so how can they pay to live in this giant magical house with so much food?
There is potential for something magnificent, however, as Mirabel is the type of character whom anyone of any age in any role of the family can relate to, with her insecurity that she’s not a part of the family since she’s not gifted with magic. This predicament has made her stubborn, and her attitude around her far more gifted family members has made them tease her for constantly being in denial, even though everyone else in the family has their own case of denial. But the denial in Mirabel’s case is the one with the strongest justification that can be universally understood across any culture in the world.
With such a solid protagonist for both girls and boys to connect with, the rest of this whimsical adventure will captivate the young and the young at heart. There’s so much beauty in the designs, from the fun little animals to the furniture that shrugs when asked a question. You’ll laugh when you see a capybara looking totally unamused, and laugh even harder when a toucan acts like a chicken. Then you’ll cry just as much, whether it’s from the beautiful sight of butterflies or from the gorgeous glow of the sacred candlelight. The imaginative art direction flows right into the third act, which breaks into really dark subject matters that leave you feeling empathetic toward Mirabel, and even more so toward her Abuela, despite the fact that she starts off as the antagonistic force at the start of the movie.
Among other achievements made by the animation team, they choreograph the dance of the inanimate objects with unbelievable fluidity as if they flew right out of Mary Poppins. Also, research reveals that live-action reference footage was filmed of human dancers to help animate when Mirabel and the others are dancing to the Latino-inspired musical numbers. It’s particularly charming because this is exactly what Walt Disney had arranged to inspire his team of animators, such as bringing in real deer for Bambi, or having Helene Stanley dance for the artists of Sleeping Beauty. What genuine respect these artists of today have in honoring their roots—just like the whole theme of this new Disney classic is about honoring the family you came from! The look of the animation isn’t perfect though, as when cracks appear on the walls of the house, they look drawn onto the 3D surfaces rather than built in to suggest tangible texture. So this overall effort may just as well be a step backward for the animation industry.
And that’s okay because the vocal cast, whether singing or talking, is of absolute perfection! It works that the material had its heart in the proper place, as did the team of directors who strove to make a family feature fueled by love. The totally believable tension between Mirabel and the family members keeps growing stronger, and the more that’s revealed about Mirabel’s past, the higher the stakes are raised for the family. From the voice acting to the genuine care of wanting to help build up better families, this comes across as far more human than a lot of the other live-action films of this past year.
I find it funny how many Americans say they want more diversity in movies, and Hollywood often pretends that they heard that message and say they’ll try to tell those stories. Yet when awards season rolls around, the films that faithfully and truthfully portray a culture outside of White America are in a blaring minority compared to the many other films that feel designed to cater to old White men. Even worse, both Hollywood and the general public alike tend to dismiss animation as being “for kids,” and think that they shouldn’t use the medium to build up a stronger generation. I for one would much rather my kids watch Encanto instead of Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid or Cinderella, as this celebration of Latin American family values can help today’s kids become more open-minded with healthier expectations of themselves. Heck, that’s a message that I believe adults all across the world need to hear. So please, open up your own inner child, and give this one a good watch. You just might even sing along!
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see graded, or if you are interested in guest blogging for my site, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!