There is a fresh inventiveness since Disney moved away from the “women as princesses” model of animation. Pixar aside, recent Disney movies have taken the traditional idea of a princess and turned them into heroes in their own right, often reluctant leaders, and the results (movies such as Raya and The Last Dragon or Moana) have been creative and successful. Encanto is different in this respect but still puts a strong female role model at the centre of the story, without making them regal or even reliant on a male character.
In fact, Encanto is a story unlike anything Disney have done before. Where other films would rely on a quest or a villain which needs to be defeated, Encanto is about a person’s role in a family, their responsibility and a sense of belonging. This is done through a story of magical powers, bestowed on the Madrigals family to protect them after a great tragedy, and most significant of all, the one family member who doesn’t have any powers and struggles to know her role in the family.
You’d be forgiven for rolling your eyes as you see the words “super-powers” but these abilities aren’t to save the world but to assist the local village. This is not a superhero story and in fact, quite refreshingly, there isn’t any bad guy to put a spanner in the works for the family. Instead, this becomes a showcase of each of the key characters and the story is about Stephanie Beatriz’s Mirabel’s relationship with each member of the family. We get set-piece scenes and sequences to push this forward, from confrontations about a family mystery, revelations about the mysterious Bruno or emotional scenes between Mirabel and her strictly oppressive Grandma Abuela. For the most part, these are delivered with an amazing song.
The music is Encanto’s biggest strength. Each song is a success, both in delivering a toe-tapping or emotional moment but also pushing the story forward. You’ll leave with one favourite and then find yourself humming another. Stand-outs include “Surface Pressure” and “We Don’t Talk about Bruno” but they all stand-alone and deliver.
The music also helps to push the story forward and its one with a quick pace, as events unfold with a decent amount of drama. The peril builds and builds and as revelations occur, you are engaged throughout. The story also doesn’t necessarily go the way you expect, and is less predictable than perhaps a usual Disney tale would be.
It is just a shame that it lacks the big grand finale. The ending satisfies but it doesn’t build to any huge moment or ground-breaking finale that feels worthy of the rest of the film or how well the story has been developed. There is an argument that it doesn’t need one but considering how Disney films usually end with an epic conclusion, it almost feels jarring that Encanto doesn’t have one.
Overall, Encanto is a very different kind of Disney movie. It focuses on family and knowing your place within your home, with no princess or villain to be seen. There are songs though and they are some of Disney’s best, with no song missing a beat or bringing the movie down. An engaging story, that perhaps lacks the proper finale it needs, but a great Disney film nonetheless.
Rating – 4.5
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