Encanto Encanto

Thanksgiving has given cinemas something to be thankful for: this weekend sees the release of Encanto, the most high-profile animated film to get a U.S. theatrical window so far this year. The film — the 60th from Walt Disney Animation Studios — will play for a month in theaters before heading to Disney+ on December 24.

Set in a magical-realist version of Colombia, Encanto revolves around the Madrigals, a family whose members are each endowed with a magic power — except Mirabel, the smart, conscientious teenage daughter. Needless to say, she’s assigned a mission through which she’ll discover her own special abilities, yet the film plays out more like a domestic drama than a typically Disneyesque adventure.

The directors are Jared Bush (co-director, Zootopia; writer, Moana) and Byron Howard (director, Tangled, Zootopia). Playwright and tv writer Charise Castro Smith makes her film debut here, serving as co-director and co-writing the screenplay with Bush. The film also features eight original songs by the ubiquitous Lin-Manuel Miranda (Moana, Vivo).

Reviews have been broadly very positive so far, with many praising the sumptuous visual production and nuanced story in particular. The film’s Tomatometer score on Rotten Tomatoes currently stands at 92%.

For Vulture’s Bilge Ebiri, this “might be the best Disney animated film since Frozen”:

Here, the gee-whiz light shows, the cascades of sand, the swirling skies, and explosive bursts of colorful flora all serve to underscore a tale of self-doubt, family expectations, and the smothering need to maintain one’s façade. That may seem incongruous, but it winds up being enormously moving; I cried like a broken baby throughout the final third of the movie. It should not automatically thrill us when it turns out that the makers of an animated film have given serious, nuanced thought to their visual strategy, and yet we see so much uninspired animation coming from the studios nowadays that it does.

Encanto

Maya Phillips praises the film’s rich representation of Latino culture in her positive New York Times review, adding:

But Encanto also resists having its magical characters fall into the trope of the model immigrants — that they have only earned their place because of their special abilities. The Madrigal family members belong even when they’re not conjuring roses or transforming the weather. And even with these fantastic feats of wizardry, the Madrigals, with all of their relatable family dynamics, are believably loving, funny, and flawed.

Variety’s Owen Gleiberman was impressed by many things in this “lively, lovely, lushly enveloping” film:

Encanto has been visualized with a vivacious naturalistic glow (swirling flower petals, eye-candy pastels) that, at moments, is nearly psychedelic. The songs, by Lin-Manuel Miranda, are syncopatedly infectious, word-weavingly clever, and unabashedly romantic; they keep the film bopping. And the whole picture is intricate and accomplished enough to make the era when your average Disney house animated feature was several tiers below that of Pixar seem like ancient history.

Monica Castillo gave Encanto three stars out of four on RogerEbert.com, but found fault with Miranda’s songs:

After knocking it out of the park with In the Heights, Hamilton, and Moana, his 2021 offerings have been a little lackluster. For this review, I finally watched [Sony Pictures Animation’s] movie Vivo, in which he voices the title character as well as handles the song writing duties. Those numbers sounded flimsy and forgettable. In one song, he rhymes “drum” with … “drum.” In Encanto, the odds are a little better, more songs fare better than others, but there’s still a sense that these musical numbers are the reheated leftovers from other projects.

A rare dissenter was Peter Bradshaw, who awarded the film two stars out of five in The Guardian:

But however well-meaning, this milestone movie could almost represent a creative crisis for Disney — it feels like yet another step down the cul-de-sac of bland, algorithmically generated entertainment: more Stepford content from the dream factory. There are some nice moments and sweet show tunes, but Encanto feels like it is aspiring to exactly that sort of bland frictionless perfection that the film itself is solemnly preaching against, with a contrived storyline that wants to have its metaphorical cake and eat it.

Encanto

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