By Johnathan Lim (23S03M) and Lara Tan (22A01B)
The Spanish word encanto, translated in English, means charm or enchantment. However, you probably don’t take H1 or H2 Spanish, so you most likely didn’t pick up the word from there.
Chances are you’ve heard about it from Disney’s latest release, Encanto.
You’ve heard its smash-hit soundtrack on Youtube. You’ve made Tiktoks to the refrain Seven foot frame, rats along his back…. And maybe, just maybe, you walked into the cinemas last year or hopped onto Disney+ to experience this movie for yourself.
But for those of us who haven’t had the time to sit through this nearly two-hour-long tale of magical realism, or willing friends with Disney+ accounts to exploit, here’s our take on Disney’s Encanto.
Storyline and Scriptwriting: 3/5
Encanto revolves around Mirabel Madrigal, a goofy teenage girl who, unlike the rest of her (many) family members with magical capabilities (or ‘gifts’), has no such gift. They live in casita, a magical house in Encanto, a rural community in Colombia, and Mirabel is determined to save her family, their house, and their community when she finds out that their magic is weakening.
At its core, Encanto explores complex themes such as intergenerational trauma, evidenced from the family’s matriarch, Abuela, and her troubled past. This prompts her to lead the family as a stoic, unyielding moral exemplar, consciously sidelining Mirabel out of fear that she will rock the family boat and compromise its stability.
It also deals with issues like emotional repression, healing family divides and community building. For the most part, these themes are excellently explored, through a combination of sparkling character dialogue, the brilliant songwriting of Lin-Manuel Miranda, and visual storytelling.
This is perhaps what lends Encanto the intellectual depth many viewers praise it for. While its premise might sound forgettable, it tackles these themes voraciously, sinking its teeth into vulnerable topics that have rarely been touched upon by animated movies.
However, this might be Encanto’s downfall as well. To us, it simply tried to tackle too much in too little time. The end of the movie is horrendously rushed, with all conflict being seemingly resolved in the last 15 minutes without time for proper catharsis and closure for the audience.
We found this rather disappointing, given the themes in Encanto were extremely refreshing, and in our opinion deserved more elaboration.
As for story writing, we found it hard to believe certain plot elements, such as Mirabel’s persistent ostracisation by the rest of the family. Of course, this might have served to increase her isolation and lack of self worth, but it just wasn’t realistic.
Some of the scripted humour also fell short of making us laugh. What we found more hilarious and endearing were the natural dynamics between characters, which could have been capitalised on more.
However, one commendable aspect of the film’s story writing is its cultural fidelity. Encanto doesn’t claim to paint an entirely realistic picture of present-day Colombia, and that is clearly not its objective. But it contains enough charming references to local Colombian culture to show us that it is much more than what conventional media makes of it (hint: drugs and gangs galore).
Overall, our verdict on Encanto’s plot is that it could have been better. Run times are limited, and unfortunately, so is plot development, especially for this movie which tries to bite off more than it can chew. Hats off to Disney for the cultural diversity though.
Encanto has a very lovable cast with diverse personalities. It is also very interesting and heartwarming to watch the characters interact with one another. From Camilo teasing Isabella on her boyfriend’s upcoming proposal to the family, to dancing and celebrating together during a party, it feels like we are really watching a wholesome and loving family.
Abuela is also a bold and interesting character considering the “ok boomer” age we live in as of now. We like that she wasn’t painted out to be the big, bad villain. It was easy to sympathise with her wanting to “protect the miracle”. A dimension of reality was added by portraying the nuanced version of “bad” where it isn’t anyone’s fault.
While the individual characters are vibrant and relatable, the cast is way too big. For a 2-hour movie, the individual characters, despite each having their own time to shine, have limited screen time. This bothered many audiences, and led them to often resort to binge watching various compilations of their favourite characters floating around on YouTube.
“Isabela has less than 10 minutes of screen time and it is honestly depressing”- a hardcore Isabela fan (Johnathan)
Mirabel is also, admittedly, boring.
“She’s meh. She doesn’t have her main character moments like the ‘side characters’,” commented Clarissa Lee from 23S03M. Throughout the movie, Mirabel is just helping other people find their meaning, while remaining, for the most part, stagnant. She does find that her worth is not tied to her gift (or lack thereof), otherwise she doesn’t have very significant character growth, despite being the main character.
Additionally, though the stark contrast between what the family thinks of Bruno (big and menacing) and what Bruno is really like (timid and friendly) was funny, we felt that it was really overdone. Bruno was reduced to mere comic relief despite being integral to the plot.
Bruno has tremendous unexplored potential for character development. He could have confronted his fear of being a burden to the family head on after running away for years. And he could have overcome his fears and followed along with Mirabel on her mission to “Save the miracle”. But alas, he didn’t.
Everything is so smoothly animated, you sometimes forget that you are watching an animated film. From the incredibly flowy skirts during dance sequences to Isabella’s perfectly animated hair throughout the entire movie, the animation is consistently pleasant and appears realistic.
The movie also has very distinct and vibrant colour palettes.
Bruno’s unique green theme creates a sense of mystery as Mirabel looks for clues in Bruno’s tower; the extended family’s yellowish theme compliments their playful personalities (Dolores eavesdropping, Camilo pranking) and the immediate family’s blueish theme hints at their reliable nature, consistently serving the community .
The attention to detail in the movie is also immaculate; down to the grains of sand on Mirabel’s skin and in her hair from falling into a pile of sand in Bruno’s tower. Another nice touch was Isabella’s dress remaining dirty and unkempt after letting loose “What else can I do”, symbolising the turnaround in her previously perfectionistic character.
The music of Encanto is easily the best thing about the entire film. Which is no surprise, really, given that it was composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the same lyrical genius who brought us musicals like In the Heights and Hamilton.
The songs in Encanto have a colourful variety, from heart-rending ballads like “Waiting on a miracle” to techno-pop “Surface Pressure” and even stunning ensemble works like “We don’t talk about Bruno”. All the singers delivered their individual songs delightfully well, and collectively, they had the gravitas of any on-stage, live musical cast.
Closer attention to the soundtrack also revealed the clever use of motifs, or recurrent musical themes, from previous songs: almost like reprises. This lent the entire soundtrack a compelling sense of cohesion and musical sophistication.
We were especially heartened by the array of beautiful Spanish ballads in the soundtrack. Even if you don’t understand the original lyrics (of course, English translations are available), they move you all the same.
Overall Rating: 4/5
As the name suggests, the movie Encanto has many “encanto” aspects. From its refreshing representation of culture, to the silk-smooth animation, its ebullient score and so much more, there’s an endless array of things to love about Encanto. The only thing we did not love was that it wasn’t long enough to do itself justice.
But then again, that sounds more like a compliment than criticism.