Combustible Celluloid
With: Stephanie Beatriz, John Leguizamo, María Cecilia Botero, Diane Guerrero, Jessica Darrow, Angie Cepeda, Wilmer Valderrama, Carolina Gaitán, Mauro Castillo, Adassa, Rhenzy Feliz, Ravi-Cabot, Conyers, Maluma, Alan Tudyk (voices)
Written by: Charise Castro Smith, Jared Bush, based on a story by Charise Castro Smith, Byron Howard, Jared Bush, Jason Hand, Nancy Kruse, Lin-Manuel Miranda
Directed by: Byron Howard, Jared Bush, Charise Castro Smith
MPAA Rating: PG for some thematic elements and mild peril
Running Time: 99
Date: 11/24/2021

Encanto (2021)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Directed by Byron Howard (Bolt, Tangled, and Zootopia), Jared Bush (co-director on Zootopia), and playwright Charise Castro Smith, Encanto is the most purely delightful, transporting Disney animated feature in some time, maybe since The Princess and the Frog. And its tunes by Lin Manuel-Miranda are the best since the days of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken. Some of Disney's more recent features have been comedies (or sequels), and many of them are quite good, but this one feels like a real Disney film, open to the ideas of magic and wonder, as well as a big-hearted, wonderfully messy family relationship (and funny, too).

Our "princess" this time is Mirabel Madrigal (beautifully voiced by Stephanie Beatriz), and rather than a long-haired vixen, she's a little dumpy, with a head of bouncy curls, and big, round spectacles, but she's darn cute in the most lovable way. Her family is the keeper of a magic candle that bestows certain powers on every Madrigal child, such as super-strength, super-hearing, or her mother's ability, healing any affliction with her cooking.

Unfortunately Mirabel didn't get any powers, so she struggles with what it means to be an outcast, even within the embrace of a loving family. Interestingly, and refreshingly, the movie eschews a traditional villain in favor of this inner conflict. It's amplified when her young cousin Antonio (voiced by Ravi-Cabot Conyers) has his turn. Will the candle work again, or will Antonio also be denied powers? We can only imagine that Mirabel could see an upside to either scenario. Should she hope for something for herself, or for her family?

From there, Mirabel faces a crisis as the candle's power seems to be waning. Cracks appear in their magical house (which has a hilarious, enchanting personality of its own, like a cooler version of Snow White's helpful birdies), and powers start to fade. She must descend into a hidden part of the house where the mysterious outcast Uncle Bruno (voiced by John Leguizamo) secretly lives. His lair, along with the house, a treehouse jungle full of animals, and many other locales, are like a trip to Disneyland, constantly surprising and breathtaking, and the character designs here are among the most vibrant and fluid of Disney's digital age. It's all there in the title.

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