Encanto is playing in cinemas nationwide now.
Over the past six years, Walt Disney Animation has expanded its cultural horizons. We had Moana’s exploration of Polynesian culture while Raya and the Last Dragon celebrated South Asia. It feels like a deliberate move away from the Eurocentric fairy tales of Tangled, Frozen, and arguably Zootopia. Those films are not deficient in any way; their worlds are more regionally-reflective than global. Now, the studio has turned to Colombia with Byron Howard & Jared Bush’s Encanto.
Encanto introduces us to the Madrigal clan, a family gifted with magical abilities due to a mystical candle bestowed to Abuela (Mariá Cecilia Botero). Here we meet mum Julieta (Angie Cepeda), whose cooking heals all; Aunt Pepa (Gaitán), whose emotions control the weather; eldest sister Isabela (Guerrero), who has Poison Ivy-like abilities, Luisa (Darrow), with the biggest biceps ever seen in a Disney film, Dolores (Adassa), who has super-sonic hearing, and finally Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz). However, Mirabel has no powers, unlike the others, which could be the undoing of the family’s magic.
Bush & Howard nail the extended family culture of Latin America, with each member making a solid impression through their vibrant personalities and visual flair. Luisa is a stand-out favourite, mainly because of how built she is; for example, there’s a moment where she picks up an entire church like it’s nothing before placing it back down gently.
Encanto thrives on its vibrant Latin American energy, with the animation taking you to extraordinary places, and while the songs aren’t as memorable as Lin Manuel-Miranda may like, the backdrop and visual stories they embrace are. Here a cornucopia of natural delights and beauty surrounds us, from Isabela’s grand hall of Colombian Roses and Sugar Flowers to Luisa’s Herculean attempts to keep everything under control. There is no doubt Encanto continues to embrace the animated beauty we have come to expect from Walt Disney.
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Part of Encanto’s charm comes from its succinct dovetailing of style and substance, as it embraces Colombian culture’s visual and sonic flair through the Madrigal family – sprinkling in country-specific elements along the way, like the capybaras and arepas. Here Encanto feels like a joyous celebration of Colombia and the heart of its culture and community. One that leaves you feeling warm inside.
There’s a noticeable effort to subvert the typical “leaving home to find yourself” story that Disney has become known for. In Encanto, Mirabel’s struggle cannot be solved by some country-wide quest; neither can it be solved through magic or deities. Instead, Mirabel’s struggle to connect with her family is all too real as she suffers under the weight of the expectation the family carry. Here the magic bestowed on the family can almost be seen as a curse and a blessing. It’s a very Disney theme to promote the mantra of “be the person you want to be”, but the way it’s captured in Encanto is far more subtle and nuanced than in your typical family film.
Of course, this subversion comes with a few caveats. For example, it feels like Encanto spends most of its time setting up and exposing the problems at the heart of the family while never allowing itself the time to tie everything up. This may lead to younger audience members wriggling in their seats as the runtime feels elongated. This may come from trying hard to subvert the expectations of the audience. I also found the songs slightly disappointing. Lin Manuel-Miranda’s Moana songs remain in my head even today, but I couldn’t name a single Encanto song nor hum the melody a few hours after leaving the cinema. This may be because the songs feel too busy as five or six different vocalists vie for our attention.
Encanto continues Walt Disney Animation Studio’s excellent run of diverse storytelling, reflecting a more real-world than its older fairy tale cousins. In addition, its subversion of the typical Disney formula is welcome, if slightly askew at times. But despite this, Encanto is undoubtedly a warming winter treat for the whole family.
After serving as a story artist for Coco and Ratatouille, Enrico Casarosa finally takes to the director’s chair with his first feature, Luca – a delightful, engaging and colourful exploration of friendship, pasta, vespers and diversity. Each beautifully animated scene is bathed in the sunshine and sea air of the Italian coast as we meet two young sea monsters, Luca (Jacob Tremblay) and Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer)—their newfound friendship, coupled with a daring exploration of the human world above their ocean home. Casarosa, Andrews, and Stephenson’s story takes the saying “A fish out of water” and layers it with a delicate exploration of identity, discrimination, acceptance and love. While it may follow a similar narrative arc to many of Pixar’s previous outings, Luca feels delightfully different, a love letter to Italian culture and filmmaking. Meanwhile, the voice performances of Tremblay and Grazer fill every scene with warmth and honesty. Here their magical sea creatures in boy’s clothing are believable, heartwarming and utterly joyous.