Disney had a really good decade. From 2010, the studio has released a string of well reviewed films since their heyday back in the 1990’s. This new renaissance has resulted in the films Tangled (2010), Wreck-It Ralph (2012), Zootopia (2016), Moana (2016), and Frozen (2013). Disney is more successful than ever before (despite questionable business practices) and have released their second film in the 2020’s, as well as the decades’ first Disney musical: 2021’s Encanto. So is the renaissance still ongoing, or has it reached its end?
The film revolves around Mirabel, a member of the Madrigal family in Colombia. The Madrigals are special because years prior, when fleeing from armed conflict that took away their home, the matriarch, Abuela Alma Madrigal, loses her husband. However a candle miraculously turns magical and creates a new home for her and her children: an enchanted living house. She settles there and by the third generation of her family, has built a vibrant and peaceful community. The magic of the house also grants her children and their children ‘gifts’ that they use to help their community, including super strength, shapeshifting, weather control, chlorokinesis, healing through cooking, and the ability to speak to animals.
However, Mirabel is inexplicably the only one without any gift of her own, which is obviously a sore spot for her. After her younger cousin receives his power, Mirabel sees and feels the house beginning to fall apart. While it quickly returns to normal, it’s clear that the house’s magic is in danger of fading. Mirabel decides to try and figure out what’s going on in order to save the magic and help her family.
Being a Disney film, the film looks good: the animation being vibrant, colorful and lively. The character models are cartoonish but manage to be expressive in more dramatic scenes, with Mirabel and Abuela being strong in quieter moments. One thing about Disney films, especially recent ones, is that the settings are both interesting and diverse, along with showing off cultures that aren’t usually focused on. The film is not the first to take place in South America (that would be The Emperor’s New Groove (2000)) but it feels a lot more interested and respectful to the culture rather than just using the look and nothing else (looking at you, Pocahontas (1995)).
The music is pretty good, although not the best Disney made. The songs were written by Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton fame, his second Disney film after Moana (2016). So far, Lin has done a great with musicals and this is no exception. The songs are fun to listen to and have a strong integration with the story. While the songs aren’t the most memorable, they have some of the strongest visuals in the musical numbers.
The story of the film is where the film truly shines. The emotional conflict goes far deeper than one would believe with the powerless protagonist. Additionally, the familial aspect drives the film and is pretty mature. After all, the grandmother is basically a war refugee trying to not lose her home a second time. Encanto (2021) is not bereft of comedy, as the jokes both are well-timed and funny. However, if you don’t like the humor of the 2nd renaissance films, then this film will probably not be funny to you.
The characters are compelling to watch, with a lead that is really likeable and sympathetic, and the family as a whole are very memorable and fun to watch. While they aren’t all fully developed, they have a strong presence and enough scenes to show themselves off. The ones who get development are both sympathetic and relatable in their struggles. Finally, the film has one of the strongest messages in Disney films, being something that many people can relate to.
I honestly don’t know what to say about it that wouldn’t spoil too much, as there is much more in the film that I haven’t mentioned. The film is great in virtually all aspects and the few fumbles it has don’t really amount to anything. It has a great story, characters, animation, and music. If most Disney animated films of the next decade have a similar level of quality to this, then we’re in for a good decade. Except in business practices.