The animation is a riot of colors wrapped around the graceful sway of South American dancers, some of the most glorious animated dance since Walt Disney’s “Fantasia.” “Encanto” is simply gorgeous to look at, almost from start to finish.
But I didn’t care for the film, and I’ve been struggling to process the reasons for two weeks since seeing it, trying to hit on exactly where it seems lacking.
Could it be Lin-Manuel Miranda fatigue? I haven’t been nuts about any screen musical he’s scored since “Hamilton.” And right from the jumbled, raced-through incoherence of the opening number, in which our heroine, Mirabel (voiced and sung by Stephanie Beatriz) is singing about her “Family Madrigal” at great speed because she doesn’t want to dwell on the fact that unlike every relative she’s named, she has no “miracle given to our family,” a “special gift,” the tunes are forgettable/forgotten before the notes have drifted off the soundtrack.
Perhaps the patchwork, not-about-anything story (five credited writers contributed, two tried to wrestle it into a screenplay “plot”) hung me up.
Dazzling voice casts don’t matter, and the Colombians, Colombian Americans and others represented here have to work with the script they were given. Just hiring someone who sounds like a matriarchal version of Salma Hayek seems a cheat.
But it’s still Disney. Even when they miss they don’t often miss by much.
Our story takes place in an unnamed corner of South America where somebody dies fleeing violence in a river crossing. Disney says that it’s “Colombia,” so why not? Like “Raya,” the culture celebrated here is more vague than simply defined. They’ll fix that with a press release. Again.
Mirabel and the Madrigal family live in an enchanted villa on the outskirts of a quaint town where the locals rely on their generosity and their “gifts.”
Sister Luisa (Jessica Darrow) is super strong, and sister Isabella (Diane Guerrero) is so “perfect” that she makes flowers bloom and trails blossoms where ere she goes.
Mirabel’s firing blanks.
There are also “gifted” aunts and a shape-shifting uncle (Wilmer Valderamma), cousins, nieces and nephews and a matriarchal Abuela – “grandmother” (María Cecilia Botero) who keeps traditions and family lore alive in their magical, helpful house where the table sets itself and the moment you see the prancing, dancing alarm clock you know where they got that idea from.
Vague events conspire to make Mirabel’s missing gift stand out and cause the house to lose its luster and magic. Her relatives start losing their “gift.” She must sift through family history, poke around the many rooms behind each gifted family member’s illuminated door to find a way to save them, perhaps one involving the missing uncle she’s never met, Bruno.
Is she “just as special as the rest of us” or is her special gift problem solving? Because maybe she could take a pass at the screenplay, if that’s the case.
The clutter of characters gives away a certain “Let’s just add more” flavor to the screenplay’s problem-solving. Let’s introduce a toucan sidekick for Mirabel’s “Heroine’s Journey,” and uh, decide we’re not going to do the usual Disney things with him. And that’s typical.
Some trippy visuals on that journey and the best efforts of funnyman John Leguizamo along the way don’t produce anything that I’d call a laugh. A few sight-gags with the muscle-sis and shape-shifting uncle just lie there.
Maybe this will play to the very youngest audience, but that’s what we say about animation that’s not anything anyone over eight will get much out of.
I found “Encanto” more aggravating than entertaining, felt I learned nothing about the culture Disney says it’s celebrating and felt the dread welling up for Lin-Manuel’s work in the upcoming “tick…tick…BOOM.”
Disney’s “Coco” and Netflix’s “Vivo” had it all over “Encanto” in terms of story, heart, gags and music. This film looks finished but plays as “We’re still working story kinks out.”
Rating: PG, for some thematic elements and mild peril.
Cast: The voices of Stephanie Beatriz, María Cecilia Botero, John Leguizamo, Angie Cepeda, Diane Guerrero, Jessica Darrow, Wilmer Valderamma
Credits: Directed by Jared Bush, Byron Howard and Charise Castro Smith, scripted by Jared Bush and Charise Castro Smith. A Walt Disney release.
Running time: 1:39