Friday, January 28, 2022

Green Phoenix - Encanto Review

Encanto poster.jpg

Holy shit! He is doing another review of a relatively recent released film? I can hear you all saying. Well, I really want to commit to the new year with fresher content, and new releases seem like the perfect opportunity for that. And don't worry, the next three articles won't be film reviews but a much more varied variety of articles that many of my readers have become accustomed to, including the return of my favorite editorial series Building Better Backstories.

But until those articles are released, allow me to hold you all over with a look at Disney's latest animated feature Encanto. Available both in theaters and on Disney+, Encanto was a highly anticipated film upon its release and has in the weeks since become a massive presence on the internet due to its very poignant and emotional themes and fantastic music, both of which will be discussed in greater detail below. But is the film deserving of this sudden up swell of popularity that I haven't seen in a film since Frozen, or is the lack of new animated content from Disney artificially increasing the positive input? And how does this film standup compared to Disney films of the past, both distant and more recent?

As soon as I saw this film, I knew that I needed to talk about on Emerald Rangers, as one of the latest "new release" articles that I want to make more prevalent. So be sure to continue reading below to see how I answer these questions.

  • Directed by Jared Bush and Byron Howard
  • Produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios
  • MPAA Rating: PG
  • Running Time: 102 Minutes


Encanto follows the lives of the Madrigals, a Columbian family living in a sentient house in town in a magical valley where nearly every member of the family possesses some sort of special ability given to them by a magical candle referred to as "the Miracle". However, there is a single Madrigal who does not possess any special ability, Mirabel. And this lack of ability on Mirabel's part leads to a degree of emotional distance from the rest of the family, especially from the matriarch of the family, Abuela.

But when signs that the Miracle is fading begin to appear and everyone's special abilities begin to act up, it may fall to Mirabel to uncover the dark parts of the family Madrigal and save the Miracle.



It is absolutely no exaggeration to say that Encanto will, in my opinion, become a legendary piece of the Disney cinematic legacy, spoken with the same level of reverence and cultural impact as Frozen was...9 years ago (Holy Shit! I'm old.). Already as I write this review, the songs from Encanto, which honestly represents about 75% of the memorability behind the film have already begun to outperform the music of Frozen, in particular "We Don't Talk About Bruno" is now a higher selling hit than "Let It Go".

Let that sink in for a moment. "We Don't Talk About Bruno" is now more culturally ubiquitous than "Let It Go" which literally consumed the world in 2013. In fact let's actually start with the music because that is actually what compelled to first take a look. And the music is spectacular, brought to you by the ever enviable and talented Lin-Manuel Miranda who seems to be taking a perpetual victory lap in terms of his musical legacy. Easily among Disney finest, portraying everything you would expect from a Disney musical whilst still utilizing Columbia's distinct musical identity to glorious effect.
While I do adore the more modern-sounding an theatrical songs like "What Else Can I Do" (𝅘𝅥𝅮𝅘𝅥𝅮A Hurricane of Jacarandas!𝅘𝅥𝅮𝅘𝅥𝅮) and "Surface Pressure" for their high energy and beautiful lyrical work, and "We Don't Talk About Bruno" is, as stated earlier, is just a banger. It is actually songs like "Columbia, Mi Encanto" and "Dos Oruguitas" that end up as my personal favorite, do so much to carry a great deal of emotional and thematic weight behind, immediately immersing the audiences in culture, familial ties, and internal conflicts which form the core of Encanto's world.

And what thematically powerful world that is. Like a lot of more recent Disney projects, Encanto lacks a true antagonist (though a somewhat roundabout argument could be made that colonialism is the ultimate source of all of the conflict due to Abuela's particular backstory and how it relates to Columbia's history), with the film's primary conflict stemming from the consequences of generational trauma and the unique aspects within the traditional Latino family structure that allow such trauma to propagate and expand into new forms of trauma.
I watched dozens of people see their own family history's and dynamics play out through the Madrigal's and it was deeply compelling to see a film, even a so-called "children's movie" open up dialogues about the nature of trauma within family units, even with those family's who possess very different interfamilial relationships. I know that I was made incredibly emotional by certain scenes within the film that stung perhaps a bit too close to my own experiences, though thankfully not nearly to the degree that Encanto implies in some circumstances. But the fact that such powerful emotions and themes are at play and reaching a degree of cultural notoriety speaks volumes for the strength of the story and its future presence within the cultural zeitgeist of the era. Encanto will absolutely stand the test of time and likely have many other stories to share with us in the future (though I do wish that Disney focused on more nontraditional film merchandise with this film in mind).
The themes of generational trauma, familial bonds, and the discussions of conditional familial love would strike nearly so hard nor so true if it weren't for the spectacular visuals and performances given to us, which help makes each and every character on screen feel that much more like a real human being. Mirabel, performed by Stephanie Beatriz, is wonderfully quirky and individualistic that boths makes her tremendously relatable and yet tragically out-of-step with the desires and wishes of the family that surrounds her. It leads to a potent performance of self-discovery and empathy, mixed with unbridled unconditionality on all aspects of her life. Which places her in sharp contrast with the "antagonistic" element of the film, Abuela, voiced by Maria Cecilia Botero.
I place the word "antagonistic" in quotations around Abuela because she is an antagonist only in the sense that she is the direct source of the underlying conflict of the film and it is through Mirabel's confrontation that the underlying problems can be addressed and hurts healed. But Abuela is perhaps the most incredible piece of this entire film. It would've been so easy to make Abuela is hard, cruel, and mean-spirited matriarch that rules over the family for her own selfish reasons. But Encanto instead makes Abuela an incredibly sympathetic individual, whilst at the same time explaining the source of the family's trauma without excusing Abuela's toxic behaviors. Abuela loves her family deeply and truly, but is so overcome with her own trauma's and fears that she propagates that trauma on to her children (as seen with Bruno and Pepa) and ultimately on her grandchildren.
And each of the various members of the Madrigal's reveal their own complexities and anxieties throughout the film that just grounded in so much reality and interplay between each other that the Madrigal's feel like a real family. Luisa and Isabella are the fundamental focus of Mirabel's quest to save the Miracle, being her direct siblings. But we see hints of the propagation of trauma in every single member of the family in subtle ways that make rewatching this film and discussing it rewarding in the highest degrees.
I remember watching this film with my girlfriend and we had a passionate debate for almost an hour afterwards about the various subtextual elements at play in Abuela's story, which is the sign of a truly remarkable character and an amazing film for it to be attached to.
Lest you think this film is all deep emotional complexity and thematic discussions of familial trauma, Encanto is at its heart a fun and colorful exploration of the meaning of family that looks. The music matches the vibrant and lively atmosphere and immerses you in the world that makes me really want to visit Columbia just to see if it as beautiful as Encanto suggests. The character designs and movements are both so fluid and frenetic that it feels rewarding just see these characters in motion at all times, a visual treat to draw the audience into the deep and the powerful.
If I had any issue with the film, it would be that I do believe that Abuela's transformation at the end is perhaps a bit too easily earned. Generational trauma is a difficult cycle to break and the lack of genuine agency that she assigns to herself, whilst a product of the need to keep a decent screentime, does I think hurt the overall theming and messaging. Confronting trauma and the pain it propagates onto others can be vulnerable experience and I would've perhaps needed to see a bit more of that, but I think that might also be the place of sequels and other stories in the universe about the Madrigal's facing the external consequences of their trauma (a tale for another time). 
Regardless, Encantois a true cinematic masterpiece. a deeply powerful and emotional look at very grounded and realistic family that simultaneously provides an avenue for transformative discussions for families and an entertaining thrill ride of music, sight, and sound that immerses the audience in the beautiful and seemingly magical world of Columbia.
  • 9/10
  • 10/10
  • 10/10
  • 9/10

 FINAL SCORE - 9.5/10

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