Jared Bush (Zootopia) and Byron Howard (Tangled) team up with relative newcomer Charise Castro Smith to write and direct Encanto, the latest animated release from Disney. Like many previous releases from the studio for decades, Encanto is heavy on coming-of-age for the central character. But also like the others, the story is new, magical, and works on a level that will entertain audiences of all ages.
Deep in the forests of Colombia, the Madrigal family survives on the magic of the Encanto. This charmed location gives family members a unique ability that allows them to survive and thrive. Everyone, that is, except Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz). As a result, she feels out of place and tries to overcompensate to the annoyance of her relatives. This changes when the enchantment surrounding her family faces an unknown threat. Because of this, Mirabel may be the only hope to save the magic, and her family, from doom.
Encanto is a story of exclusion, inclusion, loyalty, and redemption. This may be the first time Disney has delved so deeply into all of these at one time, particularly in an animated film. Fortunately, the script handles the various subjects well. Without preaching, it also covers the topic of family expectations vs. family abilities in a manner relatable to audiences of any age. Bush, Howard, and Smith do a commendable job of conveying these through the careful direction of their actors. The entire cast throws their personalities into their characters with ease, adding a natural, fluid feeling to the film. Beatriz expresses the perfect mix of hopefulness, hopelessness, and determination in the lead role. Other notable performances are John Leguizamo as Mirabel's Tio Bruno and Maria Cecelia Botero as Alma, Mirabel's Abuela, head of the family, and community founder.
Lin Manuel-Miranda's songs are clever, poignant, and very good at keeping the film's pace. Unfortunately, some of the voices are modulated in a way that makes the lyrics challenging to catch. The song mixing makes the vocals blend with the music instead of being heard above it. Still, this becomes less of an issue as the film progresses - either through better sound work or just becoming used to the problem. The visuals throughout the film are stunning, even by Disney's standards. The use of color, light, and shadow helps to tell the tale seamlessly.
Encanto is an entirely entertaining film with several great messages for everyone in the audience. Best of all, it has great characters, a story flow that never falters, filled from beginning to end with charm.