By Mark Kennedy | Associated Press
Mirabel is extraordinary in that she is completely normal when it comes to her family.
It’s the setting for Disney’s absolutely charming new animated musical “Encanto” that turns the typical script into a children’s film. Instead of a few magical people in the middle of a sea of ordinary, here the ordinary is, well, weird.
“I want to stand on the side / when you shine,” Mirabel sings to her special brothers and sisters, though she admits, “I’m not feeling well.”
It is only fitting that “Encanto” – driven by eight original songs by “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda – becomes the most special thing of all: a triumph in any category: art, songs and heart.
It starts with Mirabel Madrigal, a plate-eyed, sweet-hearted young man from a magical family in Colombia, where their lively house holds many generations. Each madrigal at the age of 5 reveals an inner magic, e.g. change of form, talking to animals, superpower or powerful hearing. They, in turn, help the surrounding community.
But the magic has somehow skipped Mirabel (pronounced by Stephanie Beatriz), who, as she grows into a young girl, is still trying to be useful among a household of Avenger-like siblings. “Gift or no gift, I’m as special as the rest of my family,” she says.
But soon not everything is good for this family whose magic was built on tragedy. Cracks – literally – appear in the foundations of their home, and their strict matriarch, Abuela Alma, quietly worries that their magic may be failing. It’s up to Mirabel to investigate what’s going on and save the family.
Instructors Byron Howard, Jared Bush and Charise Castro Smith fill this narrative with their own magic – expressive faces, acres of glorious flowers, dancing rats, funny donkeys and a house that becomes a character, complete with wagging shutters for waves and tiles, moving excitedly.
The cast includes John Leguizamo, Wilmer Valderrama, Maluma, Adassa, María Cecilia Botero, Angie Cepeda, Diane Guerrero and Jessica Darrow.
Miranda takes a page from musical theater in her first song, “The Family Madrigal”, which sets the table by introducing the extended clan and creating “Waiting on a Miracle” for Mirabel, our spunky, spectacled heroine who stops time to sing her lament melody.
He gives the swaying “What Else Can I Do?” to a beautiful sister who makes flowers bloom but is secretly restless, and he presents the super strong sister with the song “Surface / Pressure”, which reveals the secret strains she feels. And there’s the terrific, funny group tune “We are not talking about Bruno,” about a family outcast. (Also listen to some fun Miranda has with another Disney hit, “Let It Go”).
The action technically takes place mostly in the busy house, although there are magical parts of it that defy the physics. There is also no traditional villain, just a turmoil, as the magic disappears.
As always in a Disney animated film, the visuals are a pleasure. See how a motif of butterflies is subtly represented in the pattern on Mirabel’s dress. There is also a panning image of Colombian society at dusk with its candles and candles warm and inviting.
“Encanto” is a film about the pressure of living up to high expectations and the fear of revealing imperfections. It is about the outcast and maladapted in ordinary sight. “Sometimes family specials get a bad rap,” reads one line. “You are more than just your gift,” is another message. Behind all this also lies a cheer for immigration and how we should lend our gifts to society. This is the Thanksgiving movie we need in 2021.
4 stars out of 4
Evaluation: PG-13 (for some thematic elements and mild danger)
Runningtime: 99 minutes