Film & TV

Film Review: ‘Encanto’: Disney’s Pseudo-Fairytale Musical Fudges Important Lessons for Kids

BY Mark Jackson TIMEJanuary 22, 2022 PRINT

PG | 1h 42m | Computer-animated, Musical Fantasy, Comedy | November 24, 2021

Billed as the 60th feature from Disney Animation Studios, “Encanto” is a pseudo-fairy tale about a family with supernormal abilities.

Many people say Disney is currently all bad. Some say Disney’s always been bad. Spiritual teacher Rudolf Steiner said something to the effect that Disney animators would have enormous karma to pay in their next lives due to making animals look stupid. Who knows? Disney does have the occasional good product, like “Pete’s Dragon,” but here’s what I can say for sure: while both Pixar’s “Coco” (2017) and Disney’s “Encanto” both shamelessly pander exclusively to the Latino community, “Coco” was enchanting, but “Encanto” (which means “enchanting”) is nowhere near as good.

large family in ENCANTO
The Madrigal family, in “Encanto.” (Walt Disney Animation Studios)

Where Does It Take Place, What Happens?

Now, I’m actually a believer in the concept of other time-spaces and alternative dimensions. It’s been said that certain stories filtrate into our dimension from other dimensions, like “Star Wars,” and “Lord Of The Rings.” You might think, oh sure, there was a land called Middle Earth that had a place called Mordor with a 20-foot giant spider running around eating goblins—surrrre. That happened.

I get it. But movies like “Contact,” “Avatar,” “The Matrix,” and a slew of movies by now have expanded our ways of thinking about separate realities. All of which is to say that while “Encanto” might also appear to be other worldly, it comes off more as a hodgepodge of cobbled-together concepts, half-baked ideas, unoriginal, recycled fantasy effects, and has nothing to do with other dimensions but is most likely a representative of Magical Realism, which is inherently devoid of any kind of spiritual sustenance. It’s got few of the underlying laws, logic, and wisdom that applies to true fairy tales, myths, and legends. More on this later.

girl with basket surrounded by children in ENCANTO
Mirabel Madrigal (voiced by Stephanie Beatriz) and children of a magical village located in Colombia or possibly another dimension, in “Encanto.” (Walt Disney Animation Studios)

Short, curly-haired, bespectacled wee protagonist Mirabel (voiced by Stephanie Beatriz) is a tween-age member of the Madrigal family of Colombia. While all her relatives have supernormal abilities, she does not. She feels like the black sheep and the loser, especially in regards to her fabulous silky-haired sister Isabella (voiced by Diane Guerrero) who can make brilliantly colored flowers appear out of thin air, and her oldest sister Luisa (voiced by Jessica Darrow), looking like a former communist-bloc eastern-European steroidal female Olympian weightlifter, carrying four donkeys around at a time (why do donkeys need to be carried?).

woman carrying four donkeys in Encanto
Mirabel’s big sister Luisa Madrigal (voiced by Jessica Darrow) carrying donkeys as … a workout? And Mirabel (voiced by Stephanie Beatriz), in “Encanto.” (Walt Disney Animation Studios)

Another character has supernormally sensitive hearing; there’s a shape-shifter, Mirabel’s mom can heal people through cooking, and yet another sister has a small cloud of weather over her head that changes according to her mood.

girl with lightning cloud over her head in Encanto
Sister Pepa (voiced by Carolina Gaitan) is not in a particularly good mood, as her personal weather system indicates, in “Encanto.” (Walt Disney Animation Studios)

How did this magical state of affairs come to pass? Although the time period isn’t specific, it appears to stem from the Thousand Days’ War, a conflict begun in 1899 and the cause of many Colombians fleeing their homes to survive a political genocide. So, many years ago, when Mirabel’s grandmother Alma (María Cecilia Botero) was a young lass with three babies, she and her husband were forced to flee their home by some shadowy soldiers. Her husband was executed.

However, at the moment of his death, a magical candle appeared out of nowhere, disintegrating the soldiers, and giving us a scene of creation, where jungle cliffs soar upwards, enclosing a lush valley: sort of a Colombian Shangri-La. Also, a grand casa—a sentient casa (with stairways that fold into slides so you don’t have to walk down them) also comes into existence, magically.

coffeepot pours coffee in Encanto
Mirabel (voiced by Stephanie Beatriz) is served good Colombian coffee by her magical casa, which tips up tiles to facilitate such services, in “Encanto.” (Walt Disney Animation Studios)

The now grey-haired, stern matriarch Alma Madrigal and her children live in this magic valley and casa, and when each family member reaches the proper age (around 5 years old) they receive a blessing: Every member of the family gets a singular magical power. And they receive it from touching the doorknob of a door at the top of the main stairway. If it starts glowing, you’re in luck. If you’re Mirabel, nothing happens and you live in shame for the rest of your natural born days.

woman holding candle in Encanto
Abuela Alma (voiced by María Cecilia Botero), the grand matriarch of the village of Encanto, welcomes guests to observe the bestowing of a new superpower, in “Encanto.” (Walt Disney Animation Studios)

La familia Madrigal, over time, populated a happy village over which they reign, effectively making them a royal family blessed with an apparently unearned privilege. However, unlike the other, numerous, cartoon royal families of Disney, the Madrigals appear to have no sense of noblesse oblige—they merely do a lot of feasting, celebrating, and Latin dancing. Therefore, one does not grow particularly fond of them, and this would be one example of how “Encanto” misses the true fairy tale boat—nobility  status is earned and/or deserved in real fairy tales, and those who come by undeserved situations will end up paying later. This is the universe’s law of no loss, no gain.

So when little Mirabel discovers a rapidly expanding system of cracks in the magical casa, a harbinger to the end to the family’s magical lifestyle, you have to ask yourself what exactly is at stake here and why do I care that a family of supernormal, entitled royals might become ordinary people?

The Madrigal family in Encanto
(L–R) Camilo (voiced by Rhenzy Feliz), Luisa (voiced by Jessica Darrow), Mirabel’s mom Julieta (voiced by Angie Cepeda), Isabella (voiced by Diane Guerrero), Dolores (voiced by Adassa), and Mirabel’s dad Agustin (voiced by Wilmer Valderrama), in “Encanto.” (Walt Disney Animation Studios)

The Most Un-special Is the Most Special

Mirabel, with no powers, is of course the heroine who saves the day. But does she go on a hero’s journey to find herself? A true hero’s journey to find one’s true power (often represented by gold in fairy tales) requires danger, loss, suffering and sacrifice. Mirabel basically just snoops around the casa, discovering clues about what’s ailing the casa. She’s never really in any danger; mostly it’s finally getting hold of the family’s long-lost pariah Uncle Bruno (John Leguizamo), who disappeared after all his supernormally generated pre-cognitive bad-luck prophecies started coming true and vexing the rest of the family. There’s a whole musical number about “We don’t talk about Bruno.” Bruno’s been hiding in the casa’s attic, walls, and crawl-spaces with the rats for decades. That’s very uncompassionate for a family of supernormal royals.

It’s eventually revealed that everyone’s suffering from, among other things, not feeling worthy enough due to grandma’s overbearing personality, outsized expectations, withholding of affection and compliments, and tendency to shame. This would effectively make her the story’s villainess, but she isn’t really, which is yet another source of the overall rudderlessness and lack of adherence to the laws of fairy tales, which is that there must be evil, and evil must be overcome. Mirabel’s superpower would appear to be that of family shrink. She facilitates some family therapy. And there was much rejoicing. And hugging. And Latin dancing. Annnnnnd……. scene. That’s it? Yup.

Influences

I’m personally not a fan of the modern Broadway pop-music-influenced showtune. I’m not a fan of showtunes, period, but if they must exist, I prefer the “classic” Rodgers and Hammerstein era; the modern ones usually sync up with hip-hop-influenced dance numbers, which I feel  have far too many dance moves that are sexually suggestive (call me old-fashioned, I don’t care), and it bothers me when, say, 8-year-old girls and boys move their bodies in this fashion.

two girls in Encanto
Big sister Luisa Madrigal (voiced by Jessica Darrow) sings a song while little sister Mirabel marvels at her magical muscles, in “Encanto.” (Walt Disney Animation Studios)

Allow me a tangent: I used to play drums. I appreciate funky music; I follow many bassists and drummers on Instagram. There’s something called “bass face.” It’s when music is so funky and dance-compelling that the bassist’s face contorts automatically. With adults it’s humorous. But if you want to see why all post-medieval music is considered the devil’s music, take a look at the facial contortions of child-prodigy electric bass-players. It’s not funny, it’s a mild form of demonic possession.

And so I’m not for the modern Disney song-and-dance numbers for children. Most people don’t even notice this stuff. Somebody needs to declare war on Hollywood’s war (conscious or unintended) on kid’s innocence. And so I suggest your kids miss “Encanto.”

movie poster for ENCANTO
Movie poster for “Encanto.” (Walt Disney Animation Studios)

‘Encanto’
Directors: Jared Bush, Byron Howard
Starring: Stephanie Beatriz, María Cecilia Botero, John Leguizamo, Mauro Castillo, Jessica Darrow, Angie Cepeda, Carolina Gaitán, Diane Guerrero, Wilmer Valderrama
Running Length: 1 hour, 42 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG
Release Date: Nov. 24, 2021
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Mark Jackson
Film Critic
Mark Jackson is the senior film critic for The Epoch Times. Mark has 20 years' experience as a professional New York actor, classical theater training, and a BA in philosophy. He recently narrated the Epoch Times audiobook “How the Specter of Communism is Ruling Our World,” and has a Rotten Tomatoes author page.
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