Whisper it quietly but is the quality of Disney Animation’s output starting to pip that of its Pixar pals across the lot? It’s a question to give some serious thought to, with films like Raya and the Last Dragon, Frozen II and Moana outdoing recent Pixar output for storytelling chops.
And the studio’s latest, a fun, boisterous and sassy magical realistic tale that comes laden with Lin-Manuel Miranda tunes, is no exception.
The setting is the enchanted Colombian hillside town of Encanto where the Madrigal family lives. At the heart of its loveable ensemble of shapeshifters, fortune tellers and healers is unassuming teenager Mirabel (voiced by Stephanie Beatriz), the one child in the family not to receive a unique power in a special ceremony involving a candle. Her door to magic is literally slammed shut in her face, and he’s forced to become an unlikely hero when the clan’s magic is threatened.
Encanto has a few nifty plot pivots and surprising reveals, but it’s the animation itself that steals the show. Zootopia co-directors Jared Bush and Byron Howard and their animators have really emptied out the Disney crayon box to render its luscious flowers, hair textures and skin tones. The result feels like a genuine love letter to the diversity of Latin America.
Miranda’s shimmying, celebratory songs add another flavour into the pot, smartly and catchily unpacking the family’s foibles, as well as the movie’s themes of self-worth and identity. You will be humming ‘Welcome to the Family Madrigal’ – expositional but infectious – all the way home.
The characters are infectious, too, and well-drawn, enriching Encanto’s world with gifts that extend far beyond their bestowed powers. It might sound a little cheesy but the message that the truest magic comes from being yourself never gets old. Excelente.
In US and UK cinemas now.