ENCANTO Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Alexander Wallace talks about Bruno.
Let us be frank: since December, this recent release from Disney+ has been just about everywhere. With the sheer cultural power of Disney, it was inevitable (being almost a monopoly in an era with lax antitrust enforcement will make that happen). We’ve all at least seen the pictures of the characters, and perhaps heard snippets of the songs, and of course been inundated with memes. The question, then, is: is the movie actually any good?

To put it shortly: yes, it is. Set in a small town in Colombia, Encanto is another addition to the new wave of ‘multicultural’ films from Disney, including Luca and Raya and the Last Dragon. Unlike those two, this one is a musical, with the music done by Germaine Franco and original songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton fame. It involves the story of the Madrigal family, most of whom are given supernatural abilities by their large house. The one exception is your protagonist Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz), who was given no such thing. She has to live in the shadow of her siblings, who, justly or otherwise, seem more ‘worthy’ than her by virtue of their gifts.

Encanto is a film about family, and to a degree familial dysfunction. Hanging over everything is the specter of Alma Madrigal, the family matriarch and Mirabel’s grandmother, who decides the fate of all within this little town. The film casts her as being well-intentioned but very much prone to a favoritism that slowly destroys Mirabel. It is its interrogation of Alma’s character where Encanto stumbles the most; having grown up in a dysfunctional family, I can say that the happy ending Disney requires of all its films does not capture the pain that these families can inflict upon people.

Being a Disney film, the animation is superb as always. The house that forms the main setting for the action is a place of wonder, designed in a way that hides the most fascinating of its secrets. This extends to the town around it, which pulses with life and feels authentic (even including, if not shining a spotlight on, a Catholic priest, fitting for the country).

And, of course, the music. The film is a whole burrow’s worth of earworms, and you will feel compelled to dance to many of them (as a ballroom dancer, We Don’t Talk About Bruno would make a great rhumba). It has all the infectious rhythm that characterized Hamilton, and you will understand why it is damn near everywhere.

Regarding the portrayal of Colombia: not being of that heritage and not particularly knowing much about the country, I can’t speak to it directly. However, I would like to point the reader in the direction of Arturo Serrano’s (spoiler-heavy) discussion of the film on Nerds of a Feather (tangentially, I can also speak glowingly of his novel, To Climates Unknown).

Encanto is what Disney does best: music, magic, and pure fun. By the time you finish it, you will see why it has taken the world by storm.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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