Disney goes to Colombia for a moving but overstuffed family comedy-adventure

This review of “Encanto”Published for the first time on November 15, 2003

Latin America has only been mentioned in a handful of Walt Disney Animation Studio titles. The 1940s witnessed the introduction of short features “Saludos Amidos”And “The Three Caballeros,” created in support of the U.S.’s Good Neighbor Policy to “strengthen”Relationships with the region were threatened by the spread of communism. Two decades ago, it served as backdrop for one of the company’s most offbeat releases, “The Emperor’s New Groove,”Where the Incas were an afterthought. There were no concerns about authenticity. There were no Latinos in the voice cast, and even fewer Peruvians.

However, now that the Disneyfication of the world has increased in tandem (and because of!) the valid industry-wide demand for representation in media, depictions specific cultures for mass consumption automatically include talent from those particular communities or nationalities. However, their involvement does not mean they are infallible or that participation from people of a particular identity is always creatively meaningful.

For The flagship operation of the Disney machine’s 60thOfficial animated film “Encanto,”Jared Bush and Byron Howard along with Charise CastroSmith, co-directors, take on Colombia as a magical tropical paradisia. This vibrant and joyful visual maximalism fable about family mishaps joins tales set on the South Pacific.“Moana”) and Southeast Asia (“Raya and the Last Dragon”), as well as Pixar’s recent visits to Mexico (“Coco”Italy (“Luca”).

The studio’s expectedly high quality, yet still impressive craftsmanship was used to realize the project. “Encanto”The Madrigal clan, a large clan that was granted a miracle in the form of a luminous candle, saved them and their entire town from violence and displacement. With this unexplained blessing, the children of Madrigal matriarch Abuela Alma (voiced by María Cecilia Botero) also received superhuman abilities.

Fast-forward to the next generation of Madrigals, where we meet Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz), the bespectacled, curly-haired heroine who, to her relatives’ dismay, did not receive a special gift as a child. The range of her relatives’ powers includes speaking with animals, a command of all flora, or super strength. Mirabel is often teased for not being able to summon supernatural abilities. However, she finds joy in encouraging others around her until becoming average.

Casa Madrigal, the sentient structure that the family obtained as part of their otherworldly salvation, communicates via moving tiles and windows; think Aladdin’s carpet or the Beast’s castle but even more alive. This animated set, where nearly every scene occurs, is the film’s most strikingly conceived element. Production designers Ian Gooding (“Moana”Lorelay Bove ( ) and Lorelay Borelay Bove ( ) are awe-inspiring with the fine details in every room. They not only serve as backgrounds but also function as movable parts that give each property its character. The sounds the inanimate objects produce are brilliantly incorporated as percussions into the movie’s soundscape.

The house is only as strong and connected as its inhabitants. As Casa Madrigal’s flame begins to fade away, Maribel is suspected to be the reason. Even with all the amazing color and music, the narrative is chaotic and frenetic. It relies on fuzzy mechanics, and has a long list characters that are poorly constructed. A fine-tuning the screenplay might have helped to create a tighter plot and clearer world-building.

Another grievance is the fact that Disney should reintroduce flesh-and-bone antagonists. Restrain the use of mystical or ethereal forces as villain substitutes in recent films like “Raya”The incomprehensible “Frozen 2.”These films, including the wonderful “Coco”Latin American countries are often portrayed in a rural or pastoral setting that perpetuates the underdevelopment myths that Americans associate with these countries. Why not use modern metropolises like Mexico City or Bogotá as part of these portrayals?

The carefully chosen voice cast of Colombian talent or with Colombian heritage makes Colombian presence clear on screen. Beatriz, a Colombian-Bolivian actress, portrays Mirabel as a curious, kind leader who is not typicalally adventurous, but has a healthy, but not paralyzing, dose of fear. Colombian-American actor John Leguizamo plays Uncle Bruno, who’s critical to the story, while reggaeton star Maluma and Wilmer Valderrama and Diane Guerrero have smaller parts.

What the sheer volume of characters does facilitate is the inclusion of a racially diverse ensemble, with Black Colombians featured with relative prominence — particularly, the most endearing member of the Madrigal family, Antonio (Ravi Cabot-Conyers, “#BlackAF”), whose adventures with a cheetah, a capybara, and a toucan merited more screen time. “Encanto”Arrives after the discussion on colorism and racism in the Latino community that erupted earlier this year about the low number of people with dark skin in key roles “In the Heights.”

Another entry in the composer-turned-director’s banner year (“tick, tick…Boom!”And “Vivo”Lin-Manuel Miranda’s signature style allows for nearly a dozen songs to be included in this musical (there are two more). A key purpose of the tracks, by design, is to expound the inner worlds supporting characters in an entertaining and concise manner. It’s a mixed bag, with a few headed to become classics. The one performed and recorded by Luisa (Jessica Darrow). “Feast of the Seven Fishes”), for example, stands out both lyrically — a lament about how she is appreciated solely for her physical prowess — and for the bombastically hilarious imagery that accompany it.

These links link between “Encanto” and Miranda’s “In the Heights” don’t stop with Beatriz, who had a small part in the film adaptation as one of the salon ladies. Olga Merediz, who embodied Abuela Claudia on both stage and screen, performs as Abuela Alma’s singing voice here. 

Sung by Carlos Vives, one of Colombia’s most renowned musical artists in the vallenato genre, “Colombia Mi Encanto,”It is a lively, if not memorable party song that infuses the rhythms more clearly. The musical highlight is still with “Dos Oruguitas (Two Caterpillars),” a heart-rending ballad performed by pop singer Sebastían Yatra that plays over the film’s most devastating and mature sequence.

This emotional peak confronts Abuela’s choices and her unresolved grief with compassion, bridging her schism with an understanding Mirabel. Turning “Encanto”This moment of acknowledgment between the sacrifices made in the past and for future welfare resonates with an impact similar to the one in the unbearably touching climax. “Coco.”Here is where it all begins “Encanto” soars past its imperfections for an instant of that earnest Disney alchemy that’s kept them in business so long. It does enchant, but it fluctuates, mostly when relatable human pain peaks through the razzle dazzle.

“Encanto”Opening in U.S. theaters Nov. 24,

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