THB #31: Encanto Love (a brief review)


Here is the thing about Encanto. There are many things that it is not. But its central theme is one that could not be more important than it is right now.

Listen to others. Don’t assume. Don’t dismiss others based just on what is important to you and how you think others relate to that standard.

The story of a Norm in a family of Superheroes isn’t all that fresh. Everyone in that audience knows, from the moment Mirabel is exposed as a Norm, that somehow, in the end, she will save the day. And it’s not unusual for the Superheroes in a story to end up showing some kind of weakness.

But what Encanto does is to make it clear from the start that Mirabel is special in many ways with no magical superpower at all. Her power may be denial, as a kid tells her in the trailer, but I find that her power is sincerity, a deep love and respect for those in her family who have come before her, and an array of skills she has developed to be the best she can be.

The film’s take on her Super family members is to understand that most anyone who has been seen in a narrow way wants to express more than the one color. This is a rarity. It’s more than just gaining sympathy.

The magic in the story starts with a self-sacrifice by the paterfamilias, which somehow leads to his surviving family being gifted with this magic. They don’t horde the power. They share it with a whole village of non-supers. But they are also, as it turns out, somewhat captured by it.

The one thing that is verboten in the Superfamily is hard truths. And the character that has offered them up - this is Bruno’s power - has been shunned and disappeared.

I admit, I desperately wanted (and want) a song for John Leguizamo’s Bruno, who is sung about in what seems to be the consensus favorite song, “We Don’t Talk About Bruno.” I was so ready for him to break out in a dazzling, fun number. But no.

Encanto’s got some heavy stuff in it, when you get past the beautiful bright colors and lovely songs. At times, it is a lot like Succession: The Animated Musical… minus the language, drugs, and sex.

I also really love that the film is strongly female dominant. Three sisters and a strong mother. No mansplaining. No men lording it over the women. And when talk of romance happens, it’s the women making the decisions.

The very white, male pairing of Jared Bush and Byron Howard last directed Zootopia… another film with a female lead (a rabbit) which broke all kinds of rules and expectations, making it one of the best movies from the modern era of Disney animation. This was as unexpected as the billion dollars it grossed worldwide.

The scale is smaller here and it is a musical, but I see this is a significant word-of-mouth hit… exactly the kind of movie that the shortened windows undercut badly. If Zootopia bailed out onto a streaming service after 4 weekends, it would have left $100 million on the table in the U.S. alone. I hope that isn’t the fate for this one.

I didn’t expect to love Encanto. But I kinda do. As false as animation is by its nature, when it finds an emotional truth and it works, it hits a deep chord. Encanto hit mine.

Until tomorrow…