The tale begins decades ago when the family’s matriarch Abuela Alma Madrigal (María Cecilia Botero) lost her husband as they, and their three children, escaped persecution. In that moment Abuela comes into possession of a magical candle. The candle’s sorcery helps the single mother not only build a new life for her children, but also a magical home and village tucked away in the mountains of Columbia.
Cut to years later. Encanto is thriving, the candle is burning bright, ensuring the enchantment that created the house and village continues.
The candle has also imbued magical powers on Abuela’s children and grandchildren. Daughter Julieta (Angie Cepeda) can heal people with her cooking, while granddaughter Isabela (Diane Guerrero) is the very picture of perfection, able to make flowers bloom anywhere and everywhere. Luisa (Jessica Darrow) has super strength, which comes in handy when the mules get loose or a building needs moving to another location.
All the children have powers except for youngest daughter Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz), a spunky youngster who is as down to earth as her siblings are otherworldly. The family is exceptional, she is told, she is “un-ceptional.”
When she discovers the magic of the candle may be dimming, she takes action to save her family and the village.
“Encanto’s” story is told in a swirl of primary colours. The animation is eye-popping, paying homage to vintage Disney like “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” while updating the look with state-of-the-art computer animation. The sequences of the house coming alive, expressing a mind of its own, are playful, proving once again that Disney’s clever artists can imbue personality into almost any inanimate object.
The story is a flight of fancy that feels stretched to feature length, but the movie’s sheer exuberance makes up for any narrative lapses. Lively performances—almost as lively as the animation—upbeat Broadway style tunes by Miranda and a beautiful score by Germaine Franco, the first woman to score a Walt Disney Animated Studios movie, all underscore the movie’s messages of the importance of family and how we are all special in some way, no matter what gifts we have.
“Encanto” is a celebration of Latino culture that stresses embracing our differences, and what it lacks in narrative propulsion, it makes up for in joy and sense of wonder.