Everybody’s talking about how “amazing” Encanto is, but now, here’s the proverbial “Bruno” ready to say the things no one wants to hear.
Disney’s 60th Animated Feature fell far short of its potential and expectations and left me disappointed and–honestly–frustrated. I am speaking out in this OpEd, hoping that I am not alone in the following sentiments.
But first–the good parts! Encanto is a visually stunning film! The color and details Walt Disney Animation put into this movie are fantastic. Also!! Germaine Franco proves once again she is a master of producing driving, percussion-led movie scores. Its story had legs to tell a deep, impactful story about family and magic in a way that is unique to its predecessors.
That’s about it. It is a story I want to love, and I want to reach everybody! But the story’s true message is distorted completely!
Encanto is a rushed, surface-level feature that relies 100% of its success on pre-established audience empathy, intersectionality, and Lin-Manuel’s leftover Hamilton fanbase. It tells a redundancy-ridden story that reads like the scribbled pages of an angsty “artsy” teen’s diary that bastardized the honorable chance to uphold a legacy–while living in the most amazing house in the world, by the way–as elder-imposed oppression, and celebrates self-centered mediocrity above the selfless vocation of striving for excellence using one’s gifts to bring hope and abundant goodness for all. And the worst part, it completely ignores Mirabel’s true gift. Rather than making it clear that she gets the greatest gift of all–ascending to the proverbial throne to be Abuela’s eventual successor as caretaker of Casita and guardian of the miracle–we’re shown the frumpy, “giftless,” child having to accept she has no “gift” and basically being told, “I give up. You’re good enough as is.” In what world is that kind of inspiration worthy of a Disney film? Quite frankly, it doesn’t.
Still with me? Okay, now let’s get into more detail.
Encanto is Muy Rapido and Repetitive
Our movie opens on a beautiful bildungsroman cliche. Baby Mirabel sits with her Abuela and is told the story of the magic candle, the tragic backstory that led to her family being given their magical powers, and the reveal of our wide-eyed protagonist’s destiny: that soon it will be her turn to receive her gift.
Then, we cut the movie’s opening number, and we go through EVERY SINGLE POINT all over again. The only thing that changes is Mirabel has grown up, now embodying the Disney equivalent of a millennial adult child, and she repeats what we just saw in Lin-Manuel pseudo-rap-speak. (We’ll talk about the songs a little bit later.)
Mirabel then uses that Lin-Manuel rap-speak to sprint through ALL of the important introductory information about who has what power to little kids–who have little to no major role in the plot, by the way–only to expose something everybody knew since the first trailer was released: Mirabel doesn’t have a special power. (It was around the second verse that I gave up on my hearing, rewinded back to the start, and turned on the subtitles so I could actually absorb the important stuff.)
What follows is the same information repeated over and over and over again. Mirabel has no power, he has this power, she has that power, Abuela expects the world. We’re just beating the dead horse over and over again, and then when some new information comes along–like Mirabel’s father letting us know that no spouses ever get powers–we’re just pushed through it like it’s filler dialogue with no real chance to absorb that information.
The ending is also extremely rushed. Everyone is supposed to just come back around that quickly? Also, are we really supposed to be okay with the fact Isabela’s fiance, moved on to Dolores that fast?
Encanto‘s Songs are Lyrically Weak and Struggle to Move The Plot
Again, HUGE shout-out to Germaine Franco! Her score brings this movie to life as equally as the colors!
Lin-Manuel’s lyrics, however, will get no such praise from me. As someone who grew up with the vocabulary-expanding poetry that was delivered by the late great Disney Legend Howard Ashman, as well as Alan Menken, Tim Rice, Stephen Schwartz, and Dave Zippel, I found 90% of the lyrics to be basic B-rhyme material that was spat out in one draft. And at this point in his career, with this kind of project, I find that kind of writing incredibly lazy, nowhere near close to mastering The Craft like his predecessors.
Speaking of Mr. Ashman, he had several cardinal rules about writing songs for a musical. One of the most important rules is that the audience should not be in the same place at the end of the song as they were at the beginning. And, no, Mirabel walking from one part of town to another does not count. We need to move from “Point A” to “Point B.”
There are only three songs that do their proper job. But all three begin with Mirabel trying to annoyingly pry something from her family, and all three end with her getting what she wants and what the audience needs.
- “Surface Pressure”
- Luisa is trying to hold it together after feeling weak for the first time, but here comes Mirabel incessantly bugging her about the walls cracking. At the end of a great number, we discover a connection between the walls cracking and their powers. It is also here that Mirabel gets sent on her little quest to discover her prophesy.
- “We Don’t Talk About Bruno.”
- We finally talk about Bruno: the family outcast. We learn more about everybody else in the Madrigal family than at any other point in the movie, and we end at the start of Isabela’s engagement dinner.
- But also, how much younger is Mirabel than everyone? How is she in the dark but everyone else isn’t? Even her younger cousin has apparently spent enough time around him to mimic his frame.
- “What Else Can I Do”
- Isabela discovers she can create many different kinds of plants besides roses. Her song also takes us from a sister-sister confrontation to a grandmother-granddaughter confrontation and the start of the low point of the whole movie. This is my favorite song in the whole movie.
If Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jared Bush, and Charise Castro Smith had any concept of story pacing, they would have combined “The Madrigal Family” and “Waiting on a Miracle” into one song. Let the family introduce themselves–subvertingly, each singing part of the song while showing off their gift–as they got ready for the night. Then, provide a sort-of half-song reprise where Mirabel sings about still waiting for her miracle. They should have also chosen a different intro scene.
Encanto Used The Wrong Intro, And Wrong End
Again, let’s go back to the theme of repetition. Why do we need the flashback to Abuela losing Abuelo in the intro when we see it again at the end? The repetition–combined, I might add, with the confusing “transportation” bit of Mirabel watching the flashback in person–weakens its emotional power in the end. We already knew Abuela’s logic in her protectorate duties! We don’t need a reminder.
The movie should have started showing Mirabel’s ceremony getting ready to receive her gift and having the door disappear in front of her. Then, we would have the built-in angst, and we go on a quest to find out why. Abuela’s breakdown is new and heartbreaking, and we learn that Mirabel’s gift is to be the caretaker of Casita itself. But no, Abuela just accepts that she cannot control everything accepting what is for what it is. No new standards of excellence. Simply unjustified surrender.
Encanto Doesn’t Show or Tell. It Triggers.
What I am most bothered by is the arrogant insistence the writers put into this movie. It comes off as if they felt no need to set things up; no need to spend time getting people acquainted with the characters and setting. This movie was made for people who already get it. It uses family cliches to trigger the “backstory” in audience members, and the words “you know how it is, right?” hang in the dead air of each pause in the dialogue. After reading scores of reactions since the movie came out, it is clear that representation was taken advantage of to this same effect. Don’t get me wrong; it’s wonderful for people to be able to see yourself as or strongly empathize with a Disney Character! But representation should never be just for representation’s own sake, and the idea that all one needs is Disney’s endorsement of someone who looks a certain way, speaking a certain way, and doing certain things for one to call it a success is wrong. Don’t sell yourselves so short.
And before you all turn on me for certain reasons, remember that Disney’s Princess and the Frog and Disney/Pixar’s Coco had none of those problems. There was no intersectional functionality at play. Everything and everyone was arranged as needed to tell a complete, compelling, and gorgeous story while still remaining authentic.
I come from a family as large and as close as the Madrigals. I was “triggered” by the “multigenerational trauma,” too. But I hated how I would catch myself imposing my own problems onto these characters. There is empathy, and then there are Freudian-level triggering associations, and then–worst of all from a storyteller’s point of view–there those associations used to distract an audience from bad writing.
Yes, we are supposed to feel something when we watch a movie. But we should be feeling something for someone else, someone new that Disney is introducing to us, and to be transported outside of our own world into one of fiction where we can escape our problems for an hour or two. Just like Mirabel, we need to learn one thing about life: it’s not about us. We cannot let ourselves be defined by our gifts or problems, or lack thereof.
Last Thought: Where was the hope?
Encanto is a story of “haves” and “have nots” within an important family. They are each given wonderful gifts that are meant to spread hope to everyone in the village. Hope that they will remain safe and secluded. Hope that there are humans like Isabela out there who can make the world more colorful and vibrant; like Luisa who will always be able to carry the heavy loads; or like Antonio who can have such a close connection to animals. Hope that an arepa con queso made by mama can continue to be as soulfully healing as the one that Mirabel’s mama made that made the cut on her hand disappear. But for a family blessed with such wonderful gifts to spread hope, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of hope present, just fear.
It is that lack of hope that drove the family to push one of their own into exile, and what eventually brings the house down. Sure, in the end, the family bonds are fixed, the house gets rebuilt, and their powers return but did hope really get reignited in their hearts? I don’t think so.
There are other problems I have with this movie as well, like the supposed need to intentionally separate protagonists from the “Disney Prince/ess” image in order to “fight misogyny,” and the fact that ever since Tangled, the male characters have been getting dumber and dumber. But those are industry-encompassing thoughts that need their own article.
Look, at the end of the day…
Does this movie make me laugh and cry? Yes.
Does this movie have great music (albeit instrumentally)? Yes.
Does this movie feature a beautiful family in a story fit for the whole family? Yes. (Bruno and Dolores are my favorite.)
Does this movie feature top-quality animation? Yes.
On that basis, sure sounds like a proper Disney movie to me, and, like a proper Disney fan, I will be cheering for this film to take home every award for which it is nominated. It’s just too bad Disney chose this to be their 60th Animated Feature. It could have been so much better than it was.
Disney’s Encanto is available for streaming now on Disney+.
This article features the opinions of this individual writer and may not reflect the opinion(s) of Disney Fanatic as a whole.