Encanto was not met with a ton of fanfare when first announced by Disney. Then, it became the darling favorite of TikTok. How did we get from Point A to Point B in such a short amount of time? The answer is found in how the average viewer consumes media. Encanto hit theaters shortly before Thanksgiving. Due to how you responded to the Pandemic, you probably ducked out on this one. It’s not a fault of the film, it’s just that depending on your part of the country, the idea of closed quarters viewing with random community members feels gross.
Disney Animation has had a long storied history of being on fire for 15-20 years, then ice cold for a period afterwards. While many animation fans considered Treasure Planet to be the beginning of the last Disney Ice Age, that effectively discounts the gains made by Pixar. It also looks down on a ton of quality Disney animated projects ranging from Meet the Robinsons to Zootopia. So, where does the new Disney Golden Age begin? Has it?
I think you can easily hang the modern Disney animated age on Frozen and that formula permeates throughout everything including Encanto. So much of the last decade of Disney animation has been about finding identity. This is the same here, as Mirabel Madrigal is the latest Disney heroine to realize there is something better out there.
A big deal was made of this being Disney’s 60th animated film. However, I think we’re at the point of film history where arbitrary records don’t mean as much as the narratives being sold. Whether it’s Elsa, Judy Hopps or Mirabel, this is a story about defining what makes you matter. When the rest of the Madrigals draw their powers and then lose their identity in service of those powers, Mirabel becomes more defined.
Encanto is a familiar Disney tale about feeling different and finding out what makes you matter. But, then we get introduced to the character of Bruno. You already know the song about him, as your kids have chosen to run that thing into the ground. What matters is what Bruno worships. He’s an intelligent character that has used his powers to draw attention to the Madrigals’ blind spots.
Naturally, that’s going to annoy people. What’s surprising is how easily the Madrigals chose to ostracize Bruno and then others. Much of Encanto is about Mirabel and the audience learning a family’s secret history and how they abused their gifts for misguided purposes. It’s done in a way that a kid could understand, but it’s slyly darker than I’ve seen out of Disney recently.
Regardless of the predictable nature of this musical that just happened to be a Disney movie, you’ve got to love the music. Lin-Manuel Miranda has spent the past decade winning the hearts of Musical Theater Nerds and then the mainstream. While a degree of backlash has taken place against the modern Broadway hitmaker, it’s misplaced. Especially in an era that gave us everything from Let It Go to Island Boys.
Encanto thrives when it can lean away from the story that everyone sees coming and plays to Miranda’s storytelling strengths. Plus, Stephanie Beatriz has a super strong handle on the material and gives one of the best performances in a Disney animated film in ages. It’s amazing all around and well worth checking out.
Encanto is now on Digital HD and Disney Plus. But, it’s also hitting 4K UHD this week. You get that stunning 2160p transfer that pops luscious colors at every stop. Plus, the audio is lossless and comes paired with a ton of killer featurettes. I’d recommend to Disney animation fans.