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Encanto (2021)


Encanto is Disney’s latest animated Lin-Manuel Miranda loose collection of songs. It begs the question, have we had too much Lin-Manuel Miranda? His directorial debut, Tick, Tick… Boom! was released around a similar time. Encanto feels a bit like the remnant songs left scattered on Miranda’s desk from his various other projects.

The traditional setup for a Disney film is to elevate an underwhelming character to greater heights as they overcome a villain. Mirabel, Stephanie Beatriz, is certainly underwhelming as the only non-magical person within her three-generational family. Identifying the villain is the challenging part of the film. I chose to cast her grandmother, Abuela Alma (María Cecilia Botero) as the villain. Abuela’s constant belittling of Mirabel and excessively lofty expectations of her other children and grandchildren are the biggest sources of conflict in the film. Mirabel’s journey of self-discovery is a paint-by-numbers progression with only minor roadblocks. Mirabel is how we discover the concerns of her siblings, cousins, aunts, and uncles. Everyone lives in fear of Abuela and sacrifices parts of themselves to seek the constant approval of Abuela. Have I set you up to hate the grandmother as much as I did?

Each character gets an exposition song from Miranda that starts with their magical gift and ends with their struggle in the face of the evil Abuela. They loosely tie together via Miranda's signature style, but the songs do not advance the plot. The animation is gorgeous as always, especially when one of the characters can conjure up the perfect flower on demand. If the film is supposed to represent Columbia culture the only thing, I learned was how much everyone loves arepas con queso, but then again who doesn’t love grilled cheese or handmade buns?

I may be setting unreasonably high expectations for Disney films, but the studio holds itself in such high regard. I expect a lot from Lin-Manuel Miranda, especially after rewatching Moana recently and seeing how he can weave songs together that stay stuck in your head for days. Disney has always focused films around a central moral, which is especially true based on the films they have taken from historic fables. As Disney modernizes and has to venture into novel stories, they are getting a less successful hit rate. The short delay between theatrical release and Disney Plus free release goes to show how big of a letdown this film was. I left the film without the general sense of joy that I have come to expect from most animated films. I just left thinking how terrible the grandmother was despite the film's late efforts to show the magnitude of her loss. I also got an answer to a question I had never asked, what has Wilmer Valderrama been up to?

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