Encanto: Good–not Great

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Source: https://gizmodo.com/this-encanto-song-will-be-stuck-in-your-head-all-day-1848118419

Disclaimer: This is a movie review for Encanto and, therefore, includes spoilers. Read at your own discretion. 

By: Peggy Sue Wood | @pswediting

All I’ve heard about lately is how great Encanto is, followed quickly by a “but” or some variation there of, and so I would like to just be straightforward and tell you all that it’s not great. 

It’s a good movie, but it’s not an instant Disney classic like Frozen, Coco, or Lilo & Stitch were after coming out (no matter what Disney marketing seems to be pushing with the movie). 

There are great parts–like, “We don’t talk about Bruno” which has been stuck in my head for weeks leading up to the viewing. I also love the scene where Mirabel comforts the nervous Antonio, and Isabella + Mirabel cheering after setting Dolores up with her crush.

There are some very relatable scenes (like, my heart heart dropped when Julieta told her mother to be nice to Mirabel because that hit home), and the art is as good as other Disney movies, so no problems there… but the movie still feels off. 

I realized about an hour after the viewing that the issue with Encanto is that it does not feeling like a Disney movie. Rather, it feels like something better suited to a television series than a full length feature film. 

In fact, if this was the beginning of a TV show, I’d be a lot more in-love with it, but as a movie it kind of hard to watch. 

Some of the difficultly comes from the family being openly emotionally abusive to characters like Mirabel and Bruno because of Alma (Abuela). I mean, Mirabel doesn’t get to be in the first family photo we see because she has no powers, Bruno has to stay hidden for YEARS because grandma is mad, and so much more (but let’s put a pin in that for another day or never because I have other things to discuss). However, I feel that the real issue is the lack of properly setting up the story beats and in framing the scenes within the story. 

I’ll explain. 

Let’s start with the opening song, “The Family Madrigal.” It is a full tell of all the family members–members we get introduced to moving forward anyway. Camilo is the playful one–he likes to tease people but knows when to be sensitive; Isabella is the pretty one who secretly fears she’s failing if she’s not living up to the standards of her role as the perfect one; same with her sister, Louisa; Antonio is still little, so he’s really adventurous and into animals; Dolores is really quiet, she’s not overly shy–just, she knows everything someone might say already since she can hear it all and that means that she probably forgets to share or chooses not to out of fear of hurting someone’s feelings. All of this characterization happens OUTSIDE of “The Family Madrigal” song–which means that the song’s sole purpose is:

  1. Giving us names to characters we’ll meet in the story anyway 
  2. Telling us about the powers we’ll learn of anyway in the story while meeting the characters in question
  3. Setting up to let us know at the very end that Mirabel does not have a (known) gift… Which could have been done without the song. 

So, the song, while being nice to listen to is completely useless to the story and, somewhat, devoid of entertaining us as we watch since it serves no purpose. It could have been a credit song or an extra released with the trailer and soundtrack… but, in the movie, it’s pointless. It doesn’t properly set up what’s happening next, it doesn’t provide us with knowledge we couldn’t learn or did learn outside of the song, and it fails to fit the framing

The framing of the song is introducing the family to the audience but, in the story, specifically introducing to the three children OUTSIDE of the house. The first part of the song is entirely inside the house, in a way that is hardly visible to the people outside. Then, as she walks down the road with her family, we’re learning of their work to help people of the town–work that these kids have probably already seen or heard of before given how active the family is in the community. It ends with an introduction of Mirabel’s gift (or lack-there-of), which should not be a surprise to the children at all given, again, how active the whole community is with their family. These children should already know Mirabel doesn’t have a gift and the framing should be, if you’re keeping the song, something like them wanting her to tell them all again how cool the family is–sort of like my niece asking us to read favorite book over and over again. 

The framing issue happens the most in the movie, like the unnecessary stairs in Bruno’s room (no context), or nearly the entirety of Louisa’s song. Actually, “Surface Pressure” (Louisa’s song) is a perfect example. The scenes playing as she sings make no sense. Is she regularly saving the village from falling rocks? No. Is she ever on a ship or does the cruise ship we see make sense? No. What about the Hercules reference? No. What about the pink clouds of love we saw in Bambi now emulating a release of social pressure–does that make sense? No, again. Also, the weird donkey dance gives me the same ‘ugh’ feeling I had in Frozen 2 with “Lost in the Woods” (though, at least, that one was properly framed). 

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Side note: I see people complain that there was too much focus on Mirabel’s sisters, but I think that’s kind of a ridiculous complaint since they are Mirabel’s siblings–of course they’ll have more of a focus than the cousins in a movie where Mirabel is the main character. 

Moreover, the cousins seem to have a more significant support for each other than the other members of the family. We constantly see them interacting in the background–Camilo giving his mom tea (assumably), Dolores and Camilo dancing, Félix and Pepa dancing, Antonio being loved on by his parents/siblings, Félix calling out Camilo on his attempt to get more food, Dolores and Camilo talking (I mean, Camilo plays a big part in the glue, but the who off-shoot is a lot more in-touch and close than Mirabel and her side of the family and they all live in the same house). 

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Overall, the movie is a lot of confusing tells with no reasoning behind it because we’re shown so much throughout the movie, starting with “The Family Madrigal” and continuing all throughout. The framing is also super confusing for much of the movie–like, why are some songs framed within the context while others are like a lucid dream? And,  why can Mirabel see the images of her family’s lucid dreams while they singing (Louisa and Abuela Alma) but doesn’t have any known powers? (I keep mentioning known, because she obviously does have some sort of gift or gifts, we’re just not entirely set on what it/they are outside of bringing the family together again.)

However, more than these issues, I think that this movie is suffering from something worse than some not so great story layout and bad context for scenes… 

A lot of criticism I hear about the movie blames the story issues on it feeling rushed–we move too quickly through the sisters and don’t spend enough time in other spots. Which, is a little true, but it’s not really rushed. The story is too flushed out elsewhere to be suffering from that alone. 

Instead, I think story took a back seat as part of a massive Disney launch into an Encanto-based TV show. It’s got a lot more of a set up for a show than for the movie itself, leaving a lot of possibilities while closing up, neatly and temporarily, these massive issues in the family that we know can’t be solved in a day (or years) with a single “I’m sorry I pushed you so hard, but it was out of love and fear” from Abuela Alma. 

And it will get that TV Show–enough people have watched it and will watch it moving forward to assure it, particularly with how many people sensitively call it a great movie with all their “but, but, but”–as if calling Disney for MORE story.

I think the show will be enjoyable too–I mean, the movie was fine and, again, it has some very relatable elements to families big and small…

But I still think that we should call Disney out on what this movie appears to be–a money grab/cultural award baiting, and a very poor launch into a fuller series. 

This movie could have been great, but it’s not. It’s good. An entertaining hour+ that’s not bad… just not great. As a final note, I’m going to bet the TV show comes out a lot quicker than the Rapunzel show, Tangled, did but, how about you all? Agree or disagree?

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