Open Your Eyes: Encanto (2021) - Reviewed


The sixtieth animated movie to come from the Disney Animation Studios canon, Encanto, is a study in familial bonds, in altruism, obligation, and discovering self-worth in the face of nonconformity. Directed by Zootopia’s Byron Howard and Jared Bush, with co-direction from Charise Castro Smith, the film is a colorful, musical fantasy with songs penned by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Set in a gorgeous, mythical version of a Colombian mountain village, it focuses on the Madrigal family – a matriarchal clan headed by the stern Abuela Alma (voiced by Maria Cecilia Botero), whose flight with her infant triplets as a refugee many years prior to the start of the story lost her the father of her children, and gained her family a strange magical candle that blessed her children and their children thereafter with unusual gifts.

Determined to pay forward the mysterious miracle, Alma tasks her entire family to use their magical abilities to help their community, but with so much talent under one roof, expectations of perfection, strength, and usefulness begin to scrape at the veneer – especially when young Mirabel Madrigal (Stephanie Beatriz) does not receive her own special gift, and the family’s enchanted “Casita” begins to crack and divide, the flame of their magical candle threatened by an unseen force to strip the Madrigals of their miracle. Feeling unappreciated as the only Madrigal without magic, Mirabel still fiercely loves her family and sets out to discover the source of the schism, and in the process, uncovers her true place in the world – and in her own home.

This is a film teeming with wonderful, lively characters building a community from scratch as they use their special talents – healing, superhuman strength, the ability to make plants bloom on command, weather control and more – to help all those within their Encanto to prosper. In true Disney fashion, the metaphor is quite straightforward as each member of the Madrigal clan begins to feel the pressure from Abuela Alma to keep pressing themselves further into service, pushing themselves to do as others need rather than explore who their gifts actually have made them, and what they can do to be happier people as individuals. Being an outsider, Mirabel is the only one who sees how much weight the gifts have placed upon her family’s shoulders, so naturally, she is the one who must try to help them when they are at risk of losing everything that makes them special.

It is invigorating to find the women right at the forefront of this beautiful film – Mirabel herself is an intelligent, likable young heroine, whose status as a family misfit give her insight and wisdom into ongoing patterns. Her sisters Luisa (Jessica Darrow) and Isabela (Diane Guerrero), whose gifts have made them distressed and feeling the pressure to be strength for an entire community and a perfect model Madrigal, respectively, receive much of the focus to illustrate how generations of this household’s altruism has begun to wear upon its identity. Of the natural Madrigal males, only Mirabel’s uncle Bruno (John Leguizamo) features fairly prominently, as another outlier thanks to his gift of clairvoyance. It is a vision of his that leads Maribel closer to the key to the darkness beginning to engulf her beloved house.


At its heart, Encanto is the charming tale of an unusual family blessed with extraordinary gifts, but it also explores the price of those types of gifts and how they are not always as wonderful as they may seem. It studies the effects of focusing on talents and perceived usefulness, rather than character, among family members and the role of the “black sheep” archetype, particularly when a household is in crisis. And, although Disney would likely never use the term “generational trauma” to describe the manner in which Abuela Alma’s fierce protectiveness of the Madrigal miracle and how that singular focus has poisoned her relationship to the rest of her family, this too is examined with a gentle, broad-stroked denouement that leads – as it does in most good Disney animated fare – to the most important lessons.

Delightfully scored, breathtakingly animated, and populated with some of the most fantastic characters a Disney musical has had to offer recently, Encanto overcomes most of its minor missteps and shines with the strength of its core family, the cohesion of which is the truest miracle there is.

--Dana Culling