My review of the new heartwarming animated adventure “ENCANTO” from directors Jared Bush, Byron Howard, and Charise Castro Smith featuring voiceover work from Stephanie Beatriz, María Cecilia Botero, Jessica Darrow, Angie Cepeda, John Leguizamo, Mauro Castillo and more!
Before the setting was chosen, before even a single character was imagined, the filmmakers behind Walt Disney Animation Studios’ all-new original feature film “Encanto” had decided what the heart of their new film would be: family. “Encanto” explores the compelling but complicated relationships within families. “We thought it would be amazing to tell a story about not just a pair of characters but a large extended family,” says director Byron Howard (Oscar®-winning director of “Zootopia,” “Tangled”). “We wanted to celebrate and try to understand how the complex dynamics in big families really work. How well do we know our families? How well do they know us?”
Adds director and screenwriter Jared Bush (co-director/co-writer “Zootopia,” writer “Moana”), “It’s a story about how the people who are closest to us, especially family members, don’t always see us—or fully understand us. And likewise, we don’t show people we love our whole selves for many reasons. Our story shows how one member of a family who feels the least seen can learn to see her whole family and ultimately herself.”
“Encanto” tells the tale of an extraordinary family, the Madrigals, who live hidden in the mountains of Colombia, in a magical house, in a vibrant town, in a wondrous, charmed place called an Encanto. The magic of the Encanto has blessed every child in the family with a unique gift from super strength to the power to heal—every child except one, Mirabel. But when she discovers that the magic surrounding the Encanto is in danger, Mirabel decides that she, the only ordinary Madrigal, might just be her exceptional family’s last hope.
According to Howard, each of the Madrigal children receive their gifts during a special ceremony. “As each child turns 5,” he says, “a door is produced in their house that opens to an enchanted space. It reveals their magical gift and therefore what their role will be in this family and how they’ll serve the community.”
Mirabel’s middle sister, Luisa, for example, is strong and powerful—the rock of the family, with the gift of super strength that she uses to serve the community by relocating livestock, moving a building or rerouting a river. Isabela, Mirabel’s oldest sister, is the golden child of the family, the perfect one who’s been gifted with the ability to make plants grow and flowers bloom with every step she takes. Isabela’s grace and beauty enchant everyone except Mirabel who struggles to relate to her seemingly perfect persona and charmed life.
“Mirabel is all of us,” says Bush. “She is the ordinary member of her family among a bunch of extraordinary, magical people. Many of us can feel like we’re surrounded by superstars in our lives—we can feel intimidated; we can suffer from imposter syndrome. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve achieved—there’s always someone who’s doing it bigger or better. Mirabel is that character we can all relate to.”
For 10 years, Mirabel has put a smile on her face and accepted that for some reason, on her fifth birthday, she was not gifted with a magical power. Says co-director and screenwriter Charise Castro Smith (playwright “Feathers and Teeth,” writer “The Haunting of Hill House”), “Mirabel is a people pleaser—she feels this need to compensate for the fact that she didn’t get a gift. She’s always told herself that she’s OK with the dynamic in her family—but deep down, she’s not. She really wants to make a change. Her journey is to recognize her own intrinsic value and find her place within this family.”
According to producer Clark Spencer (Oscar®-winning producer “Zootopia,” “Wreck-It Ralph,” “Lilo & Stitch,” and Walt Disney Animation Studios President), Mirabel’s story actually began long ago when her grandparents, Alma and Pedro, were forced to flee their home with nothing but their newborn triplets. Following the tragic loss of her husband, Alma said a prayer to a candle in a moment of desperation. “The candle responded to her prayer giving Alma and those who followed safe shelter in a wondrous place called an Encanto,” says Spencer. “Each generation of the Madrigals share their gifts with the entire community. And our story doesn’t just have characters with magical powers; the magic surrounds them. The house comes alive and is there to help and protect the family. The house is a character within our story.”
Magic abounds in “Encanto.” “An ‘Encanto’ is a term sometimes used for a place of magic and heightened spirituality, where magical or extraordinary things can happen,” says Castro Smith. “It’s a place of natural wonder where the landscape is infused with magical possibility.”
But, says Howard, it’s not your everyday magic. “There’s magic in the world, but it’s grounded in reality,” he says. “Magical realism, an inspiration for our film, is tied to real emotions, real events, and it’s thoughtful and layered. It’s not just an easy answer to your problems, it’s actually a reflection of the experiences you have every day whether you’re enjoying success or struggling.”
Although many of the characters in “Encanto” have magical gifts, the filmmakers wanted to ground these gifts in reality. Says Bush, “Our goal was that these characters would be just as compelling if we were to tell the story of this family without any gifts—if there
were no magic in the world. We wanted to have extensions of family archetypes that we could all relate to whether it’s the golden child, the rock of the family, the outcast or drama queen. We just crank it up a little and make it come to life in magical ways.” [Walt Disney Studios]