Walt Disney Studio’s 60th animated film released in November with the same promise of any of its predecessors: 90-ish minutes of adventure, magic, and wonder. Directors Jared Bush and Byron Howard (Zootopia) and co-director Charise Castro Smith (who shares co-writing and story credits) deliver all this and more with the journey of Mirabel Madrigal (voiced by Stephine Beatriz) as she tries to save her family’s magic. My eldest (6 years old), asks to rewatch it and to play the songs from the movie whenever possible (thanks, Lin-Manuel Miranda, for another set of bops). All of this, itself, is an illusion of the highest order as what makes Encanto so wonderful, so worth revisiting, is the deeper exploration of the complexity of family, the pressures we put upon ourselves to fit in, and the deep-rooted damage of unaddressed generational trauma. What should be a dark tale is full of life and love, providing the audience just enough comfort amid the sadness to soften the harder edges of Encanto, making them easier to process. Looking back at recent acclaimed animated productions Zootopia (2016), Moana (2016), and Frozen II (2019), Encanto beautifully carries on a new tradition of containing multitudes, enabling the stories to challenge as they entertain.
Ordinarily, the first review of any feature I cover is spoiler-free. However, this home release review will break from that tradition in order to discuss specific aspects of why Encanto is absolutely worth the watch. Be advised.
In an enchanted house tucked within the hills of Colombia, South America, lives the Madrigal family, led by matriarch Abuela Alma (María Cecilia Boter). There, three generations of Madrigals provide for each other and the town in which they live thanks to a magical candle which saved Alma and her newborn children as they fled from persecution. This candle bestows upon each Madrigal child a different gift (re: ability) which can be used to continue their prosperity. That is, until Mirabel comes along. Now, some years later, as Alma and the family rejoice in Mirabel’s cousin Antonio (Ravi Cabot-Conyers) receiving his gift, cracks begin to appear around their home and the magic begins to weaken. Being the only one who notices, Mirabel takes it upon herself to do some investigative work, only to discover that the cracks are merely a symptom of a larger problem the family has yet to confront.
As has started to become the trend with Disney home releases, Encanto came available not just on digital-to-own ahead of the physical release, but it became available on Disney+ on the same day. If you’re a subscriber, then movie is ready to watch in 4K UHD as part of the service and includes only the theatrical trailer as bonus material. This is great for people who didn’t feel comfortable going to the theater or whose family loved the film and want to revisit it at their leisure but don’t feel like paying anything additional on top of the monthly subscriber fee and don’t have bonus materials as a top priority.
However, if you enjoyed Encanto enough to purchase it, be advised that Disney claims that the bonus features may vary in their accessibility based on the version you buy and the retailer you get it from. For this review, Disney provided a digital code, so I’ll be running through the bonus features I was able to access via iTunes, which are also available via digital movie hub MoviesAnywhere.
So, what comes with the home release that might be worth the investment? About 110 minutes of featurettes explore not just the making of the movie (including a trip to Columbia where various members of the crew and writing team met with historical experts, musicians, artists, botanists, and more), but the significance of getting Encanto right by Bush, Howard, and Smith from the beginning. They did this by starting a group called “Familia” within Disney Animation where various members of the team would get together to share meals, talk about their shared customs and traditions, and, for some, find themselves with a new family as several were far from their own. Before you presume this is self-service, the three-part featurette which explores this, “Familia Lo Es Todo,” is just shy of 24 minutes in length, enabling the team to get rather personal about what “Familia” meant to each of them and how it continues on today. From there, I recommend jumping to either the brief two-minute featurette “Journey to Columbia” to get a sense of what the team experienced visiting the country on their research trip or, if you’d like a deeper dive, go to the two-part 17-minute featurette “Discover Columbia” where you’ll get introduced to the people that make up what they called the Colombian Cultural Trust, who advised the Encanto team on everything from flora, fauna, traditions, and clothes. Then, either jump into the three-part 24-minute featurette “A Journey Through Music” or two-part 10-minute featurette “Our Casita” to learn about either the music or how the team developed how the magical home the Madrigals reside in functions. Allow your interest in either music or animation to guide your judgement as both are rich in detail, but are very different in terms of content. Of the two remaining featurettes, “Let’s Talk About Bruno” and the Outtakes, “Bruno” will appeal to the people that not only love the musical mash-up for its narrative appeal, but also for its rhythms and choreography. You’ll see snippets of this featurette in other portions of the bonus materials (typically the sequence of Mirabel dancing with Dolores (Adassa)), but this longer version gives you the real depth that dance fans will particularly enjoy. The four deleted scenes come with an optional introduction where it’s explained that these scenes were developed, but ultimately left behind as other scenes worked better, but it’s still nice to see what could have been, even if just in a sketch format. These 110 minutes of features don’t include the Far from the Tree short film, an introduction to the short film, or the ability to jump into any song from Encanto with visible lyrics in either English, Spanish, or French.
I’m not a member of the Latinx community, so I can’t speak to whether these materials are worth the purchase, but as someone who loves cinema and is utterly taken with the details within Encanto, learning more about the culture from which this story derives only made the experience of watching the film richer.
As far as the film itself is concerned, since it was first made available to me via Disney’s FYC app for awards consideration purposes, I’ve watched it five times now. I watched it alone, shared it with my son once and then again, before finally showing it to my wife, ahead of a final watch in preparation for this home review, and it’s gotten better each time. I’m in awe of it in several ways, but mostly for its ability to tell a story that my son will understand, but it is demonstrably not for him in the slightest. It’s not stated explicitly that Abeula Alma and Abuelo Pedro are trying to survive the Colombian Civil War of 1895, but we see enough to know that someone is trying to kill them and their fellow citizens, hence them being on the run and Pedro sacrificing himself so that his family might live. They give us enough in what we see and what we hear that my son can understand Alma’s pain without needing to know why and he’s able to make the connection between that pain, that loss, and the cracks that Mirabel is trying to fix. He’s able to understand that it’s Alma’s pain Mirabel needs to help soothe, even if he can’t understand why. What’s for the adults is how the film directly and indirectly leads us to the conclusion that Alma’s been the source of the cracks for longer than we, the audience, and Mirabel know. That the cracks have forming inside the walls, seen only when we find the thought-to-be-gone Bruno (John Leguizamo) living within them, for years, only coming to the outside after Antonio’s gift ceremony is a success. That it happens after Mirabel is left out of the family photo, that it comes after her song “Waiting On A Miracle,” is, I think, no coincidence. Alma becomes so focused on not losing the gifts they’ve been given, equating the gifts to worthiness, that she’d become consumed by the worry that Antonio wouldn’t receive his gift after Mirabel didn’t receive hers. Though she celebrates outwardly, her concerns over the family remain now that Antonio must live up to the expectations of being a Madrigal. This elevated internal strain is made physical through the cracks Mirabel sees at the end of the song. My son won’t see this for some time. Hopefully, as myself and my wife work to expunge the traumas of our own youth, he won’t have any kind of generational trauma to heal from himself and it’ll be even harder for him to identify with it personally.
I think, though I’m not a member of the community, that this is why the characterization of Abuela Alma hits its target. Even if we didn’t grow up in the Latinx community, those of us who’re children or grandchildren of immigrants have experienced some sense of “must do better than the previous generation,” “must make the sacrifices of those who came before worth it,” and, of course, “don’t lose who you are as you blend in.” Imagine the pressure of all of this *with* magical abilities to boot. It’s no wonder Luisa’s (Jessica Darrow) song “Surface Pressure” is making its way into the zeitgeist, an anthem for those who are doing their best every day to not let anyone down. And we do, in small ways, we do let people down, but not in the way we think. We think it’s because of not being able to do enough, when, as presented here, it’s because what the person we’re trying to prove ourselves to thinks is “enough” is different than what we do. From the opening song, “The Family Madrigal,” we not only learn about this magical family and their gifts, but we learn about the strife within it, how Mirabel feels about being sorta outside of it, and that they do it all at the behest of Abuela Alma. They do it to make her proud, but it’s out of obligation, not love. It’s not until Alma remembers what the miracle was saving that things turn around for all of them. If you didn’t notice the storytelling going on in the opening number, I encourage you to watch/listen again and pay closer attention to the lyrics *and* the animated performance. What are we being shown and how? These details paint a collage of discord before we, the audience, truly understand what we’ve seen. It’s a slight of hand that will keep tricking you to tap your feet instead of paying attention, highlighting again why this film plays differently for kids than adults. It’s also the perfect encapsulation for the incredible detail work that goes into every aspect of the narrative and the world of the Madrigals.
There are plenty of animated features released each year and not all of them are going to astound, some are just going to entertain. This year’s films include Ron’s Gone Wrong and Extinct, two films which are fun to watch and contain some aspects worth talking about after, but don’t linger as long as say Wish Dragon or Luca. Then there’s Encanto, which easily is the top of the pack with The Mitchells vs. The Machines and BELLE, which hits its audience in profound and a variety of ways. Most of which, for all three mentioned films, in unexpected and different manners. There is a depth of sadness that runs through Encanto, one which has inspired many to share their stories on social media (a lot on TikTok), but it’s not an encompassing, uncontrollable sadness or something which cannot be healed from. Because as much pain as runs through the narrative, there’s also positivity and healing, a chance to learn, grow, and come together, to remember that the one’s closest to us may not see us, but it doesn’t mean they never will or that they won’t ever try. When that happens, all of us will exclaim with pride, “What Else Can I Do?.”
Encanto Special Features*
- Sing Along with the Movie – Sing along with your favorite songs with on-screen lyrics as you watch the movie.
- Familia Lo Es Todo – Members of the Disney Animation “Familia” cultural trust share real-life experiences in this exploration of the lovable Madrigal family members. We learn what inspired each character, and about how the artists’ designs bring realism to their personalities. (23:53)
- Discover Colombia – The filmmaking team discusses how the multiple cultures, biodiversity and vibrant colors of Colombia are expressed in Encanto. They describe how satisfying it was to fully celebrate this beautiful country and support the theme of magical realism. (17:27)
- A Journey Through Music – The filmmakers invite us to discover how each character came to be represented musically. We follow the creation of Encanto’s Colombian-inspired music, featuring Lin-Manuel Miranda’s songs and Germaine Franco’s score, from concept to final recording. (24:12)
- Let’s Talk About Bruno – Learn how the song “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” with its intriguing undertones, was created. Discover the extensive collaboration between Lin-Manuel Miranda, choreographer Jamal Sims, the voice cast and animators in bringing it to the screen. (8:18)
- Our Casita – La Casa Madrigal is alive with magic, and its emotional state is affected by other family members. From its colorful doors to its fine stonework, the magical house was designed using principles of Colombian tradition. (10:36)
- Outtakes – From the thrill of “nailing” a take in the presence of an entertainment industry icon to the hilarity of losing a wrestling match with tongue-twisting dialogue, join the cast for some good-natured fun from behind the microphone. (2:59)
- Journey to Colombia – With the help of the Colombian Cultural Trust, a dedicated team of consultants, the filmmakers of Encanto embark on a journey of discovery to learn more about Colombia and how best to reflect the country’s cultures and environments on the big screen. (2:23)
- An Introduction to Far From the Tree – Writer and director Natalie Nourigat introduces the Walt Disney Animation Studios short film Far From the Tree. (2:09)
- Far From the Tree – Parenting is hard, especially when curiosity tugs at a young raccoon whose parent tries to keep them both safe. In the Walt Disney Animation Studios short Far From the Tree, this youngster learns to live with an open heart… even as danger lurks. (7:23)
- Deleted Scenes
- Introduction – Heads of Story Jason Hand and Nancy Kruse present four scenes not seen in the film’s release, but were part of the journey toward the final version of the story. (1:29)
- Chores! – Abuela has sent most of the family to town on various assignments that bring them acclaim, while Mirabel, her father and uncle are asked to clean the house. (4:04)
- Another Way In – Mirabel attempts to understand a clue found in her uncle’s vision. To make this happen, she must go through Antonio’s room, where adventures unfold. (4:28)
- Isabela Goes Into the Woods – When Mirabel sees her sister head for apparent danger in the woods, she races to save her, and encounters the surprise of a lifetime! (4:38)
- Back to the Mural – Feeling rejected, Mirabel goes back to town. Abuela seeks her out and reveals a part of her personality that her granddaughter has never seen. (5:54)
- Song Selection – Jump to your favorite musical moments, with on-screen lyrics.
- The Family Madrigal
- Colombia, Mi Encanto
- Waiting on a Miracle
- Surface Pressure
- We Don’t Talk About Bruno
- What Else Can I Do
- Dos Oruguitas
- All of You
*bonus features vary by product and retailer
Available on digital-to-own and Disney+ December 24th, 2021.
Available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD February 8th, 2021.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5.