Building Entertainment: The films of the Walt Disney Studio. Encanto

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”

Title: Encanto

Year: 2021

Budget:  $120–150 million

Box office: $194.2 million

Plot: Forced by an armed conflict to flee her home, young Alma Madrigal loses her husband Pedro but saves her triplet infant children: Julieta, Pepa, and Bruno. Her candle becomes a magical candle, which blasts away their pursuers and creates a sentient house, the “Casita”, for the Madrigals to live in.

50 years later, a village has grown up under the candle’s protection, and the Madrigals are gifted superhuman abilities they use to help the villagers. However, Bruno’s gift of precognition causes multiple conflicts that makes the family vilify him, while Mirabel, Julieta’s youngest daughter, is treated differently for having no gift at all.

During the evening when Pepa’s youngest son Antonio is gifted the ability to speak to animals, Mirabel suddenly sees cracks in the Casita, but her warnings go unheeded when the Casita appears undamaged to the others. Mirabel resolves to save the magic of the Casita. Her super-strong older sister Luisa suggests that Bruno’s room, which is located in a forbidden tower in the Casita, may hold some clues to the phenomenon.

Inside, Mirabel discovers a cave and recovers pieces of a slab of opaque jade glass which form an image showing her causing the Casita to fall apart. After Mirabel narrowly escapes the cave, Luisa realizes that her family’s gifts are starting to weaken.

The next night, Mirabel’s oldest sister Isabela, who can make flowers grow at will, is scheduled to become engaged to neighbor Mariano Guzman. Mirabel’s oldest cousin Dolores, who possesses superhuman hearing, admits to overhearing Mirabel talking with her father about Bruno’s vision. Mariano’s proposal is disrupted when the Casita once again begins to crack, causing Pepa, whose emotions control the weather, to conjure up a thunderstorm to everyone’s shock.

Isabela blames Mirabel despite her denials. Mirabel glimpses Bruno hiding in the walls; he never actually left the house because he still loves his family. Mirabel convinces Bruno to make predictions again and Antonio volunteers his room for them to use. Bruno creates another vision, which shows the Casita collapsing and an image of Mirabel embracing a young woman, who they identify as Isabela.

Mirabel goes to apologize to Isabela and accidentally provokes a cathartic confession: Isabela does not want to marry Mariano and is burdened by her image of perfection. This helps Isabela blossom into her true self, and the sisters embrace. However, Alma spots Isabela growing whatever she wants with Mirabel from afar and accuses the latter of causing the family’s misfortunes out of spite for not having a gift.

Mirabel finally snaps at Alma, saying everything was truly her fault for making everyone do things her way. Their argument suddenly creates a huge fissure that destroys the Casita. Alma’s magical candle dies in Mirabel’s hands despite the latter’s efforts to save it, leaving all the Madrigals powerless.Alma later finds a tearful Mirabel at the river where Pedro died, and finally takes responsibility for placing too much pressure on the family and forgetting that their real gift was not their powers but the family itself. They reconcile.

With Bruno in tow, reunite with the Madrigals and the villagers to rebuild the Casita. Mirabel introduces Mariano to Dolores. When finished, the Casita springs back to life and the magic of the house returns. The Madrigals then pose for their first family portrait, with Mirabel and Bruno included in it.

Background: After Byron Howard and Jared Bush finished Zootopia, they knew they wanted their next project to be a musical, which turned into a Latin American musical after Lin-Maneul Miranda came on board. Howard and Bush started to discuss Latin American culture at length with Juan Rendon and Natalie Osma, who had previously worked with them on the making-of documentary Imagining Zootopia. Rendon and Osma both happened to be from Colombia and repeatedly drew upon their personal experiences with Colombian culture in their discussions, which caused Howard, Bush, and Miranda to focus their research on that country.

In 2018, Howard, Bush, Miranda and several members of the production team visited Colombia on a research trip. They met with architects, chefs, and artisans to immerse themselves in the country’s culture. They also visited the Gabriel García Márquez foundation. They visited big cities like Bogotá and Cartagena, but they ended up finding inspiration in small towns such as Salento and Barichara. In Barichara, they befriended a local tourist guide, Alejandra Espinosa Uribe, who showed them around the town, and later hired her to consult on the film’s historical and cultural authenticity.Espinosa Uribe was an inspiration for several aspects of the film’s lead character Mirabel, including her messy black hair, large eyeglasses, and gestures. The design of Mirabel’s skirt was inspired by traditional skirts woven in the Vélez area.

The film is deliberately vague as to the timeframe in which it is set, but drew inspiration from early 20th-century Colombia. At the beginning of the 20th century, the country endured the Thousand Days’ War, which resulted in the populations of entire villages fleeing to save themselves as depicted in the film.

Cast: Wilmer Valderrama returns as Agustín Madrigal.

Stephanie Beatriz as Mirabel Madrigal, She played Detective Rosa Diaz in  Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Jessica in the independent drama Short Term 12. She also appeared in the film In the Heights. 1María Cecilia Botero as Abuela Alma Madrigal. She is known for her roles in the series Enermas, Her Mother’s Killer and Undercover Law. 23

John Leguizamo as Bruno Madrigal. His many film roles include Super Mario Bros., Carlito’s Way, To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar, Romeo + Juliet, A Brother’s Kiss, Body Count, Summer of Sam, Collateral Damage, The Alibi, Righteous Kill, Repo Men, and The Counselor. He has provided voice-work for Sid the Sloth in the  Ice Age film series. He wrote and starred in numerous Broadway performances including Mambo Mouth, Sp*c-O-Rama, Sexaholix… A Love Story, Klass Klown, and Latin History for Morons.Mauro Castillo as Félix Madrigal. He became known mainly for his role as Wilson Manyoma in the telenovela series El Joe: The Legend and for being a former singer of Grupo Niche. 4

Jessica Darrow as Luisa Madrigal. Her credits include Feast of the Seven Fishes and Following Hannah Stone Angie Cepeda as Julieta Madrigal. She is best known for her roles in  Pobre Diabla, Captain Pantoja and the Special Services, and Love in the Time of Cholera.5

Carolina Gaitán as Pepa Madrigal. She has appeared in Celia, Sin Senos Sí Hay Paraíso, Narcos, and The Greatest Showman. 6Diane Guerrero as Isabela Madrigal. She is known for her roles in Orange Is the New Black and Jane the Virgin. Guerrero is the author of In the Country We Love: My Family Divided, a memoir about her parents being detained and deported when she was fourteen. She currently stars as Jane in Doom Patrol.

Adassa as Dolores Madrigal. She is an American Urban Reggaetón singer-songwriter also known as the “Reggaetón Princess. Her 2005 single “De Tra” reached No. 40 on Billboard Latin Tropical Airplay chart. This is her acting debut. Maluma as Mariano Guzman. He made his debut album, Magia, in 2012 and his breakthrough album was 2015’s Pretty Boy, Dirty Boy. He subsequently released F.A.M.E., 11:11, and Papi Juancho. His single “Hawái” reached number three on the Billboard Global 200, and became the first number one single on the Billboard Global Excl. U.S. chart.7

Where in the World is Alan Tudyk?: Alan plays Pico, a clueless tucan

Songs: All songs are written by Lin-Manuel Miranda with scores composed by Germaine Franco.

  • “The Family Madrigal”
  • “Waiting on a Miracle”
  • “Surface Pressure”
  • “We Don’t Talk About Bruno”
  • “What Else Can I Do?”
  • “Dos Oruguitas”
  • “All of You”

Critical Reception:

  • Mark Kennedy of the Associated Press said, “It’s only appropriate that Encanto — fueled by eight original songs by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda — turns into that most special thing of all: A triumph in every category: art, songs and heart.”
  • Kristen Page-Kirby of The Washington Post gave the film 3/4 stars, praising the film’s visuals, characters and message and describing it as “a creative, fresh take on a story that is much more complex than your standard fairy tale.”
  •  Christian Holub of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a B grade, writing: “A smiling tale about familial reconciliation and learning to see your relatives for who they are rather than who you wish they were is never unwelcome.”
  •  Edward Porter of The Sunday Times gave the film 4/5 stars, describing it as “A deluge of clever, brightly coloured images and bouncy songs.”
  •  Simran Hans of The Observer also gave the film 4/5 stars; she described it as a “sparky musical”, and wrote: “What’s interesting and unexpected is the film’s subtle acknowledgement of culturally specific generational trauma and displacement.”
  •  John Lui of The Straits Times gave the film 3/5 stars, writing: “It takes an extraordinary effort to make plainness interesting and this movie almost succeeds. The songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda help and so does the stunning visual design, but there is no escaping the guilty feeling that any one of Mirabel’s relatives could be, or should be, the main character.”
  •  Deeksha Parthsarthy of Sportskeeda describes the film as “A fantastical and magical tale celebrating individuality and kinship”
  • Kyle Smith of National Review was more critical of the film, writing: “A thin story, dull characters, endlessly regurgitated gags, and a general air of pointlessness dog this fantasy about life in an enchanted house in an unspecified Latin country.”
  •  The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw wrote, “There are some nice moments and sweet show tunes, but Encanto feels like it is aspiring to exactly that sort of bland frictionless perfection that the film itself is solemnly preaching against, with a contrived storyline that wants to have its metaphorical cake and eat it.”
  •  Jake Wilson of The Age gave the film 2/5 stars, writing: “Whatever Smith and her team might think they’re doing, Encanto isn’t a realistic story of family dysfunction but a fairytale. And a fairytale without villains is a lot less fun.”

My take: First of all, the animation is gorgeous. The film is filled with saturated color and a lot of movement, particularly regarding the house. The characters move with a sense of comic timing.

I love the idea that a gift can also be a curse and that the desire to do good can also create conflict. There is pressure to be perfect, take on all burdens, and protect your loved ones. It reminded of the conflicts in the Lee/Kirby/Ditka stable of heroes. The conflict comes not from an external threat but rather how to best serve the family.

In the end, a foundation based on trauma and anguish is replaced by one of trust and cooperation.

Available on Disney +?: Yes. The film was available on December 24, 2021