Disney's Encanto Celebrates Family, Magic, and Colombian Culture

A large Colombian family poses
The magical Madrigal family in ENCANTO

Encanto, the latest Disney animated feature, celebrates family, magic, and Colombian culture. Directed and written by a triune team of Jared Bush, Byon Howard, and Charise Castro Smith, with score by Germain Franco and music and lyrics by the prolific Lin-Manuel Miranda, Encanto tells a relatable story of one girl's desire to feel love and acceptance by her exceptional family.

Maribel (Stephanie Beatriz) feels sidelined. She's the only member of the Madrigal family who has no magical gift. The Madrigal family lives in the land of Encanto, with the Madrigal casita at the heart and center of the town. When each child is of age, they place their hands on the family candle and turn the knob on an enchanted doorway. The doorway reveals their gift and gives them their place in the family. When Mirabel turned of age, the door disappeared, making her feel like the family outcast.

A girl talks to a crowd
Maribel in ENCANTO

Now it's young Antonio's (Ravi Cabot-Conyers) turn to receive a gift, and the ceremony triggers Maribel's feelings of rejection as she watches him take his rightful place in his new bedroom, behind a door etched with his name and new gifting. But as Maribel begins to be aware of a threat against the family and all of Encanto, her family receives her warnings with suspicion and even disdain. Maribel makes it her mission to find out the truth, with or without her family's support. Her search helps her explore her identity -- both as a member of the Madrigal family and an individual with worth all her own.

Encanto takes a bit to get going, but once the large chunk of expositional singing cleared the room -- Miranda's rapid-fire lyrics and the many names dropped made it hard to keep up -- I was able to settle in and enjoy the unfolding tale. Mirabel's curious nature and feelings of being average allow viewers to easily enter the world depicted. The unique giftings and varied personalities of Maribel's family members offer abundant opportunities for humor and heartfelt moments. And although I'm not sure any of the musical numbers will join my list of favorite Disney tunes, Lin-Manuel Miranda follows form and uses a variety of musical styles throughout -- from pop to tango to merengue.

A boy with animals in his room
Antonio in ENCANTO
Many of the songs reveal what's hard about each family member's life, because let's face it -- it's not easy to be anyone. With each gift comes a cost, and this is the catalyst for many of the songs. Mirabel gets to learn, along with us, that everyone in her family feels somewhat alone. Luisa (Jessica Darrow) has incredible strength, but she oftens finds it hard to rest ("Surface Pressure"). Isabela (Diane Guerrero), a girl with ideal looks that can make flowers on demand, reveals that she feels tremendous pressure to be perfect all the time in "What Else Can I Do?" In the catchiest tune -- "We Don't Talk About Bruno" -- Mirabel's aunt and uncle explains how Uncle Bruno became the black sheep of the family. Bruno (John Leguizamo) ends up playing a key role in it all, of course, as Mirabel feels a special affinity for him. As the pictures comes to a close, one of the final songs will remind musical nerds very much of the Hamilton finale.

Maribel talks to the village children in ENCANTO
The animation team populates the screen with bright colors and a variety of body shapes, hairstyles, and skin tones celebrating the diversity within the Colombian culture -- a choice that will please those left feeling disgruntled after watching In the Heights. Mirabel wears delightfully hip green glasses and a turquoise maxi skirt sure to pop up in the costume line for 2022. This is a nice looking movie, with plenty of animals and set pieces that establish the setting.

This Thanksgiving weekend, families can't do better than Encanto for a movie the whole family can enjoy from grandparents down to the little ones.

Release info: In theaters November 24, 2021

Final score: 3.5 out of 5