At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Encanto “2021”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Encanto “2021”

MPAA Rating: PG/Genre: Animated Musical Fantasy Comedy/Voices of: Stephanie Beatriz, María Cecilia Botero, John Leguizamo, Mauro Castillo, Jessica Darrow, Angie Cepeda, Carolina Gaitán, Diane Guerrero, Wilmer Valderrama, Rhenzy Feliz, Ravi Cabot-Conyers, Adassa, Maluma, Rose Portillo, Alyssa Bella Candiani, Noemi Josefina Flores, Paisley Herrera, Brooklyn Skylar Rodriguez, Ezra Rudulph, Juan Castano, Sarah-Nicole Robles, Hector Elias, Alan Tudyk, Jorge E. Ruize Cano, Noemi Josefina Flores/Runtime: 102 minutes

I think it is fairly safe to say that throughout the years, to say nothing of no less than 59 animated slices of cinema at the particular point in time that is the seemingly long-ago year of 2021, that particular iconic studio powerhouse that is the House of Mouse has managed to figure out and subsequently deploy to brilliant effect time and time again the best recipe for pulling the strings of an audience member’s heart and subsequently causing their emotions to pour from them and the money in their wallet to mysteriously disappear. That being start with a main character who is a wonderful mix of keen to say nothing of fairly relatable to kids and adults, thread into the mix an on-point degree of both happiness and woe into their narrative, insert in some tunes that will be on repeat for the next 2-3 years, and voila! You have yourself an animated gem that most assuredly will stand the test of time to say nothing of additional profits to be made from merchandising the daylights out of this slice of cinema to younger movie goers who will then pester their parents to buy them everything featuring any breakout characters from said film including t-shirts to toys and everything in between. With that in mind, I think it is safe to say that the 60th animated slice of cinema released by the House of Mouse, and film I am reviewing today, 2021’s Encanto, is one that follows Disney’s recipe for success to a t. Indeed yes this most assuredly is an animated saga that is heartfelt without question, but it also is one that is very familiar if you are even remotely knowledgeable about the aforementioned Disney recipe. Having said that however, it is fairly difficult to not appreciate the magic spell that is placed upon us as movie goers by this slice of cinema’s creative team including a terrific cast spearheaded by a wonderful Stephanie Beatriz from Brooklyn Nine-Nine, the always delightful Lin-Manuel Miranda who co-wrote the narrative and *of course* contributed immensely to the music department, film helming duo Byron Howard and Jared Bush, and co-helmer Charise Castro Smith. Be that as it may be, this slice of magical cinema may not quite be able to separate itself entirely from the distinct Disney formula, but it is still an enchanting sit thanks to a novel narrative, wonderful work behind the camera, a delightful collection of characters brought vividly to life by a fantastic group of performers, and a message at its core that is absolutely essential. Suffice it to say that, this slice of animated cinema is most assuredly, with the summer season now upon us, one that can be the perfect bit of entertainment for families looking to spend some time together on a summer day that is either too rainy to take the kids to the beach or too hot to really want to go to anywhere. Indeed now more than ever I feel that all of us are in desperate need of a wee bit of that ol’ Disney magic and I can guarantee you dear reader that the slice of animated cinema that is Encanto is one that most assuredly fits that to a t in all the wonderful ways that it seems like only Disney can bring to the table.

The plot is as follows: Encanto gets its riveting narrative underway by giving us a useful amount of backstory with the goal in mind of being our introduction to the quirky and delightfully odd Madrigal clan. It seems that a long time ago prior to the beginning of the narrative, the family’s matriarch, one Abuela Alma, found herself gifted with a genuine miracle. A miracle that takes the shape and form of a enchanted house that for all intents and purposes is not only a living being, but also one that is able to bless each of Abuela’s ancestors with a distinct talent (read: super power). As a result, we see that all of Abuela’s kids and grandkids have been given particular abilities that they then utilize to make their world around them a better place. Actually I take part of that back. What I should’ve said there is almost all of Abuela’s kids and grandkids have been blessed with particular abilities. This is because our heroine in this, a girl by the name of Mirabel, is for reasons unknown the only member of this family who does not seem to have a distinct talent which as a result means she is viewed as sort of the black sheep of the family even though in all fairness she does try her absolute hardest to make everyone proud of her for at the very least something. Things soon come to a head however when at a ritual for the latest family member’s talent to reveal itself to the family, our heroine observes that the family home is acting weird. Of course, in this case weird doesn’t mean “oh it’s running a fever” or “oh it seems to have developed a stomach ache from eating too much candy”. Rather weird means that it looks like it could come falling down at any given moment. Yet we soon see that despite our heroine trying to sound the alarm everyone in the family brushes her off and view her concerns merely as lashing out because she doesn’t have a distinct talent like everyone else. As such, we see that in order to save the home before the magic is genuinely lost, our heroine must set off a journey to find a solution. A solution that may or may not involve her long alienated from the rest of the clan cousin Bruno who decided to head out since his particular talent didn’t exactly make him the family’s golden boy by any stretch of the imagination. Thus can our heroine find her cousin and save the family home before the magic disappears for good? That I will leave for you to uncover for yourself…..

Now in quite a few distinct aspects, I think it is safe to say that you really shouldn’t be all that surprised to discover while watching this that Encanto may actually remind you of another slice of animated cinema from Disney in the form of 2016’s Moana. Indeed not only do both of these slices of cinema focus on a lively and strong female character doing whatever she can to save where she lives, but they  both also manage to incorporate songs from no less a talent than Lin-Manuel Miranda. From a narrative perspective however, I can safely say that Encanto is by no means a retread of Moana and is very much its own thing thankfully. On top of that, the Madrigal clan all prove to be downright intriguing in their own ways to say nothing of the fact that their enchanted existence will prove to be just as bewitching to you, the viewer as it is to the world within the film. Thus even as a movie goer, I think it is safe to say that you will fall in love not only with the talents each member of the family brings to the table, but also with their place of residence as well. Suffice it to say that it is clear that the creative minds behind this slice of cinema definitely seemed to have an absolute blast behind the scenes coming up with each family member’s distinct talent which run the gauntlet from being able to communicate with animals all the way to the ripped straight out of the X-Men ability to control the weather. On top of that, the creative team behind the camera also do a wonderful job of ensuring that this slice of animated cinema is full to the brim with vibrant color choices and visuals that are just downright gorgeous to lay your eyes on with particular regard to the family’s very much sentient house. Indeed from floors that pull people like they are on a conveyor belt to staircases that seem to have come straight out of Hogwarts, it is clear that this slice of cinema’s creative team have managed to incorporate enough sly peculiarities that it really feels like the house in this is just as much a character in this as any of the human characters that reside within its walls. I also appreciate this slice of cinema for having the guts to not possess in many respects a typical antagonist. Yes the heroine’s dilemma of proving she is worthy to be seen as a member of this super powered family even though she herself is lacking in the power department is riveting to an extent, but it also feels like an angle we have seen done before. What is noteworthy here however is that during her quest to fix the ailment that is inflicting the house, we see our heroine inadvertently dredge up internal skirmishes being had by other members of the clan with particular regard to her sisters Luisa and Isabela respectively. Suffice it to say that by making the choice to immerse you, the viewer into these hidden problems, this slice of cinema is able to obtain a relevance that, in some way, is most assuredly going to ring true for each and every one of you even with all the magic that is a key component to this narrative. Finally, it should also be pointed out that by bringing on a song and dance man of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s talents to work on this slice of cinema, it was all but inevitable that the music in this film was going to prove to be quite memorable. As a result, it should come as no surprise to learn that the music in this slice of cinema is terrific to say nothing of perfectly in synch with a lot of Miranda’s prior catalogue of work. Having said that however, I really don’t know if any of the songs in this will become iconic enough to place alongside the best of the best that Disney has come up with throughout their storied history as a studio. With that in mind though, I do feel that there are specific songs in this that will conjure up more potent pathos in you than the others will and the creative team behind this slice of cinema have done a good job of giving each song its own amusing little montage. Suffice it to say that I definitely feel, if they haven’t already, kids will most likely get the usual joy and happiness from the song and dance shtick in this, but don’t be too surprised if you see some parents finding themselves enjoying just a bit too…..even if they might not show it in front of their kids or other adults for that matter.

Of course, it is also worth pointing out that, alongside the beautiful work done behind the camera, each and every single member of the voice cast for this slice of cinema manage to make the most of their respective characters and in the process give us a group of characters that are nothing short of iconic. Of course, it should come as no surprise to learn that top honors in this slice of cinema would be the work done in this by Beatriz who, once more, manages to show she is a wonderfully talented voice actress. Indeed not only does she bring to the role of Mirabel a vibrant and decent manner, but you really find it easy to cheer her on and relate to her as a person on this odyssey she goes on not only to prove herself, but to save her family home as well. Along with the work done in this by Beatriz however, I feel that no less a talent than John Leguizamo also deserves to be praised immensely for the work he does in this film as the family pariah Bruno. Indeed I have always, to some degree, appreciated whenever Leguizamo has popped up in a movie (Ice Age 4 and 5 be darned) and here he does a wonderful job of being able to give us the comedy audiences have come to expect from him, but also the surprisingly emotional bitterness of a person who for a long time has had to internalize quite a bit of pain, misery, and even humiliation respectively. Suffice it to say Leguizamo manages to play it all in a way that is wonderfully on point but also very human and relatable as well. Now even though the rest of the Madrigal clan are all given their own distinct moments to truly shine, there are at least a trinity of others who do fairly exceptional work. This starts with Botero who does a terrific job in the role of Abuela at walking the very narrow line between caring about the people in her life whilst also desiring everyone to be practically perfect in every way and extends to Darrow and Guerrero who,  in their respective roles of Luisa and Isabela, both manage to garner some truly wonderful solo moments in this that are not only electrifying, but also do a wonderful job of expanding their characters and make them like actual people rather than archetypes we’ve seen a million times before.

All in all it may have its fair share of flaws, but Encanto is a slice of cinema that roots itself not only in a culture that we don’t see often showcased in cinema, but also in ground level human pathos that are truly the dictionary definition of universal no matter who you are or where you live on this planet. Yes this slice of cinema concentrates a fair bit on dramatics within a family unit and how they learn to accept and love one another for who they are as individuals rather than view each other through the prism of the magic that the majority of them have been blessed to receive, but at its heart is a fantastical element that weaves everything into a whole to say nothing of making its cast of characters quite novel for better and worse. Suffice it to say that Encanto is a film that manages to delight both on a visual and story perspective complete with lively music, jaw-droppingly beautiful animation, and a truly top-flight collection of vocal talent that all assemble together to aid in bringing to life a slice of cinema that most assuredly is rooted, but is also a magical slice of cinema in the wonderful way that it seems like Disney does best. On a scale of 1-5 I give Encanto a solid 4 out of 5.