Disney Animated Movies 60 – Encanto

I get the general impression that Raya and the Last Dragon was originally supposed to be Disney Animation Studio’s 60th movie. It’s a big story (too big for the movie’s own good), attempting to tell an epic fantasy story involving dragons, evil spirits and rival tribes coming together. It would have made sense, seeing how both the 25th and 50th movies from the studios were major projects. But they cancelled the movie Gigantic, which was originally supposed to release in November 2016, so Raya moved up to movie number 59. Instead, Encanto became the studio’s 60th movie.

The basic premise of Encanto is it follows a multigenerational Colombian family, in which every member receives some sort of magical gift on their fifth birthday. Well … except for central character Mirabel, who was denied a magical gift for an unknown reason. It’s an interesting concept, but for the most part this movie takes the more dramatic, character focused route over an epic story. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it doesn’t really feel like a 60th movie.

During Moana’s publicity tour, composer and story creator Lin-Manuel Miranda started working on the project along with John Lasseter, still the chief creative officer of Disney Animation. At the same time, Zootopia co-directors Byron Howard (also directed Bolt and Tangled) and Jared Bush talked about how they wanted their next project to be a musical. After Miranda approached them, they turned the project into a Latin-American musical. The three of them also shared the common experience of having large extended families, and wanted the story to focus on a large family.

In 2018, the three of them travelled to Columbia for a research trip, along with several co-workers who originally came from Colombia. Bush noted that every town they visited had a very specific personality, because of how the mountains divided and isolated them. Although the timeline is intentionally vague, it’s roughly set in the early 20th century, to use a “folkloric Colombian aesthetic.”

With the story and family growing more complex, they hired a rather large writing team, with one team focusing on the music and another focusing on the story and dialogue. They added Charise Castro Smith, for her strong background in “magical realism” and coming from a large family herself. While Disney was hesitant at the idea of a large family, the team wrote the opening song, “The Family Madrigal”, to quickly introduce everybody and their powers. They worked the characters around instantly identifiable archetypes, to reveal the characters’ deeper personality traits and insecurities as the movie went on.

Disney specifically hired several actors of Colombian descent, including Stephanie Beatriz for Mirabel, whose father is Colombian. John Leguizamo, who spent most of his childhood in Columbia, played Uncle Bruno. The only other major film roles I’ve seen him in are the first Ice Age movie (where he voiced Sid the Sloth) and the Mario Bros. movie (he played Luigi). Maria Cecilia Botero plays Abuela, Mirabel’s 75-year-old grandmother and the family matriarch, and she mainly works in Colombian cinema and TV. There’s also Diane Guerrero, who is American, but her family is from Columbia and was eventually deported. She’s mostly known for the Orange is the New Black and Doom Patrol TV shows. There are a lot of others, but this section will go on way too long if I list them all.

On a minor side-note, a number of the Colombian cast members voiced their character for both the English and Spanish versions of the film.

Also, Encanto is the first Disney animated movie since Tangled to use what’s called the “tall frame”, which they used to “get closer to the characters.”

Encanto released in November of 2021, and earned $256 million on a budget somewhere between $120 and $150 million. It opened to a disappointing $27 million domestically, much lower than what Disney hoped for, yet it still remained at the top of the global box office for several weeks. Generally, that’s not enough to make a profit, as movies generally need to earn somewhere between double and 2.5x their budget to succeed. Encanto greatly benefited from its premium Disney+ release however, to the point where it did end up making a profit, mostly thanks to positive word of mouth.

The movie’s standout hit, “We Don’t Talk About Bruno”, is also Disney’s first song in nearly 30 years to hit number one on the Billboard’s top 100 list. The last song being “A Whole New World” from Aladdin. On that note, the soundtrack as a whole topped the charts for several weeks. That makes Encanto the first movie in Disney’s history to top both the number one hit song and the number one soundtrack on the Billboards. That alone helped Encanto become profitable.

The merchandise also sold better than expected, with Luisa’s doll selling particularly well. In the movie, she’s Mirabel’s older sister with super strength. A lot of people are taking that as evidence that girls don’t only want pretty dolls.

The movie received a lot of critical praise, earning a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes with an average score of 7.5/10. Variety praised the movie’s visuals “with a vivacious naturalistic glow that, at moments, is nearly psychedelic.” Richard Roeper described the music as “infectious and instantly memorable”. Apart from a handful of critics who found the story unfocused, most of the disagreement came from how much the movie deviated from the normal Disney formula. Some thought it did quite a bit, while others found that it stuck close to the formula. I’m … not exactly sure where I stand on that.

The movie received the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, and also received nominations for Best Original Score and Best Original Song (for Dos Oruguitas). It also won three Annie Awards, for Best Character Animation, Best Music, and Best Storyboarding, while receiving 6 other nominations. The Visual Effects Society gave the movie 4 awards, for Outstanding Visual Effects in an Animated Feature, Outstanding Animated Character, Outstanding Created Environment and Outstanding Virtual Cinematography in a CG Project.

As for my own thoughts, I can definitely see this movie’s appeal. The music is quite catchy at times. The visuals are bright, colourful and generally appealing … at least when they’re supposed to be. The central dramatic conflict between Mirabel and her grandmother centers around Mirabel’s lack of magical abilities, and her grandmother being a bit too controlling and judging, even if she’s well meaning. It’s just … this movie isn’t made for me.

With so many characters in this movie, it’s often hard to keep track of their personalities, their names, and their insecurities. Sure, they use their magical powers enough that it doesn’t take long to remember who can do what, but besides Uncle Bruno and the sister with superhearing, none of these powers have a significant effect on the story. It’s easy to sympathize with Mirabel feeling left out and trying to prove herself, and that is the best part of this movie from a dramatic standpoint. With the other characters, you just don’t get quite enough time to feel their conflicts, both with the family’s matriarch and with their own internal issues. It doesn’t help that all of the external conflicts are solved in a matter of seconds, after the grandmother realizes that she’s essentially been gas lighting everyone.

On that note, this movie feels like it’s too short for its own good. There are just too many characters for a 90-minute movie, especially when Disney has released longer animated features with much less going on. It makes the main story feel a bit fuzzy and under explained. Not that you really need to explain magic to a scientific level, but when the story is about their magical house falling apart, and the movie only vaguely explains that it’s something to do with characters’ emotional states, it would be nice to learn at least some specifics about what is causing their house to fall apart, and exactly what restored it when everybody in the family lost their powers in the aftermath.

I know the last few paragraphs have been a bit negative, but these are things that would bug me with any movie. A lot of people enjoy this movie, and I would say it’s at least worth a watch. Despite my complaints, I still found it to be a pleasant way to kill an hour and a half. It just didn’t give me enough of a story to really grab me. The conflicts were too easily resolved to satisfy me. As catchy as the music is, it’s not really my style of music. Most of my complaints are really about personal taste, and not about the movie’s overall quality.

Anyway, there have been three Pixar movies released since I reviewed Soul. I’m only looking at two of them this month, as I’ll also finally re-evaluate two Disney Animation Studios movies that I saw for the first time in 2017, something I’ve been intending to do ever since. They’ll be Robin Hood and Meet The Robinsons. Depending on how much free time I have this week, it’ll either be that or Luca next weekend. I’ll save Lightyear for another time. Honestly, without Tim Allen, I have virtually no interest in a movie about Buzz Lightyear.


About healed1337

I am a relatively new comic book fan writing this blog for other new comic book fans and/or people who are interested in comics but don't know where to start. I've always been interested in writing, to the point where I have a college Creative Writing Certificate and I'm currently a year 2 Journalism student. I also have another blog where I mostly make fun of bad movies - www.healed1337.blogspot.com As for how I got into comics, I've always had a passing interest in superheroes: most notably Batman, Spider-man and the X-Men. Until February of 2011 (I think,) my only experience with any of these franchises came from the movies and video games. Shortly after I bought Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 however, I decided to check out X-23, Wolverine's female clone. I ended up reading her Innocence Lost origin story and enjoyed it. From there, I started reading various X-Men comics and it quickly exploded into my newest hobby. My other interests/hobbies include video games, movies, music, playing sports, my dogs and weird news.
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5 Responses to Disney Animated Movies 60 – Encanto

  1. Paul Bowler says:

    Must admit had no real idea what Encanto was about until I read you piece on it. I’d heard of it but I’m not really all that into Pixar movies- or animated films much tbh. Still, sounds like this film did really well at the box office.


  2. It was such a visually captivating and fun movie but, like you, I had my issues with the story and how it juggled the numerous characters. Not having a “real” villain also felt like the story was missing something to keep it all from falling apart (hehe) but I guess the risk they took to focus on the whole family drama is something. Great post as usual!


    • healed1337 says:

      The lack of a villain in this kind of story isn’t necessarily a problem. It’s more of a drama than anything else, and I welcome more fantasy dramas. That said, this is a trend with Disney’s animated movies lately. They haven’t had a proper villain in any of their animated movies since Big Hero 6, even in movies like Raya and the Last Dragon that kind of needed one. They’re getting a bit stale because of this.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Disney rewatch – the Robin(sons) movies | healed1337

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