Byron Howard is no newbie to animation: the American director, who joined Disney in 1994, after innovating the romantic genre of the Disney Classics together with Dan Fogelman (This is Us, Galavant) thanks to Rapunzelin 2016 he had given the animated world a re-edition of anthropomorphic fables with Zootropolis (find here our review of Zootropolis), with which he had also won the Oscar for best animated film.
What expectations on Encanto they could be high was quite obvious, especially when the Burbank company had decided to publish and distribute two Classics in the same year, with the first not being able to make itself as memorable as, instead, many would have hoped. The ability to divide audiences and critics was importantdemonstrating that Encanto (our review of Encanto awaits you here) in some narrative aspect it has failed, while the technique continues to be an eternal and evergreen display of Disney’s skills and abilities.
The villain that dwells within us
Let’s start with the preponderant aspect, which Disney in recent years has decided to completely elide from its narrative equations: the absence of a villain.
Frozen he was the progenitor of it, telling us that the antagonist of the whole story lived in what was the protagonist herself, in some situations an enemy of herself; Oceaniaperhaps among the most complete and satisfying Classics of the last ten years, instead, he had reasoned in terms of a natural evil, to be faced in order to prevent the extinction of an entire tribe, which ended with the rehabilitation of a demon as goddess of benevolence. If then Raya was the only one to offer us a real challenge against an antagonist who could hinder the path of the hero, with Encanto the choice of Byron Howard, who in Zootropolis had put together an animal thriller, is that of cancel any external contrast and transpose it inside. The only opponent that Mirabel Madrigal, the first Disney protagonist with glasses and tending to a more human and normal dimension than all other Disney adventurers, it is in itself. Stripped of the possibility of having a talent and therefore a real black sheep of her family, adored and beatified by the whole village, the girl finds herself in having to fight with his inner selfto win the battle that is pushing it to be the ruin of the whole house.
Mirabel’s is a path of growth rather than a real battle against an antagonist: it is an inner struggle that pushes her to search for Bruno, the uncle who cannot be named, to come to the head of a vision that sees her dressing the cloths of misfortune. For this reason, the resolution of the narrative plot was weak, artificial, in its final point almost obvious: Mirabel comes to a kind of self-affirmationin rediscovering the embrace with what he thought should be his sister Isabel, but who actually reveals herself to be Alma as a young man, to rediscover that one’s talent is precisely that of not having one: of being normal.
The apparent exaltation of normality
From this exaltation of normality comes the second point that pushes Encanto towards a difficult notoriety over the years to come: the 60th Disney Classic insists on narrative methodology acceptance of the normalof the non-special, almost wanting to tell us that in a world of talented we have to accept that we have nothing unique.
In reality, the message that passes is another, covertly stuck in the cracks of the house of Encanto: Mirabel is not without talent, but she is stripped only of the gifts that the house has decided to give to the Madrigal family. She, like her grandmother Alma, who at the beginning of the film explains to her that she is as special as few of her, is the only real heir of the Abuela, destined to putting together the pieces of a broken family from what it aspires to be, not what it really is. In a hypothetical family crisis, where every talent would respond only to itself, without ever a real choral action, of cooperation, Mirabel would be the only one able to bring everyone together under a single aegis, that of the candle, and make sure that the Madrigals find themselves protagonists of the initial ballad sung by the protagonist to introduce her family. Because Encanto it is not a self-referenced tale, but of love for the family itself: the one experienced only by Mirabel and Bruno.
In this regard, the musical aspect manages to remain quite impressed in the mind of those who have seen the Classic. If Katzenberg for the Renaissance he decided to rely on Alan Menken, the man who revived the fortunes of Disney, from 2016 to today the Burbank company has found in Lin-Manuel Miranda a new King Midas. His adventure with Walter’s heirs began with Oceania, composing How Far I’ll Gonominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song, later to enjoy a success came in retrospect with Hamiltonthe musical he had made in 2015 and for which he had won the Pulitzer Prize for dramaturgy, only to be acclaimed when it was released on Disney +.
The American composer doesn’t get to make any great songs for Encantothere are no peaks, but a homogeneous proposal of catchy melodiesLatin and dancing, which allow Mirabel to be at the center of a carnival of colors and an explosion of joy: Miranda, who knows about musicals, ends up blending in an excellent way with the camera movements which, as proof of that Disney’s great technical ability, enhance the joy and euphoria of the Madrigal family.
The two major absences
If, on the other hand, in closing, we want to find two real gaps, in Encanto we can run into two gaps in the plot. The first concerns the sweetening of a theme that could have been much more incisive, namely that of racism: it is clear that the Madrigal family is victim, as well as the rest of the village that decides to follow Alma and Pedro, of a persecution, of a racial attack. The pursuers could be militants or even banished, but such an intense flight and above all linked to a specific ethnic group suggests a discourse of racism that would have deserved, in this case, much more attention and intensity.
It would have benefited the whole setting à la Gabriel Garcia Marquezthan with his One hundred years of solitude had told a reality very close to Encanto, with its Buendía. Atmosphere that Disney knows well, because already in 1942 and 1944 she had deepened her knowledge of Latin America, a place dear to Walter Elias, first with Saludos, amigos and then with The three Caballeros. Both made for good neighborly, purely political purposes, they could have indicated the right path to Howard, who could have accelerated the political examination of a typical problem of Latin American peoples.
The second disappointing aspect of Encanto it is the dull and inconsistent attempt to insert slapstick elements within the feature film: the only funny gags are relegated to a child who gulps down coffee as if it were water, despite his very young age, and finds himself hyperactive for the entire duration of the film. But we would certainly have expected more from Bruno, perhaps veterans from the joking use of his name also in Lucathe latest Pixar film of undoubtedly greater artistic and narrative value.
Written and drawn with all the trappings of madness and comic destination, Bruno could have reached peaks of hilarity against which to contrast his having been the recipient of the most fascinating and at the same time most disturbing talent: a missed opportunity for what could have been , next to Mirabel, the real star of the second part of the film more than he has been, relegated to snatching a few laughs for his coexistence with mice and his presenting himself as a poor character actor.
The future of the Encanto
In short, we do not want to reduce the whole critical question of Encanto to the absence of a final climax that leads us to a battle between good and evil, but simply underline as by Byron Howard, who in Zootropolis had shown many other qualities, we would have expected more. He has been able to manage the comic characters, from the Flash sloth to Nick Wilde himself, the protagonist of a true first actor, while in Encanto he almost seems to stumble on those occasions that he could have exploited.
What the 60th Disney Classic leaves us, however, is the possibility of opening a great new narrative vein, with the Madrigal family transformed into an excellent serial productwith episodic events capable of putting all its members before the need to use their talents, waiting to discover new ones.
That could be a big hit, more so than with the animated series Big Hero 6 and of Rapunzel, which in the long run have seen the already unstable narrative premise of their respective series creak. At Disney, on the other hand, we wish more courage for Strange Worldin the hope of being able to talk about those disturbing stories that until 2002 – the year of The Planet of the Treasure – they excited us.