“Encanto” follows the “girl with no apparent gift” Mirabel, who tries her best to fit in a family so extraordinary that her judgmental Abuela Alma (María Cecilia Botero) offers only her disappointment at every turn. For Mirabel, it’s tough to stand out when her mom, Julieta (Angie Cepeda), can heal wounds with her cooking—more specifically, her arepas con queso, her sister Luisa (Jessica Darrow) can lift the heaviest of objects with ease, and her sister Isabela (Diane Guerrero) can grow the most beautiful flowers without barely thinking about it. Mirabel notices the family’s casita is starting to show cracks, but no one believes her and downplays her worries as something her estranged eccentric uncle Bruno (John Leguizamo) would say. It’s up to Mirabel to find out what’s happening to save both her family and her home.
Directors Jared Bush and Byron Howard (“Zootopia”) and co-director Charise Castro Smith (”Raya and the Last Dragon”), who bears more than a passing resemblance to the movie’s main character, have created another kind hearted movie about misfits trying to do the right thing. Most notably, there’s no villain in this Disney movie, just a nebulous “unknown” threatening the family and their home. The conflict is minimal at best, which allows for Mirabel to spend more time learning about what she can do despite her lack of powers, but it also leaves the movie feeling a bit meandering. To make up for lost action, the movie shines in its animation and design, really making use of the house with doors to new worlds and musical sequences that allow for a little more abstract artistic freedom.
Speaking of those musical sequences, I think it’s time Lin-Manuel Miranda takes a break. After knocking it out of the park with “In the Heights,” “Hamilton” and “Moana,” his 2021 offerings have been a little lackluster. For this review, I finally watched the movie “Vivo,” in which he voices the title character as well as handles the song writing duties. Those numbers sounded flimsy and forgettable. In one song, he rhymes “drum” with… “drum.” In “Encanto,” the odds are a little better, more songs fare better than others, but there’s still a sense that these musical numbers are the reheated leftovers from other projects. They sound like his work, but don’t offer anything new or exciting to get stuck in our heads. Isabela and Luisa’s disposable pop songs “What Else Can I Do?” and “Surface Pressure” are cloyingly repetitive. “The Family Madrigal” is a less effective version of the opening song from “In the Heights.” Only Carlos Vives’ rendition of Miranda’s song “Colombia, Mi Encanto” sounds like a memorable stand-out.