Austin Ashizawa | Student Life Editor
December 9, 2021
Disney hasn’t exactly had the best track record for the past couple of years. The studio is still a powerhouse, no doubt, and the Disney name alone will never cease to draw bundles of cash into the box office. Yet after so many lifeless films, I and many others began to feel like Disney was on the verge of following the footsteps of Illumination Entertainment, creating shamelessly bland movies for the sake of profit. I thoroughly detest many of their live-action remakes, and although the animation in many of their newest originals is fantastic, the stories and the messages failed to grasp my attention.
That was, until last weekend when their newest film, Encanto, caught me completely off guard. Filled with comfortingly warm lighting and truly emotive facial expressions, it could be held in high esteem for years purely for its stunning visuals that are brimming with vitality. And although Encanto’s world-building may admittedly not be on par with that of Pixar’s masterpiece, Coco, co-directors Byron Howard and Jared Bush were still able to bring Columbia to life through the clothing, food, and colors.
“Encanto is a beautiful film,” freshman Alexus Ashizawa said. “It presents beautiful visuals and a wonderful message about the importance of acceptance and family.”
Throughout the story, we follow Mirabel of the magical Madrigal family. Though Mirabel’s life is in many ways idealistic, there is one slight issue: unlike the rest of her family, she lacks a gift, making her feel like the runt of the group. Everyone else around her expects the extraordinary, but no matter how hard she tries to be of use to the citizens of the town, she feels like she is never able to shine. Yet as time goes on, the story begins to show us that those who appear “gifted” often have struggles of their own, with a couple of characters feeling that their entire self-worth revolves around their abilities rather than around their individuality.
This may be a minor spoiler, but let me just say that it is amazing how Encanto finally deviates from the dreaded “twist villain” trope. I kept expecting the movie to throw some hamfisted plot device into the mix to keep the action going like “Abuela Alma was evil all along,” but I was pleasantly surprised to see the story take a much different—and in my eyes, much more realistic—arc. Of course, the lack of intense, nail-biting action with an antagonist may leave younger audiences feeling that something is missing, but I think it helps to make the entire film much more re-watchable and genuine (instead of coming across as comical).
But what would a Disney movie be without songs? This time, one of the best aspects of the film has to be its music, and all thanks are due to the legendary composer Lin-Manuel Miranda. The songs manage to carry the same weight and energy as classic Disney musicals while also capturing the distinct, grandiose Broadway presence akin to the likes of Hamilton.
“The songs are honestly amazing and the visuals compliment the lyrics,” Ashizawa added. “Whether it is just Mirabel singing or the entire Madrigal family joining in, Miranda succeeds in making the experience memorable, enjoyable, and magical.”
Encanto also succeeds in adding a unique feel to each character, giving the entire Madrigal family a broad scope of personality. “For me personally, the characters are absolutely the best aspect of the movie,” senior Cory Jones said. “It was great to see each character take on a different, important issue in a simple, but nuanced way.”
In Encanto, each character is given a gift or, at the very least, a line of dialogue that helps us to better understand their motivations and who they are as a person.
“I very much resonated with Luisa,” Jones said. “The troubles that she had when she tried to take on as many responsibilities at once is an issue that I’ve had to deal with in my own life, as well.”
I never expected myself to be saying this about one of Disney’s recent films, but Encanto truly took all of my low expectations and threw them out the window, ultimately greeting me with a powerful message that I didn’t know I needed to hear at the time. As the film reaches its conclusion, a powerful central message of the movie persists: that you are appreciated by family for who you are, not what you can do. I’ll admit this message sounds a bit cliché on paper, but it is delivered in a meaningfully sincere context. In a lot of modern media, people are bombarded with the idea that anyone can do anything they put your mind to. In reality, I have experienced many scenarios in which I have found myself failing to live up to others’ expectations no matter how hard I tried to match them. Encanto reminded me that I have no need to force myself to meet peoples expectations of me, and that just being the best I can be is deserving of appreciation.
“It’s incredibly important that teenagers hear this message,” Jones said. “Many people I’ve known have had parents that act like an Abuela Alma, never appreciating them unless they’ve made some sort of accomplishment. I truly hope that this movie reaches those people and that they realize that just being them makes them worthy of appreciation.”
Disney hit the mark again with Encanto, and if you haven’t already seen the movie or are still on the fence about it, please make the trip to the theater (or watch it when it finally releases on Disney+). In addition to experiencing the entertaining visuals and getting catchy new songs stuck in your head, you will receive a beautifully crafted message that will leave you feeling inspired.