Between the magic hair, the deep-freeze know-how and the kung-fu training, the heroines of Disney’s recent ani-movies have marshalled impressive skill-sets. Non-magic leads or Latino heroines have, however, been in shorter supply. For its 60th animated feature, Encanto, Disney tackles both issues with one of the studio’s most endearing heroines: even if she can’t – as her sister can – carry houses on her back, young Mirabel Madrigal can carry a movie.
Like the odd one out in Prof X’s school or Miss Peregrine’s home, Mirabel (voiced by Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Stephanie Beatriz) is the one Madrigal without a special ‘gift’. While others are super-strong, good with flowers, miraculous at baking or strangely meteorological, Mirabel’s lack of a power weighs heavy - until the Madrigal casita’s magic begins slipping. Could she be the one to fix it? And might the mystery of long-lost uncle and fellow “family weirdo” Bruno be involved?
Far from fading, Disney’s magic formula benefits hugely from a Colombia-set spruce-up (and a little sly self-mockery in Diane Guerrero’s “entitled princess” character Isabela). Echoes of Beast’s palace reverberate around the Madrigals’ sentient home, with its ambulatory teapots and furnishings. And the colours? Expect to read the word ‘vibrant’ in most reviews.
Yet directors Byron Howard and Jared Bush root the wondrous in history and character, summoning literary magical-realism forefather Gabriel García Márquez’s influence. When Mirabel embarks on her inevitable quest, it takes her not out into the world but deeper into her house, as befits the film’s open-doors celebration of community and roots.
Not that Encanto’s horizons are limited. Every other minute pops with colour and circumstance, almost to a fault – initially, the story struggles for air. The concluding message lands a little broadly, too, but not before Encanto pulls every trick going to enrapture. Mirabel’s bond with cousin Antonio (Ravi-Cabot Conyers) adds a lovely tenderness; strong-woman Luisa’s (Jessica Darrow) set-piece is a near-psychedelic delight; and one spoilery character adds plenty of madcap fun.
Next to Mirabel, though, the highlights are Lin-Manuel Miranda’s songs. Sure-fire Oscar contender ‘Dos Orugitas’ instantly emerges as one of Disney’s sweetest, saddest tunes yet; sung in Spanish, every note aches with feeling. Mr Hamilton duly stands tall as the film’s not-so-secret weapon: from front to end, his abundant melodies help to ensure Encanto’s gifts keep on giving.