Encanto starts out being charming and a bit too much like a typical Disney movie.  It’s rather sugary and hypomanic.  Many of the words in the rap singing will go over many people’s heads, but the viewer easily gets the impression that the household is a most happy place, and that the Madrigal family’s powers to do good for the community make them beloved.  Abuela (Botero) is especially proud of what she established after she lost her husband.

But there are some sad notes—young Mirabel (Beatriz) is the only one who has never received her “door” unlocking a special power as everyone else has.  One of them can lift remarkable loads, one can make flowers grow, one has healing powers, for instance, but Mirabel is not known for any special gift, even though she is told over and over that she herself is special.  She is sharp enough to sense that people are covering up something.

Blessed with a big heart and always wanting to help, Mirabel is also rambunctious in her efforts, and may leave destruction in her wake, which is sad because her aim is always to help and make her family proud of her.  Family members identify her with an uncle named Bruno (Leguizamo)—whose name is not to be mentioned.  As one song says, “We don’t talk about Bruno, no no no!”

And this is key to one of the messages of the movie—not talking about things is often an indication of their importance.  When Mirabel chases after Bruno—who is said to have moved away from town—she is told not to look for him.  But cousin Luisa (Darrow) has let it slip that Mirabel should go to Bruno’s Tower to find answers to her questions after certain powers seem to be slipping away from some family members and Mirabel has received warnings about the magic of the house disappearing.

Many psychological insights and moral principles tumble out in the last half of the story, which then illuminate the first half.

It did this psychologist’s heart good when Encanto begins to reveal that family secrets often hold the key to whatever might be ailing it.  It’s at this juncture that Encanto becomes so much more engaging and more than simply an entertaining animation.  Because despite family remonstrances, Milabel forges ahead and learns valuable information that—although painful and disruptive—heals wounds that no one in the family wants to acknowledge.

So, what for me started out as mere fluff and almost boring turned into something that caught my attention and made me smile and respect the film so much more.  Many psychological insights and moral principles tumble out in the last half of the story, which then illuminate the first half.

Production design (Ian Gooding and Lorelay Bove) and the other crafts of animation and effects make Encanto a first-rate story of magical realism, and Lin Manuel Miranda’s stamp on production and music is apparent.  It puzzles me that the filmmakers elected not to put in subtitles for the Spanish-speaking/singing parts, unless perhaps to make the point that Americans need to learn the language, considering that Latinos will be the dominant ethnic group in the USA sometime soon.  It would actually be helpful for some of us to see subtitles for the rap portions as well, which go by so rapidly they’re not understood by many.

Encanto is likely to appeal to general audiences who will be fascinated by the crafts, appreciate the emphasis on the value of family, and recognize some of the traits of families that cause problems or make them successful.  This movie is more than fluff.

Final Thought

Family secrets once aired can be healing and even be a salvation.


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