'Encanto' is Disney Animation's 60th film, and critics say it's among the best
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Walt Disney Animation Studios has been delivering charming animated feature films to the masses since 1937. Its 60th feature, "Encanto," is one of the best, critics say.
Due out in theaters ahead of Thanksgiving, the movie centers on the Madrigals, a family who live hidden in the mountains of Colombia in a place called the Encanto.
The family arrived in the Encanto after Abuela Alma was forced to flee her home with her infant triplets. She was granted a miracle, which provided her with a magical house and blessed every child in the family with unique gifts — except Mirabel.
However, when the magic surrounding the Encanto is in danger, causing the house's foundations to crack and the Madrigals' powers to disappear, Mirabel is the one to step up and figure out how to stop it.
The film has been largely praised by critics for its animation style, diversity and "spellbinding" songs. It currently holds a 93% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes from 82 reviews.
"Disney's 60th animated feature is among their best," said Scott Mendelson in his review of the film for Forbes.
"Even with some grim undertones and periodically downbeat thematic elements, it is a generally joyful and thrillingly colorful fantasy that'll once again make us realize how much visual wonder we take for granted in modern animation," he wrote.
Here's what some critics thought of Disney's "Encanto" ahead of its debut Wednesday:
Disney's two animation studios have long been praised for their revolutionary techniques in creating delicate details, from stitching on clothing to realistic hair. "Encanto" continues that tradition.
"The computer animation, some of the best from any major studio in the last several years, presents a dazzling confabulation of hues and a meticulous weaving of precious details — like the embroidery on skirts, the golden-brown crust of a cheese arepa and the selection of native Colombian flora," said Maya Phillips, a writer for The New York Times.
Phillips said that "Encanto" has a "robust engagement with, and respect for, Latino culture," noting that the Madrigal family members have skin tones that range from light to dark and have hair textures that vary from straight to kinky-curly. It is a spectrum that is representative of the diversity within the Latino community.
"And the grand pooh-bah of the contemporary musical movie score, Lin-Manuel Miranda, provides a spellbinding soundtrack of songs combining salsa, bachata and hip-hop played with traditional folk instruments from Colombia," Phillips wrote.
"From 'Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs' to 'Raya And The Last Dragon,' Walt Disney Animation Studios has spent the past eight decades perfecting its signature riff on the classic hero's journey," wrote Caroline Siede in her review of the film for AV Club. "So it's a bold move that for its 60th feature, 'Encanto,' the studio turns so many of those classic tropes on their head."
Siede notes that unlike many of Disney's animated protagonists, Mirabel Madrigal not only has two living parents but is surrounded by an expansive extended family.
"How fun to see a Disney heroine with cousins," she wrote.
She pointed out that Mirabel's lack of magical abilities also sets her apart from other Disney heroines. In many cases, Disney's protagonists possess either special gifts or skills that distinguish them from other characters.
"That makes Mirabel a sort of reverse Elsa, if you will, and instead of setting off on an adventure to find herself, her quest leads inward into her own family history and the secrets buried inside it," Siede wrote. "Therein lies 'Encanto's' biggest innovation: It's a Disney adventure that never leaves the house."
"The songs, by Lin-Manuel Miranda, are syncopatedly infectious, word-weavingly clever, and unabashedly romantic; they keep the film bopping," wrote Owen Gleiberman in his review of the film for Variety.
Miranda has collaborated with Disney on several projects in recent years, including "Moana" and the upcoming live-action adaptation of the studio's "The Little Mermaid."
"And the whole picture is intricate and accomplished enough to make the era when your average Disney house animated feature was several tiers below that of Pixar seem like ancient history," Gleiberman wrote. "Yet for all the dazzle on display, none of it would mean much if 'Encanto' didn't present its heroine's moving journey in a way that kept surprising you."
"That's the key to enthralling animation — it stays one jubilant beat ahead of the audience," he said.
Mendelson was just one of many critics who praised the film's voice cast. In particular, he pointed to John Leguizamo — who voices an uncle whose ability to see the future puts him at odds with his family — as giving a performance that is "equal parts comedy and misery."
While Mendelson criticized Miranda's songs as often repeating information already provided to the audience, he said Disney smartly used the film to not only introduce diverse characters but to tell a unique story.
"'Encanto' uses the commercial freedom of being a big-scale Disney Animation release to both exist as a triumph of demographic representation and to not use that representational milestone as an alibi to tell an otherwise generic story," Mendelson wrote.
"Mirabel joins the ranks among one of the more realized Disney heroines, partially because she's not required to hit 'bad-ass female warrior who isn't your everyday princess' notes," he said. "If anything, the awkward misfit is who would usually be a supporting character in a conventional animated epic, and that adds to her universal relatability."