I love Disney animations and musicals. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a fan of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s work. I started following his career long before Hamilton existed and won its many awards. So, when I heard about Encanto with all its original songs written by Miranda, I was curious. I felt Moana worked brilliantly, surely this will too, right?
Directed by Jared Bush and Byron Howard, the screenplay also by Bush with Charise Castro Smith, and the original score by Germaine Franco known for previously working on Coco, Disney’s Encanto takes place in Columbia following a Latino family all gifted with magical powers. Well, all except one, Stephanie Beatriz’s character Mirabel Madrigal.
While I was initially quite keen to see this film, and I love musicals, for some reason I felt that Encanto had far too much singing and not enough spoken dialogue. Almost the whole film is sung, the songs dominating majority of the feature, and not in a good way.
The songs sound lovely with great vocal performances from the cast. But some of the lyrics aren’t easy to cypher due to being sung too fast, and other songs appear to drag out and be much longer than necessary, overstaying their welcome on the screen. For example, a side character having an over 3-minute song.
I find that the decision to have the songs longer than they should be in Encanto actually distracts from the film’s story. I do believe that creators had good intentions in mind and calculated concepts that looked well on paper, however, they have forgotten that sometimes silence and no music at all can help a story move forward and touch people’s hearts. Unlike Encanto’s predecessors, it never pauses for dramatic effect, it never lets the characters develop more than on a surface level, it never lets the audience breathe.
The greatest Disney songs of all time were never long without reason, and even when they were, they never felt long. The iconic dance scene with Belle and Beast in “Beauty and the Beast” is only a little over 2 minutes long, but it is a pivotal moment in their relationship together, and it is memorable because it is not squished back-to-back with song after song just for the sake of having a song. At least, this is how it felt when watching Encanto.
Even in Moana, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda himself, the moment where Moana realises who she is in “I Am Moana (Song of the Ancestors)” there is a pause and calm before the moment builds and the film showcases one of the most powerful moments in Disney animation history.
There is no magic in Encanto, not really. I wasn’t moved to tears, I didn’t feel touched by the story. If anything, I was angry with how Mirabel was treated by the other characters and wasn’t sold on the resolution it provided during its conclusion. Honestly, I was left with more questions when the credits started to roll. Actually, there is one beautiful song in Encanto that I genuinely loved, “Dos Oruguitas” performed by Columbian singer-songwriter Sebastián Yatra. But it isn’t sung by a single character, and while the song is hands down the most moving piece in the film, it felt like an executive decision was made to insert a Latin Pop song just for the hell of it.
I admit, Encanto is visually stunning, colourful, vibrant, and it does well to work with the original music it has been given. However, there’s something about Encanto that feels hollow. I wasn’t moved, the content felt forced, and by the end, I was surprised with how relieved I was when it was over. Ultimately, the uneven script is the main culprit for letting this film down. Formula and concept wise, it seems to work, but really, it did not. Encanto is (ironically, and all puns intended) missing its magic. I would still recommend this film as a cinematic treat for young families. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it. Just, don’t be surprised if they get lost with the story along the way.