Disney has done it again. They have cornered a market, stuck with their guns and filtered out the same story over and over. The only difference between Luca, Coco, Raya the Last Dragon and now Encanto is to what part of the world it appeals to. It is now a game of variables that eventually appeal to the broadest range of people. Completely acceptable, run-of-the-mill entertainment that fires out in conveyer-belt fashion. Stunning. Despite that, Encanto and directors Byron Howard and Jared Bush do a fine enough job of making Encanto just that. Fine it may be, there is little to the charms or inevitable narrative threads that build this story of MacGuffin devices, miracles and magic. None of it matters in the long run, as long as it is colourful enough to convince young audiences of its future nostalgic value and not bad enough to bore adults who will be settling in for the long haul.
Wasting no time at all in getting to those musical numbers in the magic house, Encanto has some strange choices in its direction and movement. The usual possessives of an undersung character trying to discover their gift. Nice enough, but Disney has done this before, time and time again with efficiency. They peaked some time ago and the nicest part of Encanto is that it is unchanging in its few consistencies. Mirabel Madrigal (Stephanie Beatriz) is a solid leading voice to have in this feature but is used loosely for the “it’s perfect to be imperfect” message.
Usual these one-trick personalities may be for Disney features, Encanto features too many to keep track of. The boy who drinks coffee and shakes like an animal is wasted rather early on as a quick break for an unengaging original song. Some characters feel lazy, the Uncle (John Leguizamo) who can see the future, the sister whose talent is strength or beauty. They are all static reminders of what Disney perceives as talent and has done for many years. The issue here is that Disney does not break the mould for the people watching as well as their characters. To perceive talent as strength or beauty for an impressionable audience is a grim mistake, a simple one too. Disney’s failure to take massive risks with their characters to provide something new and unique to a generation of moviegoers is all the sourer when they have hijacked different cultures from around the world to con people into perceived originality.
It is not as if Disney has not taken minimal risks over the past few years of moviemaking. Soul was particularly delightful but had the benefit of Pixar’s involvement. Who would’ve thought the only creativity left at the powerhouse corporation of children’s entertainment would be the one’s not churning out project after project at an efficiency reserved for bread factories and automobile shops. When everything is the same, it is easy to fire through the same content and get it out as fast as possible. Encanto uses yet another culture as a colourful backdrop to the same story tropes that Disney have relied on for years. “What about Mirabel?” the crowds of children sing in the opening song. What indeed. There is nothing to her. An empty vessel coasting through, picking off emotional quandaries as best Bush and Howard can, and as quickly and efficiently as possible. Fine enough, but it means nothing in the long run.