Encanto ★★★★

Me encanto.

In the Disney theatrical animation features canon, this is their best work since the last time they collaborated with Lin-Manuel Miranda, for 2016's "Moana". Maybe he should become their 60%-of-the-time in-house composer, like Randy Newman has been for Pixar. "Wreck-it Ralph 2", "Frozen 2" and "Raya" were all pretty good, but this is the first one in five years that's felt part of the special realm of stand-out future classics for their library. I don't see it getting much attention in that regard from critics or audiences, but I'm here to push that needle however I can.

First, an acknowledgement that this is the 900th Disney film ever since their Renaissance began in '89 that's about a young protagonist who feels like an outsider, yearns to find an identity, and gets into big, wacky trouble on her world-expanding coming-of-age journey to successful self-confidence. They do this movie a lot. Disney skeptics and cynics in general will not be easily swayed to give this latest version of the same old thing an open-minded chance. It is also, in this era of Marvel and DC ruling pop culture, a stealth superhero movie (a big family in which everyone has their own magical abilities...MCU crossover TV miniseries surely to debut on Disney+ by 2024), which will make this an even harder sell to people tired of this company's oppressive self-reproductive cycle.

But it's marvelous just the same. An animated paradise confined almost entirely within a sentient cottage home in the picturesque valley of an unspecified Hispanic country, bleeding a warm, luscious rainbow palette in nearly every frame like the whole movie's aesthetic was inspired by a spring bouquet. Imaginatively impressionistic animation during the musical numbers. A rich Miranda soundtrack that means faster lyrical mouthfuls and snappier, groovier melodies, plus more than one song performed in un-subtitled Spanish. Latino culture represented even more proudly and specifically than it was a few years ago in Pixar's "Coco", including overtures of their frequent, ongoing plight as refugees. Empathetic themes befitting modern mainstream fictional storytelling's psychiatric lean toward understanding all the kinds of anxiety and trauma that inform our habits. The reassurance that we're all dealing with something or other that fucked us up, and it'd be nice if we could express these problems, not let them control us, and find acceptance from the surrounding world. Maybe we'd all get along better if we bothered to notice why each of us behaves the way we do.

"Encanto" builds on the spiritual-cleansing idea of "Moana" by eliminating villainy from its story altogether. There's no bad-guy twist, no mean person they have to throw off a cliff at the end. No big action climax at all, in fact! The movie is just one big therapeutic metaphor for family. The Madrigals can only fix their crumbling home by communicating better and forging healthier relationships with one another. That's it! Though embellished by magical spells, fantastical superpowers, and dramatic narrative crescendos, this is the smallest scale Disney animated film in ages, maybe ever? Very limited setting circumference, low stakes, and everyone's heightened personalities could just be interpreted as how a young girl sees her family members' eccentricities.

I have to appreciate any attempt by Disney's largest divisions to change things up a little, to show progress in leaving behind some antiquated traditions and earnestly try to merge frilly popcorn entertainment standards with idealistic life messages. The movie feels fresh, spirited and emotionally true. So go ahead and keep repeating certain tropes and structures if you must, Disney, so long as the product can be as encantadora as this.

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