Apparently, everyone does talk about Bruno. In what must be the biggest breakout song from an animation since Let It Go from Frozen, the chart success of Encanto’s ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’ may have been many people’s first awareness of the film at all, so ubiquitous did that song become. We do talk about Encanto, it seems. So, what do we say?
Produced by Walt Disney Studios, Encanto continues the path that Moana took by pushing further away from the classic Disney hero and villain formula.
It features the Madrigals, a large multi-generational Columbian family, and how they work with inherent magical gifts to help the local village thrive.
Yet their self aware home is mysteriously cracking and only granddaughter Mirabel seems to notice, despite being the only member of the family with no gift of her own.
With no ‘villain’ in sight this is instead a movie of internal journey and family conflict. Led by matriarch Alma (Maria Cecilia Botero), and with a truckload of Lin-Manuel Miranda songs tucked under their arm, the Madrigals are reluctant to acknowledge that their magic might be fading, and they certainly don’t talk about Bruno, who disappeared years earlier after his ability to tell the future was not taken in good spirits by those not wanting to hear bad news.
Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz, Brooklyn Nine-Nine) is the typical studious and upbeat lead character. Underappreciated and filled with self doubt, Encanto gives her licence to flourish (like a less ‘set for the throne’ version of Moana).
One thing that Encanto does well is not only give Mirabel such beguiling verve, but place her in the centre of a large family so that she has plenty of opportunity to react to being pushed in a variety of ways.
On the face of it the Madrigals get on perfectly, but, like their house, it doesn’t take much closer inspection until the cracks begin to show.
Is Encanto Worth Watching?
At its core, Encanto is a fairly standard Disney animation. They may have shifted away in recent years to less overtly conflict-driven tales, but the story beats are as familiar as the day is light and the night is dark.
That makes coming to Encanto after having absorbed all the praise around it somewhat perplexing at first. In what surely was the most shocking event of the 2022 Academy Awards, it won the Best Animated Feature Oscar and batted aside the much more idiosyncratic and entertaining Mitchells vs The Machines to do so.
Encanto’s strengths come not from its plot (which would have been solved much earlier if anyone did talk about Bruno) but instead from the utterly compelling presentation.
Not only is a multi-generational Colombian family given glorious life and an undercurrent of bubbling power plays, but this is done without any feeling of condescension.
From super strong Luisa who both figuratively and literally does the heavy lifting in the family, through to mother Angie who can heal through cooking, the magical sparkle seeks only to bring vividly to life real family character types.
Similarly the songs, which appear to exist in a mysterious land of either rapt adulation or shrugged ‘yeah, they’re alright, I guess’, are animated like the imaginations of all concerned have been left unshackled.
Each number delving into the worries of the subject matter is brought to life with almost psychedelic glee, making a collection of strongly re-watchable scenes that will keep fans coming back again and again.
The love of family and Columbian culture are what elevate Encanto above otherwise standard origins. A meandering second Act merely fills the air before shifting into regulated ‘emotional climax’ moments at the end.
Encanto is a film that you very much will place yourself into and live as if it is your life, or simply let wash over you and then recede leaving a memory of pastel colours, character flourishes, and great song sequences.
Less ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’, more ‘ We Want To Talk About YOU though’.
Words by Mike Record