Why ‘Encanto’ was my favorite movie of 2021


All images ©Disney. Editorial use only.

As of Jan. 7, Disney’s ‘Encanto’ has already grossed $207.5 million in the box office. ‘Encanto’ has a 91% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

If you had asked me two weeks ago what my favorite movie of last year was, I would have had a hard time answering. 2021 was a year of continued delays and shutdowns in the movie business due to COVID-19, and most of the titles I had been looking forward to were pushed back to the end of the year or 2022.

Disney’s Encanto, which I watched over winter break, exceeded my expectations and ended an underwhelming year of entertainment with a bang.

Encanto is the story of 15-year-old Mirabel Madrigal, a Colombian girl born into a family where almost every member has magic powers. Mirabel lives in a magical house, known as ‘Casita,’ which communicates with her by rattling tiles and floorboards and moving household objects around. The Casita’s magic is powered by a miracle, a candle that grants each family member a magic gift with which to help their community. However, when Mirabel came of age years ago, she was not given a gift. Mirabel still does her best to make her family proud but feels overshadowed by her magical cousins and sisters.

At the start of the movie, the house’s magic is threatened, and Mirabel takes it upon herself to find the answers to save her home and family. While on this journey, Mirabel explores her relationship with her family members: her strict grandmother, long-lost uncle Bruno, and ‘golden child’ older sister Isabela. Mirabel’s personal growth and the strengthening of these relationships is the emotional heart of this film. I’m not ashamed to say that the ending brought me to tears (twice!). Without giving spoilers, I’ll just say that Disney does a great job of making the characters human. Their struggles are relatable and they themselves are endearing.

Encanto’s soundtrack was written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, acclaimed writer of the musicals Hamilton and In the Heights. Miranda also worked with Disney on Moana in 2016. I love his work, so I went into the theater already excited. Though the target audience for Encanto is children like my younger sisters, the songs were just as compelling and entertaining to me at 17 as it was to them at 5 and 3.

Encanto’s songs are catchy and memorable, a blend of traditional Colombian music, rock and pop that stayed stuck in my head for days after watching it. Even the older members of my family loved it, and after watching it three times over winter break, we’ve all caught each other humming “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” to ourselves.

I was equally impressed with Encanto’s visuals. As nostalgic as I am about the Disney movies of my childhood, I have to say that the new generation of kids are definitely benefitting from improvements in animation technology and storytelling. Color floods every frame of Encanto, and every rewatch reveals more details. Everything from the house’s tiling to the stitching on Mirabel’s skirt is lifelike in its intricacy.

My sisters like to watch movies ad nauseam but instead of dreading having to watch Encanto again and again, I enjoyed searching for all the little side details and development that I didn’t catch in my previous viewing. (Something I’m sure tired parents appreciate! No one wants to be forced to watch a boring or overly-simple movie to death.)

Another aspect of the movie that I loved was its character designs and how seamlessly Encanto managed to portray some underrepresented groups. Mirabel’s aunt and uncle are an interracial couple, and the family Madrigal encompasses a variety of skin tones from light to dark. Mirabel’s sister Luisa, whose magical gift is supernatural strength, has the physique of a bodybuilder and is far taller than the rest of her family. I have never seen a female character with her build on the screen, and the movie does a wonderful job of balancing her strength with her womanhood. Children’s entertainment has been criticized in the past for overpromoting gender stereotypes, so it was really cool to see Luisa breaking that mold. She’s both buff and feminine – Mirabel calls her “the beauty and the brawn.” I think it’s awesome that my little sisters have characters like that to look up to.

Overall, seeing Encanto is well worth a trip to the movie theater, but if you don’t want to risk the trip, you can also watch it on Disney+.