Review: Encanto

When we went to the UK to visit our family for the holidays, four-year-old granddaughter ABC watched the Disney film Encanto frequently. I was impressed with it but hadn’t realized how popular it had become until after we returned to the US and it seems that I run into commentary on it several times a week, including news that the soundtrack and individual songs from Encanto have been appearing in high positions in the Billboard charts.

For the few of you who may not know, Encanto tells the story of the Madrigal family from Columbia who use their magical gifts to help their community. Granddaughter Mirabel appears not to have been given a magical gift but her strong love for her family and their home powers the story.

Much of the commentary that I’ve seen concentrates on how important it is to have this portrayal of a Latinx family and story, along with inclusion of Spanish in the dialogue and songs. I agree with this point but want to note some other ways that this film feels inclusive to me. As someone whose family is racially diverse, I appreciate that the Madrigals have Indigenous and Black roots, as well as (presumably) European. As someone who wore glasses from a young age, I love that Mirabel wears glasses. I could get all metaphorical about clarity of vision, but I won’t. It’s just nice to see a positive portrayal of a girl who wears glasses in an animated movie.

The biggest point of inclusivity for me is the complexities of the family relationship. The most popular song in the soundtrack, the ensemble piece “We Don’t Talk about Bruno”, reminds me that my own family had an uncle that was seldom mentioned for mysterious reasons. We see Mirabel and her non-magical father struggle with finding their place within the family, which is a familiar issue in many families, for example, when a very sports-oriented family has a member who would rather be singing in the chorus than out on the field with a ball.

We also see the double-edged sword of trying to live up to family expectations. While it’s admirable that members of the family want to use their gifts to serve the family and the community, it’s all too easy to see each only for that one gift and not for the complex being that they are. This leads to feeling that it is only that gift that makes you valuable or loved. The clearest expression of this is “Surface Pressure”, the song that Mirabel’s sister Luisa sings. Luisa’s gift is that she is very strong, so she is much in demand at home and in the village. The song shows how difficult it is to deal with the pressure of those demands and her own worries and insecurities. She sings, “Under the surface/I’m pretty sure I’m worthless if I can’t be of service.” Ouch. How often in our families do we pigeonhole someone in a specific role, overlooking other attributes and gifts they bring? How often do we take for granted the work that someone does or make it seem that they are only valuable in what they can do, not in who they are as a person?

To me, among Mirabel’s gifts are love, thoughtfulness, insight, curiosity, caring, and truthfulness. None of them are “magical” but the results of them can be miraculous.

They can be for our own families and communities, too, if we honor those gifts and each other as Mirabel does.
*****
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A Wrinkle in Time

T and I finally got to see the new movie version of A Wrinkle in Time this week. Bonus: we were the only two in the theater for a Tuesday morning showing.

I appreciated the way the film updated the Madeleine L’Engle classic, setting it in the present day. I also appreciated the diversity of the casting among the leading roles and the smaller roles/extras. Many of the themes in L’Engle’s book – bullying, the role of science, love of family and friends, the strength of community in overcoming evil – feel fresh and pertinent in contemporary America. Though the story had to be condensed to fit into a movie-length timeframe, the core of L’Engle’s message remained strong.

I loved the vibrancy of the film and the richness of the color palette, especially when visiting other worlds. I also enjoyed the performances, bringing to life L’Engle’s sometimes enigmatic characters. I especially enjoyed Storm Reid’s portrayal of Meg.

I hope that the film will inspire a new generation of young people to read L’Engle’s novel and the rest of the Time Quintet.

Beauty and the Beast

Having given up on the concept of chronology in blogposting, I thought today I’d post on going to see the new live-action Beauty and the Beast film with spouse B and daughter T last week while we were in Missouri to visit T.

I remember going to see the animated Disney film with daughter E, who would have been about five years old at the time, with T being too young for movies. I was impressed with the beauty of the animation in the opening sequence and knew that we would buy and watch the video many, many times. We later had the soundtrack of the Broadway version. I was very interested in how this new, live-action film would fit into the Disney history with these other versions.

I was impressed with the new film. What I most appreciated was the addition of depth of characterization and backstory. Maurice, Belle’s father, is portrayed in a much fuller and more poignant way, set up by a new song near the beginning of the movie. We also learn more about Belle’s mother and about the prince’s parents, which makes the plot flow more easily.

I appreciated the new songs, which brought more emotion to the story, and which gave us an opportunity to hear the glorious voice of Audra McDonald.  I thought that Emma Watson did a good job as Belle and that her singing served the characterization well. I also liked the richness of the orchestration and the chorus numbers.

All in all, I liked this version of the story because it is more human – which is the moral of the story.

Moana

Today, I went to see the newest Disney film, Moana. I have been looking forward to it and was not disappointed.

Moana is a Polynesian girl who is the daughter of a chief. Although the island where Moana lives is fictional, her story draws on the cultural heritage of various Polynesian islands.

I don’t want to give away the story, but it resonated with me. Both of my daughters have lived in Hawai’i and respect the native cultural traditions. Daughter T, with whom I saw the film, is especially close to the plants of the islands and was happy to see many she recognized. I could relate to the epic voyage of the heroic wayfarer and the special relationship between a wise grandmother and her questioning granddaughter. I appreciated the feminine energy and the ethic of care of and for the community.

The animation was beautiful. I especially enjoyed the ocean, which is its own character in a way. There were also a lot of great moments involving hair, which is particularly difficult to render well in animation.

As often happens, there is a bonus scene at the very end of the credits, so try to stay.

 

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