Lin-Manuel Miranda concludes his domination of 2021 movie musicals with the droll, vibrant "Encanto."
Following "In the Heights," which he wrote and appeared in, and the animated "Vivo," in which he starred, "Encanto" (for which he wrote the music) is a buoyant fairy tale that's set in Colombia. Its main character is Mirabel Madrigal, whose family members all look a bit like the late Olympia Dukakis. Each has a special power that was revealed to them when they came of age — except Mirabel. She feels like the odd one out because she doesn't have the super strength or speed that various family members use, as her grandmother says, "to serve this community and strengthen their hope."
As the movie begins, the family's magic is fading for some reason and some think Mirabel is to blame. The whole town may be in danger but it's a mystical sort of danger that involves spells you just know can be broken, so "Encanto" remains bright and funny, even when we're told the situation is dire.
Much of the credit for the sunniness of "Encanto" goes to Stephanie Beatriz, who supplies Mirabel's voice. Beatriz spent eight seasons honing her comic chops on TV's underrated "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" and she puts them to dandy use here, with quirky line readings and a playful wit that's biting but never mean. Her Mirabel is so self-effacing and funny that it's easy to root for her.
Actually, if "Encanto" has one problem it's that there's nothing to root against. Mirabel's abuela (grandmother) comes off as short with her but even that feels like it's coming from a place of love. Beyond that, there are no bad guys, unless you count the vague menace that endangers the village of Encanto, Mirabel is more compelling than whatever's going on with Encanto and the film would be stronger if it spent more time with her dawning realization that she has gifts her family doesn't understand.
The absence of a hissable villain keeps "Encanto" from being a great animated film but it's still a good one.
Manuel's effervescent songs recall his "Hamilton" work, especially a finale that sounds like a sequel to "Satisfied," and they're almost as satisfying. The movie's lush look — bright colors that glow, as if they're illuminated by the candles the Madrigals use in their magic spells — sets it apart from run-of-the-mill animated movies.
And its sweet central character is a great addition to the long list of Disney women who get things done.
*** out of 4 stars
Rated: PG for mild violence.
Where: In area theaters.