By John Mulderig | Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) — Will viewers be charmed by “Encanto” (Disney)? For the most part, the answer is probably yes, though this vivacious animated musical does include content that could be of concern for the parents of impressionable kids.
The setting, from which the film takes its title, is an enchanted enclave in Colombia. Long ago, this realm became home to Alma (voice of María Cecilia Botero), a then-young refugee mother who had recently been widowed when her courageous husband fell afoul of a band of soldiers.
Now, Abuela Alma presides as the matriarch of both her community and her family, the Madrigals, each member of which has traditionally received a supernatural talent on reaching the age of 5. All, that is, except Alma’s 15-year-old granddaughter Mirabel (voice of Stephanie Beatriz) who, a decade back, awaited her gift in vain.
As Mirabel, strong-willed Alma and Mirabel’s protective parents, Julieta (voice of Angie Cepeda) and Agustín (voice of Wilmer Valderrama), continue to wrestle with this misfortune, they find themselves threatened with a far worse one. A dark vision of the whole clan’s doom granted years before to Mirabel’s Uncle Bruno (voice of John Leguizamo) seems on the verge of fulfillment.
Amid colorful visuals and catchy songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the script, penned by Charise Castro Smith and Jared Bush (both of whom co-directed with Byron Howard), delivers worthy messages about community service, cooperation and family reconciliation. Yet “Encanto” may not be a good fit for the youngest moviegoers for a variety of reasons.
Along with the screenplay’s strong emphasis on magic — including divination — and the vivid dangers through which Mirabel must pass, the movie also includes a slightly ambiguous treatment of religion.
Thus the namesake area includes a church whose amiable, briefly glimpsed priest is shown to be a local leader. Yet if the mystical is pervasive — the Madrigals, for example, live in a house that’s essentially alive and that moves its elements around to protect and accommodate them — Christianity has only a marginal presence in the movie. That’s an imbalance that might be hard to explain to small fry.
On the other hand, there’s certainly no note of animosity against the faith discernable in the proceedings. Instead, Catholicism seems to be momentarily acknowledged as part of the culture, but then implicitly relegated to a state of mild-mannered irrelevance.
“Encanto” is preceded by a sweet-natured short cartoon, “Far From the Tree.” The story of an overly curious young racoon, it includes some potentially scary moments, but is otherwise acceptable for all.
The film contains nonscriptural beliefs and practices and characters in peril. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.