Review – Magical Miraculous Madrigals (“Encanto”)

After the monstrous success of Moana, Coco, Luca, and Raya & the Last Dragon, you can see a pattern emerging of story structure, toe-tapping music, vibrant bright colors, and similar-looking characters. Hey, once you have a good thing going, ya stick with it! Right?!

Encanto tells the tale of an extraordinary family, the Madrigal’s, who live hidden in the mountains of Colombia in a magical, sentient house in a vibrant community called Encanto. The magic of the Madigal’s has blessed every child in the family with special powers. Every child, that is, except one, Mirabel (voiced by Stephanie Beatriz). Her other family members can do way cool things, like super-hearing cousin, Dolores (Adassa), older sister Isabella (Diana Guerrero) blooming flowers on command, older sister Luisa (Jessica Darrow) with her superhuman strength, mother Julieta (Angie Cepeda) healing others with her cooking, cousin Pepa (Carolina Gaitan) controlling the weather, shape-shifting cousin Camilo (Rhenzy Feliz), and little cousin Antonio (Ravi-Cabot Conyers) talking to animals.

Oh, and they do not speak of estranged uncle Bruno (John Leguizamo), but more on him later. Overseeing everyone is the matriarch of the family, Abuela Alma Madrigal (María Cecilia Botero) who keeps a mysterious magic candle to bestow upon them their awesome powers. BUT! During a party for young Antonio, Mirabel has a vision: the Encanto is in danger of losing its magic and being destroyed! How? Why? And what does disgraced uncle Bruno have to do with it? With a mystery to be solved, Mirabel goes all Harry Potter and starts searching for clues. . . and in song, of course. As the mystery deepens and the Encanto starts suffering for some unseen reason, Mirabel’s family starts to feel the repercussions. Can she and her crazy, superstitious uncle Bruno save the day?

With a screenplay by co-director Jared Bush (Zootopia) and playwright & actress Charise Castro Smith, this movie switches it up with the usual Disney formula. Mirabel is not a Princess, she does not go on a long, adventurous quest to find/get something, and she does not have a goofy, wise-cracking side-kick(s) along for comic relief! This story relies solely on spunky, ordinary Mirabel, staying home, and her genuine love for her family, without going all soap-opery. Something refreshing in the Disney trope universe. It’s funny, engaging, pulls at your heart-strings, and is a fast-paced entertaining romp that reminds you of Coco, as far as the family dynamic in scope and feel, with directors Byron Howard (Bolt, Tangled) and Jared Bush’s kinetic, absurd, and lightning-paced direction making it a joy to watch.

The vocal talent is dynamite starting with Stephanie Beatriz as Mirabel. You know her as the brazen, hard-core, deep-voiced Det. Rosa Diaz on TV’s Brooklyn 9-9, but here she’s a hyper-voiced young girl who just wants to please everyone. Multi-talented Leguizamo as the scatterbrained Bruno is a delight and Botero as the Abuela is stoic and proud. And what Disney musical is complete without songs. Y’know, in case this ever (and probably will) goes to Broadway?

Lin-Manuel Miranda again shows off his musical talents by writing some catchy tunes aimed at kids, but I’ll be damned if I wasn’t tapping my feet along with them. My favorite is “Surface Pressure“, a surreal, crazy, and Loony-Tunes-ish animation piece about Luisa’s fear of losing her strength. “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” is another fun, frenetic song that is made better by the exquisite, color-explosive CG animation that makes this whole picture worth watching. Sure it’s for kids, but for us big kids, it’s gonna make you smile, laugh, and even sniffle a little. Thanks, Disney for an early Christmas gift!

**Now showing only in theaters

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children (2016)

There are meta-humans (The Flash), in-humans (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), and mutants (X-Men), now get ready for peculiars! Filmmaker Tim Burton (who himself is peculiar, to say the least) has whipped up a mixed blend of Harry Potter, X-Men, and Jumper with some Groundhog Day-ish time-loops and children in mortal peril thrown in for good measure.

The problem with a book-to-screen translation is that many times there is SO much lost. Anyone who read the Harry Potter book series (like me) and then saw the movies knows exactly what I’m talking about. Many crucial details, plot devices, back-stories, and even whole characters are often jettisoned in the result. So, when watching this adaptation of Ransom Riggs’ novel, you might get the feeling you’re missing some story elements. Don’t feel bad, you’re not alone. After a slow first act exposition of teenager Jake Portman (Asa Butterfield), we learn that he’s had a troubled life. His grandfather, Abe (Terence Stamp), has always filled his head with strange and eerie tales of growing up in a home filled with ‘peculiar’ children.

But after Abe dies under mysterious circumstances, Jake is catapulted into a world he clearly isn’t ready for. Feeling troubled, Jake’s psychiatrist (Allison Janney) suggests that he and his dad (Chris O’Dowd) visit Wales, the last place Abe mentioned in an equally mysterious postcard. While there Jake, with the help of teen Emma Bloom (Ella Purnell), is shown a secret passage that teleports him from 2016 to 1943 and to a beautiful children’s home run by strict, but loving Miss Peregrine (Eva Green). This hidden fortress of solitude is part of many throughout the world that hide ‘peculiars’; kids with extra special abilities.

Among the kids are Emma, who can float and manipulate air, Olive (Lauren McCrostie) who is a firestarter, super-strong little Bronwyn (Pixie Davies), Hugh (Milo Parker) who has bees in his stomach, there are creepy masked twin boys (Joseph and Thomas Odwell), Fiona (Georgia Pemberton) who can instantly grow any plant, and brooding Enoch (Finlay MacMillan) who can resurrect any inanimate object. To maintain their secret hideout, they live in a time loop that’s reset every night so they can live the same 24hrs in peace and harmony over and over again. Sounds nice, huh?

However, trouble looms because of a branch of bad peculiar who kidnapped all the Ymbrynes (peculiars that can turn into birds, like Miss Peregrine) to become immortal. But their experiment failed miserably and they became these horrible creatures called Hollows. Now they feast on other peculiars to live and be human again. Ickkk! What Jake doesn’t know is that he’s there to help out and save the day, even though his clueless father thinks he’s mentally unbalanced. Jake eventually abandons dear ol’ dad in 2016, returns to 1943, and wants to help these odd kids. . . not to mention he’s got the hots for Emma, which irks Enoch to no end.

But, wouldn’tcha know it? The chief Hollow, evil Mr. Barron (Samuel L. Jackson with white eyes and a fright wig), enters the picture and steals Miss Peregrine, causing the kids to fend for themselves and Jake to take up his mantle of hero. There’s time-traveling, resurrecting of ships and skeletons (with a cool nod to Ray Harryhausen’s Jason and the Argonauts skeleton fight scene), and a rather confusing conclusion that makes you just scratch your head and say, “Wait. . . what?”     

Jane Goldman adapted the screenplay and is no stranger to peculiar scripts. She co-wrote X-Men: First Class and Kick-Ass 2, but in adapting this known novel, she left out a whole lotta plot details and other facets that were crucial. The story jumps all over the place as Goldman tries to pick the best plot points to make the story coherent enough to follow, but in the end, you’re left with more questions than answers. Thankfully, you have director Tim Burton to wade through the mess and pull out what he can and deliver a halfway decent film, unlike his Dark Shadows nightmare in 2012. Surprisingly, this film does NOT have Johnny Depp or Helena Bonham Carter in it; his usual stock company of actors.

The SPFX are just amazing and the kids in it are likable, and you really have to hand it to Butterfield. With his expressive eyes and acting talent, this teen is just plain excellent. Green is the perfect headmistress; sorta like a cross between Professor McGonagall and Mary Poppins. Jackson, almost doing a reprise of his evil Roland Cox character from Jumper, is his lovable ‘ol sarcastic self. Be aware that, even though it may LOOK like a kids movie, it’s rated PG-13 for really disturbing images and scenes that may frighten your child. There’s stuff involving eyeballs that’s truly gross! Just thought I’d warn you.

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