REVIEW

Encanto is a sweet alternative to the princess narrative

Encanto (PG, 109 minutes)

4 stars

For some of us, our very ordinariness is our superpower - an oddly refreshing thought.

In the age of Marvel films, superheroes are everywhere, and this latest Disney film is no different, set in a magical home in the Colombian countryside, a home where everyone has magical abilities.

A new kind of Disney princess in 'Encanto'. Picture: Disney

A new kind of Disney princess in 'Encanto'. Picture: Disney

Everyone except Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz), the first Disney Princess in some time who is not in fact a princess, just an ordinary girl, with glasses.

La Cassa Madrigal is an enchanted house, home to the clan Madrigal.

Like the enchanted home in Beauty and the Beast, the house and its furniture come alive and interact with the family.

Its tiles and floorboards buckle and shift to help the family move around, its blinds and shutters winking open and closed to communicate.

The family's matriarch Abuela Alma (Maria Cecilia Botero) rules over the magical home, and when each of the family members comes of age, she rules over the ceremony that will give each their magical powers.

For Mirabel's two sisters, Isa (Diane Guerrero) has a magical grace and beauty and roses and other delightful flowers grow around her, while Luisa (Jessica Darrow) has unparalleled strength which she uses to help out the community around the home.

Mirabel's mother Julieta (Angie Cepeda) has the ability to heal people when they eat her cooking.

Her Aunt Papa (Carolina Gaitan) brings the weather with her wherever she goes.

And Mirabel's favourite young nephew is just about to come of age and is full of trepidation about what gift he might inherit.

The nephew's ceremony triggers a wave of emotion for Mirabel because, on the night of her ceremony years earlier, nothing happened.

No magic. Mirabel is just an ordinary girl amongst a family of gifted people.

Not that she has let this dampen the love she had for her family, but one night she experiences a foreboding vision of La Casa Madrigal in ruins - cracks forming and candles flickering - and it leads her on a quest to understand this vision and the truth behind it.

Encanto marks Disney's 60th animated feature and it is a lovely and colourful thing.

It furthers Disney's exploration of people and stories beyond the Brothers Grimm and the European settings of Snow White and Cinderella and the other stories that built the Disney empire.

Moana took us to the Pacific Islands, Raya and the Last Dragon to ancient Malaysia, and now we visit Colombia through its music and vibrant colours.

The story itself might still have foundations in Europe.

Mirabel certainly echoes the Greek tale of Cassandra, the woman whose power and weakness was her truth-telling.

But that story is told in charming Latin American magic realism tradition, directed by the pair behind Zootopia, Jared Bush and Byron Howard.

That direction is occasionally inspired.

We've become so much more visually literate as an audience since Disney wowed us with that sweeping camera movement in Beauty and the Beast, but there are a handful of moments of genuine flourish in this film.

The film features a dozen or so musical numbers penned by the flavour of the age, Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose work on Tick Tick.. Boom! can also be found on screen in some cinemas at the moment.

I'm less and less of a fan of his Hamilton schtick for throwing fast-rapping into everything the more it appears, but he is a gifted man and this film is better for his musical contribution.

The screenplay has dark undertones, as all good magic realism does, but this is rooted in the troubled social history of Columbia.

I thoroughly identified with Mirabel.

I too am the lesser-gifted sibling of my clan, my parents rarely failing to throw my sister's Olympic medal into any conversation as a reminder.

But as my therapist tells me, ordinariness can be its own super power.

Now Mirabel can be a Disney Princess for all of us happily ordinary folk.

This story A sweet take on princess narrative first appeared on The Canberra Times.