Greetings again from the darkness. Well we knew this day would come – an animated film that eclipses Pixar’s COCO (2017) in vibrant colors and stunning animation. The opening credits celebrate this as Disney’s official 60th animated feature film, and it’s truly prismatic and a glorious visual treat. The trio of directors include ZOOTOPIA (2016) collaborators Jared Bush and Byron Howard, as well as first time director Charise Castro Smith.
The story is set in Columbia, continuing the current trend of global trekking in animated films like LUCA, MOANA, RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON, and the aforementioned COCO. It’s also in keeping with Disney’s feel-good approach to a kinder, gentler world where there are no real villains, and most of our protagonists discover their inner-strength. This story revolves around the Madrigal family, who live in a magical house that takes strength from a magical candle, and all of the family members possess their own special power. Well, all of them except for Mirabel (voiced exceptionally well by Stephanie Beatriz, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”). Mirabel’s special night fell flat and she’s the only one in the family lacking a “gift” … and her judgmental Abuela Alma (voice by Maria Cecilia Botera, singing by Olga Merediz) never lets her forget. Of course what we notice, and no one else seems to, is that Mirabel is a caring, loving, soul, and we know a payoff is coming.
The songs are from the talented Lin-Manuel Miranda, and the bloodlines connected to his IN THE HEIGHTS movie are readily apparent. It’s likely a few of the songs will stick with kids, not the least of which is, “We Don’t Talk About Bruno”. What won’t be as popular with kids is a story over-crowded with characters and a backstory seemingly inserted to ensure the film slides into the modern day political climate. There are simply too many characters (and too many powers) for young kids to keep track of – not to mention the two factions within the family (Julieta’s side and Pepa’s side). There is a flashback to the family’s history and how they came to live in the magical house, and it’s a story that mirrors the journey of many immigrants.
The voice acting and singing are all superb, and mostly stay consistent to the Columbian story line. And Mirabel is certainly a character we expect kids to take a shine to. She’s kind and friendly and has a loving heart. Pixar tends to offer up stories that are perfectly structured, while Disney has always known how to tug on the heartstrings.
Now streaming on Disney+