If you’ve never seen or heard Stephanie Beatriz outside of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, you may struggle to recognise her voice.
It won’t surprise anyone that Disney’s new animation Encanto is about family, belonging and acceptance.
They’re universal themes that make for emotionally enriching storytelling – the trick is finding a fresh way to tell that story.
With a voice cast that includes Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Stephanie Beatriz and John Leguizamo, Charm is a colourful, charming and dynamic musical that will satisfy in the moment, even if it’s not one of the studio’s most memorable.
Set in Colombia, Charm is the story of the Madrigal family, a clan blessed with magical powers and a sentient home, gifts born out of a tragic family history.
On the site of Abuela’s great loss, an enchanted, forever burning candle becomes the foundation for her and her three babies, and the village that spawns up around them.
Two generations later, the Madrigals are going strong, each with their unique gifts that is revealed at a coming-of-age ritual. Julieta can heal people through her food, Isabela grows flowers with a wave of her hand and Pepa can control the weather.
Everyone that is, except Mirabel. At Mirabel’s coming-of-age ritual, instead of being granted magical powers, the swirling light of her “door” is extinguished forever.
Mirabel does what she can to be part of her family and her community, but she’s weighed down by what she senses is her Abuela’s disappointment. She feels like a failure in the shadow of her magical family.
When Mirabel notices the enchanted candle flicker and cracks in the sentient house (“Casita”) in which they all live, she raises the alarm, only to be rebuffed as a troublemaker.
But Mirabel, without any special powers, may be the only one who can save her family.
Charm is a compassionate story about the burden of expectations – expectations we place on ourselves and expectations we place on others.
Mirabel feels defined by her lack of magical powers, and she sees everything through that prism. At the same time, her sisters feel caged by their gifts, as if they’re only ever allowed to be useful or perfect, rather than complex, flawed people.
There’s pain in Charm but there’s also a plea for understanding – and being open with one another instead of resentful or dismissive.
And in the grand tradition of musicals, all these emotional revelations are told through Charm’s toe-tapping, energetic songs, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Songs such as the heart-rending “All of You” or the pop-infused “Surface Pressure” is imbued with Miranda’s layered rhythms.
Beatriz gives a strong, empathetic performance as Mirabel, whose higher-octave voice may surprise those who’ve never seen or heard the Argentina-born actor outside of her sardonic Brooklyn Nine-Nine persona while Leguizamo delights as the ostracised uncle Bruno.
Charm may hit many of the same notes as we’ve seen before in Disney animations, but there are enough fresh elements to make it feel new and unconquered. It’s even a little enchanting.
Encanto is in cinemas now
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