Disney animated musical Encanto puts family values at the heart of the story

Encanto is Disney's 60th animation

ENCANTO (PG, 109 mins) Animation/Musical/Fantasy/Adventure. Featuring the voices of Stephanie Beatrix, Maria Cecilia Botero, Angie Cepeda, Carolina Gaitan, Jessica Darrow, Diane Guererro, John Leguizamo. Directors: Jared Bush, Byron Howard, Charise Castro Smith.

In cinemas now.

Rating: Four stars

HAMILTON creator Lin-Manuel Miranda caps off an exceedingly busy year in front of and behind the camera by composing the original songs for Jared Bush, Byron Howard and Charise Castro Smith's computer-animated musical fantasy.

Surprisingly, his exuberant and lyrically ingenious songbook lacks a bona fide earworm to elevate Disney's 60th animated adventure above his toe-tapping work on Moana or usurp husband and wife duo Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez's haunting melodies on the Frozen films.

What Encanto lacks in instantly hummable tunes it compensates with the vibrant colours and traditions of Colombian culture, brought to life with impeccable artistry and cute visual flourishes including an enchanted home that communicates emotions by moving its window shutters and floor tiles.

The film's spunky heroine, Mirabel (voiced by Stephanie Beatrix), continues the studio's line of spirited, independent women, who proactively change their fortunes and harness inner strength without seeking permission from a man.

As one relative tenderly counsels: "You're exactly what this family needs. You just need to see it."

During a subsequent quest for self-empowerment, heartstrings are repeatedly plucked by Bush and Castro Smith's script and composer Germaine Franco's musical score swells to the point of bursting.

A mountain town in Colombia is home to successive generations of the Madrigal family led by imperious matriarch Abuela Alma (Maria Cecilia Botero).

She is custodian of a magical candle, lit in her darkest hour when her husband sacrificed himself to protect their kin from harm.

The flickering totem bestows special powers to the Madrigals when they come of age.

Abuela's daughter Julieta (Angie Cepeda) can heal wounds with her cooking, her other daughter Pepa (Carolina Gaitan) manipulates the weather with her moods, while estranged son Bruno (John Leguizamo) can divine the future.

The only member of the household not to be blessed by the candle is Julieta's youngest daughter Mirabel.

When the family's home comes under threat from a dark force, Mirabel steps out of the shadow of her gifted siblings - super strong Luisa (Jessica Darrow) and impossibly perfect Isabela (Diane Guererro) - to seek the key that will protect her loved ones.

Encanto is festooned with fierce yet flawed female characters and, in a timely reversal of fortunes, male counterparts are given exceedingly short shrift and often fade into the luxuriously painted background.

An energetic opening musical number explaining the Madrigal family tree barely pauses for breath, establishing a sprightly tempo matched by slickly engineered action sequences.

The film doesn't deviate from a path well trodden by previous Disney animations but plays to its strengths, placing family values at the heart of a story that beats defiantly in the face of adversity.

Damon Smith

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