Monday, November 29, 2021


Last night I took myself back to the movies to see Disney Animation Studios' 60th animated feature, with a huge ensemble cast playing members of the magically gifted, Madrigal family. Most of them aren't familiar enough for me to call out except John Leguizamo, Wilmer Valderrama (That 70s Show, NCIS), Diana Guerrero (Doom Squad) and, apparently, the voice of Alan Tudyk as a bird. Also, songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda. It's really a Colombian-inflected, full-length musical with animated characters performing the songs and dances, which really opens up the choreography a lot.

It's so beautifully filmed, there were moments when I forgot it was animation. It also has some belly-laugh moments and an emotionally affecting storyline about the one girl in the family who doesn't have a special ability, and how her efforts to belong and to help her family become (in her stern abuela's opinion) a threat to the survival of their sentient house, the ever-burning candle that blesses it, and the village protected by their magic. Really, it turns out that what was really fixing to break the family was the abuela's rejection of weakness in the members of her family – including super-strong Luisa, who is cracking up under all the pressure; always-perfect Isabella, who makes flowers grow but who doesn't really want to marry the handsome villager whom abuela considers a good match for the family; Tia Pepa, who has trouble controlling her emotions and the weather they generate; and Tio Bruno, the family outcast, whose visions of the future are blamed for everyone's misfortune.

I'm gonna move on quickly to Three Scenes That Made It For Me, and because they could very easily be Three Songs That Made It For Me, I'll set those aside as a separate category. Scenes: (1) Mirabel (the hero girl) discovers the long-banished Bruno living inside the walls of the family's casita, served hand and foot by a coterie of rats. The highlight of this sequence may be the moment when the pair is dangling over a seemingly bottomless pit, until a rat pops out of his sleeve, causing Mirabel to let go of Bruno's hand. (2) Mirabel tells the secret she has discovered to her father, but cousin Dolores, who has super-hearing, hears all. What follows is some of the most entertaining ensemble acting in the annals of animation. (3) The side-eye the donkeys give each other during Luisa's rant.

And now the Songs: (1) Luisa's terrific song, "Surface Pressure," with the "drip, drip, drip" of her anxiety forming a memorable theme. (2) The spectacular ensemble piece "We Don't Talk About Bruno" (no, no). (3) Mirabel and Isabella's duet, "What Else Can I Do?" in which the "perfect" sister admits that she wants to do something different. These all have the potential to become hits, but I thought especially the first one could come up for a "Best Song" Oscar.

The main feature was accompanied by a Disney animated short, Far from the Tree, featuring mostly un-anthropomorphized animals, including a coyote, a bunch of seagulls and at the heart of the story, a family of raccoons. Despite the dialogue being limited to animal screeches, it was an effective story with a warm current of emotion in it, although I thought the color palette was a little flat and the animation didn't rise to Disney's highest standard.

No comments: