I don’t know quite how it happened except that Lin-Manuel Miranda seems to be determined to earn EGOT status at the moment…but our Oscars theme for the month has basically become Lin-Manuel Miranda fest. With the exception of Licorice Pizza, all of our films have ended up involving him in some capacity, though he’s still missing the Oscar for the EGOT. Hopefully that just means he’ll be involved with significantly more film productions then.
Jared Bush & Byron Howard
When the magical Madrigal family’s home and powers are threatened, teenage Mirabel sets out to solve the problem.
As it turns out, miraculously acquiring special powers and an enchanted, sentient house isn’t all it’s cracked up to be…especially when those come along with intense familial pressure.
The central Madrigal family’s origin story is pretty dark, as it involves the murder of matriarch Abuela Alma’s husband shortly after the birth of their triplets. Alone and a refugee, Abuela is granted a miracle when the spirit of her husband, uh, becomes a candle, more or less. The candle represents the family’s magic, and causes a new home to spring from nowhere as a safe haven. What’s more, each member of the family is born with a unique gift, from healing with cooking to influencing the weather and shapeshifting.
Unfortunately, there are two members of the family who aren’t living up to the legacy: Mirabel, who didn’t receive a special gift, and Bruno (who, famously, we don’t talk about).
To make up for her perceived inability to contribute to the family, Mirabel overcompensates, attempting to solve everyone’s problems and make things better for all. Of course, the more she tries to impress, the more Mirabel falls short. This is particularly true on the evening of a big celebration to mark youngest Madrigal Antonio’s new gift (the classic & enviable ability to talk to animals). Having visions of the family home cracking and falling apart, Mirabel disrupts the party with all of this doom and gloom.
Sensing that (like Bruno) there are things troubling the Madrigal family that they’re not discussing, Mirabel is determined to surface the truth and heal what is broken…which may be difficult with her super strong but anxious sister Luisa and seemingly perfect sister Isabela. Accompanied by some memorable musical numbers, Mirabel eventually learns that fortune-telling Bruno had an ominous prophecy before suddenly disappearing. When she realizes that the prophecy seems to predict that Mirabel will bring about the family’s doom, will there still be a place for her as a Madrigal?
4/5 Pink Panther Heads
Sometimes the plot is stretched a bit thin, but the fun songs, refreshing message, and beautiful animation are enough to keep me entertained. The dancing donkeys during Luisa’s excellent song “Surface Pressure” are by far my favorite.
Possibly because I watched my share of (dysfunctional) Disney romances as a child, it always feels extremely welcome and fairly radical for the studio to release films that have almost no romantic love story. It’s about damn time, honestly. The emphasis is entirely on Mirabel’s growth as a character and the evolution of her family’s perspectives on the nature of their miracle. I really appreciate the way the film tackles heavy themes like healing from intergenerational trauma, the circumstances in which a gift can become a curse, and the toxic nature of perfectionism. It’s quite sweet and very needed that Mirabel’s gift is (spoiler/not really a spoiler) her empathy and curiosity in problem-solving.
Possibly my main criticism here is that some of the themes are wrapped up neatly rather than adequately explored. Part of me wanted an even more radical message from Disney in which the Madrigals lost their powers. It’s a little odd how the family is almost worshipped by the others in the village, and it seems like the power dynamic could very easily take a dark turn. People of the village, at least draft up some kind of constitutional framework.
And, though Abuela certainly is carrying a lot of grief and trauma as a widowed refugee, she does get something of a free pass to carry out some really toxic behavior. Her attitude to the family’s legacy results in her own son living inside the walls of the house for YEARS because he’s tired of hurting and disappointing the family with his gift. Which, by the way, he doesn’t control. Abuela also shames Mirabel when her granddaughter is 5 years old because she doesn’t receive a gift…which, again, is out of her control. The ways in which family compromise means Mirabel has to overlook a lot of toxic patterns does feel realistic, but maybe not the most satisfying conclusion for a children’s movie.
Those songs are going to be stuck in my head until the end of time, though.
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