“Catwoman: Hunted” and “King Richard” are also new to Blu-Ray this week.
The opening logos of “Encanto” inform us that it is Disney’s 60th animated feature. The Disney logo, in all its forms over the years, has always brought with it a promise of quality and pride for its animated movies going all the way back to “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” in 1937. Results may vary and opinions may differ, but I’d say they had more hits than misses. Now here we are, 85 years and 59 movies later, and they do not disappoint.
“Encanto” centers around la familia Madrigal, or the Madrigal family for those who don’t habla. No worries if you don’t though. While common family relation words like “abuela,” “nieta,” “tia” and “tio” get tossed into the dialogue all the time, it’s pretty obvious from context that they’re referring to grandmother, granddaughter, aunt, and uncle. I will venture that non-Spanish speakers will have an easier time deciphering the Spanish words sprinkled throughout than they will the opening song, which attempts to introduce all of the family members but is a bit too fast and will leave your head spinning.
The heroine of the story is Colombian teenager Mirabel (voice of Stephanie Beatriz). She’s a Madrigal, but doesn’t fit in. This is because years ago her grandmother Alma (voice of María Cecilia Botero) had a tragedy befall her but was gifted the power of magic and miracles by a candle (roll with it, it works when watching the movie). Using it, she was able to turn her casita until a magical casa grande, and an entire town built up around her home. Her children, and her children’s children, were all gifted with special magic abilities. For example, daughter Pepa (voice of Carolina Gaitan) was gifted with the ability to control weather (though it seems like more of a curse to me), son Bruno (voice of John Leguizamo) was given the gift of visions of the future, granddaughter Luisa (voice of Jessica Darrow) was gifted super strength, and we watch as youngest grandson Antonio (voice of Ravi Cabot-Conyers) is given the gift of basically being Dr. Dolittle.
This brings us back to Mirabel, who was not gifted anything at her ceremony. Due to this, she is an outcast in her family. Her grandmother interacts with her with an underlying hint of disdain and her relationship with sister Isabela (voice of Diane Guerrero) is strained and confrontational. When Mirabel, feeling dejected by the celebration of Antonio’s new gift, goes off on her own at his ceremony, she notices cracks in the house and is worried all is not as great as it looks. If the magic disappears then that spells bad news for the family as well as the surrounding town, which relies on the family. Mirabel decides she can do her part for the family by solving the mystery of the dissipating magic and sets off on a one-girl quest.
“Encanto” is a rich, colorful movie with an assertive protagonist and well-crafted story. Where it really shines, however, is in the songs written by Lin-Manuel Miranda. While the first one makes my head hurt to think about, all the others are amazing. The lyrics are poetic, the music is catchy, they’re beautifully sung, and the accompanying visual animations make for the best eye candy. My two favorites are from the sisters: Luisa’s “Surface Pressure,” and Isabela’s “What Else Can I Do?” Both are showstoppers that go deep into the character with insight on how they think and feel. This is easily Disney’s best soundtrack since 2013’s “Frozen.”
“Encanto” wouldn’t be a kids’ movie without a lesson of some sort to learn. This time the lesson is about how narrow definitions of self can be stifling. There are so many varied, wonderful aspects to each person. To reductively say “I am X” and discard everything else is a travesty. Mirabel finds out that there is so much more to her than the magic she doesn’t have, and that she has many great and important things to offer without having magic. At the same time, the family members all learn the pitfalls of defining themselves on only one aspect of their being. Of course, after the big lessons, all goes back to normal. That’s okay though—there’s something to be said for consistency and stability amid all the chaos of life as well. Buy it.
“Catwoman: Hunted” starts off with a montage of colorful crayon renderings of Batman’s number one frenemy with rhythmic, fast-paced jazz playing over it. It’s a dazzling spectacle of sight and sound that feels fresh and new. It’s certainly more inspirational and invigorating than the darker, more somber looks and heavy orchestral music associated with Gotham City.
Those who have read enough reviews know that when a critic praises the opening credits this much, things go one of two ways: that the opening credits set the stage for great things to come or that the opening credits were the best part of the movie and it was all downhill from there. For “Catwoman: Hunted,” it’s the latter.
I will however give it one more credit for its anime style. Much like the jazz music, this isn’t the usual Warner Bros Animation Studios fare. It’s a good looking 2D anime, complete with swift, fluid action and exaggerated body types.
Thought it may be stylish, it’s also stupid. There’s no better way to put it. The story is copy and paste boilerplate. Catwoman (voice of Elizabeth Gillies) gets on the bad side of Black Mask (voice of Jonathan Banks) and is rescued by Batwoman (voice of Stephanie Beatriz), who turns her over to Julia Pennyworth (voice of Lauren Cohan) and Domino (voice of Eric Lopez) agents of an international police agency. The deal is that if Catwoman helps them bring down Black Mask and another crime leader named La Dama (voice of Jacqueline Obradors), they’ll get rid of all her arrest warrants and wipe the slate clean for her. If you’re thinking you’ve seen this plot before, you have.
Here’s an example of the brainlessness of “Catwoman: Hunted”: She goes to a masquerade party and steals a green gem in the opening sequence. All is going well until a batarang flies in the room and sets off the alarm. Catwoman high tails it out of the room and has to get past La Dama, Black Mask, their goons, and various party guests. I’m watching this asking myself, “Where’s Batman (or whoever threw the batarang)? They were right there to throw it, then disappeared. Why didn’t they stay there and stop her?” Also, as Catwoman is escaping the party, she literally announces to the room that her name is Selina Kyle. Why would she do this? What kind of burglar would tell their name to the person they stole from? It’s insultingly idiotic.
I do have explanations though. Batwoman (she threw the batarang) disappears so an overlong and poorly thought-out chase along a windy mountainside road can happen and we can watch cars go over the edge. She only shows up again when it’s all over and she’s needed. As for announcing her name, that’s so the title of the movie can happen. She needs to be “hunted,” and rather than give the villains some agency to figure out her identity, the movie has her just say it to them. I could go on about all of the constant talking and silly quips between Catwoman and Batwoman being overdone, or that some of the villains are out there even for a comic book movie (“Nosferata” made me laugh out loud), but that is more time than “Catwoman: Hunted” deserves. Skip it.
“King Richard,” about how tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams became who they are after the coaching from their father Richard Williams, starring Will Smith, Aunjanue Ellis, Jon Bernthal, and Saniyya Sidney; “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City,” origin story set in 1998 that explores the secrets of the mysterious Spencer Mansion and the ill-fated Raccoon City, starring Kaya Scodelario, Hannah John-Kamen, Robbie Amell, Neal McDonough, and Donal Logue; and “Apex,” in which elite hunters pay to hunt down a man on a deserted island only to find themselves becoming the prey, starring Bruce Willis, Neal McDonough, and Lochlyn Munro.
Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover and author of the novel “Takedown,” which is available on Amazon, iTunes, and more. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.