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Disney’s “Encanto” Substitutes Substance for Style

By Ethan Lauren

“Encanto” is a mess of lazy storytelling and one-dimensional characters, manipulating its viewers with a colorful veil meant to mesmerize children and distract adults.

Mirabel Madrigal, a 15 year old girl lives with her family in the mountains of Colombia. The only difference from any other family is that everybody is given magical powers from the magical house they live in. For unexplained reasons, Mirabel winds up receiving no gift, but a prophecy reveals that their house will fall apart unless she finds out how to save the day. She’s a fun character, dynamic, clumsy, witty, and you can’t help but be charmed by her.

Stephanie Beatriz, from “In the Heights” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” is great in the role of Mirabel. As a big fan of Rosa from “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” it was definitely a shock trying to connect that this was the same actress.

The movie truly is beautiful, from the subtle way that characters move to how each strand of hair bounces with each step. Everybody in the art department deserves any and all awards. Musical numbers created by Lin-Manuel Miranda are fun, such as “Surface Pressure” and “We Don’t Talk about Bruno.” Some of the songs come and go so fast that it’s hard to connect with them.

Where “Encanto” falters the most is the story, lacking any real message other than the notion that family is stronger when together, the most tepid and trite of platitudes. In one scene, the house will be cracking, then the next it’ll be fine. Two characters will hate each other and then in the span of a single song they’ll be best friends.

Mirabel, for having no powers, is treated as an outcast for no reason other than her family being an awful collection of selfish jerks. When the Madrigal family picked on our poor protagonist, they just seemed so full of venom toward her that I could not connect with any of them, outside of Luisa, voiced by Jessica Darrow, A woman able to lift boulders, she often bears the brunt of the family’s workload, but her role diminishes quickly after belting out a peppy song.

People don’t have superpowers as we see in Marvel movies. Real gifts are all around us, such as compassion, empathy, creativity, and so on. A story with magical abilities shouldn’t only be about the magic, it should be about the individual and how they choose to act, or not act when confronted with a choice.

“The Incredibles” works because Mr. Incredible learns not all problems can be solved with brute strength because it’s being strong on the inside that often matters most. When Dash and Violet bickered, you knew it really came from a place of love.

With three directors and seven story credits, “Encanto” is not the culmination of somebody’s vision, but manufactured by the Disney assembly line, knowing they’ll sell seats no matter what crap they churn out for the masses.

At no point, does the Madrigal family ever face real-world problems. They live in idealistic bliss, with all needs met; their only struggle is they have grown up thinking that magical powers make you better than everybody else. I would wager that some of the people involved in “Encanto” were Republicans, and perhaps learned the wrong lesson from “Animal Farm.”

There is a charm to the world of “Encanto” and all its dizzying array of colors, but the film lacks the texture needed to make it a great work of art. Unoriginal and disconnected, I am so sick and tired of seeing artists give their all to a project that ultimately will leave no lasting impression. There’s a lot to like in “Encanto” but it bows under the weight of a cracking foundation, much like the film’s house.

Before the movie starts, an animated short called “Far From the Tree” shows a beautiful story, without dialogue, of a raccoon parent and their child. Directed by Natalie Nourigat, “Far From the Tree” is a story from somebody with a vision, and it’s a shame that it’ll get overlooked because it showed more about how families grow over the generations so succinctly that it made “Encanto” feel redundant.