With ‘Encanto’ and ‘Tick, Tick … Boom,’ Lin-Manuel Miranda isn’t throwing away his movie shots
Lin-Manuel Miranda is not throwing his shots, and in 2021, the creator of “Hamilton” has been getting a whole lot of them.
After his earlier work “In the Heights” became a critically admired (if little seen) movie, Miranda has made his directing debut with “Tick, Tick … Boom!,” a loving adaptation of “Rent” creator Jonathan Larson’s coming-of-stage story, and written eight original songs for “Encanto,” a Disney animated film featuring a predominantly Latinx cast. That follows another animated movie, Netflix’s “Vivo,” which he produced in addition to writing the music.
Although he is working from a script by Steve Levenson (“Dear Evan Hansen”), Miranda has clearly approached “Tick, Tick” as a deeply personal ode to musical theater in general and in particular Larson, who tragically died on the eve of what would become “Rent’s” record-breaking run at the age of 35.
Deftly expanding the source material into a movie, the film is anchored by a sensational performance by Andrew Garfield as Larson, with the title referring to the sense that his bravado about becoming “the future of musical theater” is running dry, with timing running out, in his eyes, as he approaches his 30th birthday.
Capturing the creative process on film also poses a tricky proposition, but Miranda mostly manages to do just that, while conveying the palpable anxiety that Larson feels about at what point he transitions from being a writer who waits tables to make ends meet to becoming “a waiter with a hobby.”
The echoes of “Rent” throughout are also everywhere, reflecting how Larson eventually went from trying to sell an esoteric concept set in the future to writing about subjects very close to home, including struggles to keep the lights on (literally) and the ravages of AIDS at the time.
“Tick, Tick … Boom!” is filled with happy surprises, and Garfield receives able support from Alexandra Shipp, Robin de Jesus and Vanessa Hudgens, as well as Bradley Whitford as legendary composer Stephen Sondheim.
If Larson took the right advice when he decided to “write what you know,” Miranda, as a director, has taken that advice to heart as well.
As for “Encanto,” feeling like an outcast is one of the most durable themes in Disney animation, which has become more relevant as those movies have moved in a more progressive direction than ol’ Walt’s early days. “Encanto” reflects a more recent tradition, in a movie about what makes us special, seriously enlivened, again, by Miranda’s musical gifts.
Miranda did the same for “Moana,” and “Encanto” possesses many similar charms, with a sizable dollop of “The Incredibles” in its focus on a super-powered family. The main departure, and it’s an interesting one, is the lack of a traditional villain, an absence that’s felt but mostly overcome by the warmth and energy behind the execution, which effectively draws audiences into the story.
Set in a magical town in Colombia, Disney’s 60th animated feature begins with a nod to a particularly sober real-world phenomenon — namely, the plight of refugees. But amid their loss comes the magic that has made the Madrigal family flourish, with each possessing a remarkable gift under the watchful eye of matriarch Alma (María Cecilia Botero).
Everyone, that is, except Mirabel (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s” Stephanie Beatriz), who emerged empty-handed from the gifting ritual, still determined to be as much a part of the family as her parents and sisters.
“Gift or no gift, I am just as special as the rest of my family,” Mirabel tells the local children, but she seems as doubtful of the truth of that as they are.
Still, just as one of Mirabel’s cousins comes of age and her sister is about to marry, strange things start happening, with signs that the family’s magic is beginning to fade. Mirabel thus becomes the Cassandra warning of danger, something her grandma has no interest in hearing, merely reinforcing Miirabel’s sense that it has fallen to her to save everyone.
Directed Jared Bush and Byron Howard (“Zootopia”) and co-directed by Charise Castro Smith, “Encanto” compensates for the dearth of traditional conflict with a colorful world filled with powers and an abundance of music.
“I will never be good enough for you,” an exasperated Mirabel says at one point.
Happily, “Encanto” is plenty good enough for families seeking a sprinkle of that Disney animated magic, just as is “Tick, Tick … Boom!” brings theater into the home.
“Tick, Tick … Boom!” premieres Nov. 19 on Netflix. “Encanto” premieres in US theaters on Nov. 24. It’s rated PG.
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