What a busy time at the movies it has been for Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. His very first Broadway musical, In the Heights, premiered over the summer alongside his original songs for Sony Pictures Animation’s first-ever musical adventure, Vivo. Now, Thanksgiving brings Miranda’s film directing debut with the semi-autobiographical Jonathan Larson musical, tick, tick...BOOM!, and Encanto, Disney’s original animated musical for which Miranda composed eight songs.
And who can blame the talent for singing and dancing his way across Tinseltown? Miranda’s powerful lyrics, finger-snapping tempo and modern voice amount to an infectious work. And his latest two entries shine the brightest of his 2021 film crop.
I must preface my thoughts on Miranda’s beautifully sincere tick, tick...BOOM! by disclosing that I am not the biggest musical fan. I often find that they sacrifice subtlety and nuance for the razzle-dazzle of the genre. Of course, it’s completely the point of a musical to have its characters express their thoughts and feelings through song and dance. Still, a lot of technical prowess, well-written lyrics, outstanding choreography and performances are required to win me over.
Fortunately, tick, tick...BOOM! is a dramatic firework that explodes with creativity, heart and soul. While it may be a little too on-the-nose with its emotional dives - often breaking away from its quiet, artistic beauty to feature Andrew Garfield’s playwright character narrating his thoughts to a crowd - there’s no denying how much passion Miranda, Garfield and Co. poured into this personal project. Miranda’s powers are at their peak when he articulates Jonathan Larson’s creative complexity through production design, lighting, framing and parallel editing (using similar story beats to connect two different points in time). And Garfield sings his heart out in one of the year’s top performances.
Ultimately, tick, tick…BOOM! is a stunning exploration of the creative process for an artist. It follows Larson leading up to his 30th birthday in 1990 as he runs about in the wild, searching for any inspirational outlet to plug into. This narrow focus surfaces many sacrifices, with the key one being time. Larson is working against the ticking clock in his mind, waiting for his playwright career to take off while waiting tables and distinguishing the flame within his close relationships. His story’s struggles speak volumes about the human experience and how sacred time is. We all learn and relearn this lesson during our lifetime, but Miranda makes you feel it to your bones. It’s bittersweet.
- Garfield’s Barton Fink-like hair.
- All the cameos.
- The parallel editing between Alexandra Shipp and Vanessa Hudgens’ singing the same song in a fantasy vs. reality sequence. Trust me — you won’t miss it.
- Robin de Jesus as Jonathan’s best friend, Michael. His character’s undying support will bring a tear to your eye.
- How Miranda spices up his style by embracing ‘90s culture to a non-annoying degree. There’s a music video effect brought to one of the songs that’s really neat and fun.
Pixar seems to receive most of the attention when it comes to the awards season. So, it’s easy to forget just how big Disney’s umbrella really is. The studio’s original animated work deserves your attention just as much, especially this year with their visually intoxicating and sweetly packaged Encanto. Its candy-coated color palette and perfectly matched ensemble voice cast give so much to treasure and adore.
Encanto drops us into the story of an extraordinary family, the Madrigals (led with excellence by Stephanie Beatriz and María Cecilia Botero), and their magical home. Each family member is gifted with supernatural abilities and powers, such as incredible strength, weather control and super hearing. However, when a prophecy threatens their home, Mirabel (Beatriz) is the only member of the family that can save them.
Directed with delicious flavor and pizzazz by filmmakers Jared Bush and Byron Howard and co-director Charise Castro Smith, Encanto is a simple tale told with inventiveness and emotional intelligence. You may be able to call all the narrative shots before they arrive, but that doesn’t stop the film from nestling in your heart. The powerhouse musical numbers, gorgeous animation work and encouraging messages about family all shape this into a must-see family event.
- Jessica Darrow as "strong" sister Luisa. Her song "... Surface Pressure" is stylistically the best song and most catchy.
- Move over, Brave. This hair animation is jaw-droppingly good!
- A sweet quote about how we keep our family's miracles burning.
- Mirabel's green glasses. Glasses are always so plain.
- All the cultural details that are going to be such a joy to learn more about.