By Zach Hagadone
Almost certainly banking on Americans hunkering down during the holiday season — it’s not like anyone’s getting anywhere via plane — Disney+ rolled out two big-ticket offerings in recent weeks: the animated magical family dramedy Encanto and a Star Wars spinoff of a spinoff, The Book of Boba Fett.
The former is a swirling burst of sound and color centered on a Colombian family of literally gifted adults and children, the Madrigals. The central character in Encanto is Mirabela (Stephanie Beatriz), a sort of middle child living amid her superpowered relatives in a sentient home aptly named Casita, which both houses and nurtures the Madrigals generation after generation.
Lorded over by the judgy-yet-loving matriarch Abuela Alma (Maria Cecilia Botero), Mirabela is the only member of the family who (apparently) has received no magical gift during her coming-of-age ceremony. Hence, she’s had to make do with simply being a kind, generous and helpful person. While her sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts, uncles and parents all possess one extraordinary ability or another (some more useful than others), she serves more as the family’s somewhat reluctant mascot and most committed cheerleader.
While the Madrigals have long lived in Casita as the chief citizens of their community, there are cracks in the foundation — both real and figurative. The mysterious source of their powers is fading, and it falls to Mirabela to travel into her family’s past to uncover the source of the disruption and, in the course of her heroine’s journey, discover her own worth. One highlight here is the role played by estranged uncle Bruno, voiced by John Leguizamo.
It’s a flashy, brash production, absolutely jam-packed with music — scored by no less than Lin-Manuel Miranda (the mind behind the acclaimed musical Hamilton). Seriously, there are so many musical numbers that even my kids started to weary a bit; my almost-7-year-old daughter started counting them every time the soundtrack started to swell into what would inevitably explode into an extravagant set piece number.
Judging by the YouTube figures, Encanto’s soundtrack seems destined to become a Disney classic. Only released online in late November 2021, certain tunes such as “Surface Pressure,” performed by Jessica Darrow as Mirabela’s super-strong sister Luisa, have already racked up nearly 30 million views.
As Disney films go, Encanto can and should be classed with Moana in so far as its heroine is a young girl who must represent and defend her family and wider community in a series of trials that test her mettle. It’s a refreshing, feel-good story that eschews the traditional Disney prince/princess formula in favor of self actualization in service of the greater good. Even more refreshing, it doesn’t include any goofy side characters or stock-in-trade silly animal sidekicks. Instead, the audience is invited to be absorbed into the Madrigal family and fully immerse themselves in Mirabela’s journey.
Meanwhile, in a galaxy far, far away, Disney has also plopped viewers into a character-driven series focused on everyone’s favorite anti-hero bounty hunter, Boba Fett.
Premiered on Dec. 29, 2021, The Book of Boba Fett picks up where we last saw the morally ambiguous blaster-slinger almost 40 years ago in Return of the Jedi. For those whose memories or fandom don’t stretch that far, Boba Fett met his inglorious end when Han Solo accidentally knocked him off one of Jabba the Hutt’s sand skiffs and and he fell into the waiting mouth of a sarlacc, where presumably he would be slowly digested over a thousand years (at least according to Jabba).
The Book of Boba Fett explains via flashback that Boba actually survived inside the sarlacc’s gullet long enough to punch his way out and climb to the sandy surface of Tatooine — still littered with the smouldering ruins of Jabba’s sail barge — where his armor was stolen by Jawas and he was taken prisoner by a roving band of Tusken raiders.
The first episode spends about half its time catching us up on where Boba’s been and the other half showing his attempt to take over the crime racket in Mos Espa in the vacuum left by Jabba and his successor and former majordomo Bib Fortuna. These events are occurring contemporaneously with Disney’s other Fett-inspired series The Mandalorian.
It’s all a feast for Star Wars nerds, made even nerdier with the knowledge that Boba Fett was never intended to be one of the central figures in the canon — he was an animated side character in the doomed and unwatchable 1977 Star Wars Holiday Special, then a background player in Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. All in all, he had about six lines of dialogue and about as many minutes of screentime.
It wasn’t until people fell in love with the distinctive “Boba Fett” helmet that he was retconned into the story by the prequels and, now, gets his very own show.
As with The Mandalorian (in which he also appears), Boba Fett’s solo outing is a vigorous, space-cowboy romp that aficionados will love and even casual Star Wars fans will enjoy. The seven-episode arc goes online Wednesdays through Feb. 9.
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