Review: ‘Encanto,’ starring the voices of Stephanie Beatriz, Jon Leguizamo, Angie Cepeda, Wilmer Valderrama, Diane Guererro, Jessica Darrow and María Cecilia Botero

November 15, 2021

by Carla Hay

Pictured from left to right: Luisa (voiced by Jessica Darrow), Isabela (voiced by Diane Guererro), Abuela Alma (voiced by María Cecilia Botero and Olga Merediz), Mirabel (voiced by Stephanie Beatriz), Agustín (voiced by Wilmer Valderrama), Julieta (voiced by Angie Cepeda), Camilo (voiced by Rhenzy Feliz), Antonio (voiced by Ravi Cabot-Conyers), Pepa (voiced by Carolina Gaitan), Félix (voiced by Mauro Castillo) and Dolores (voiced by Adassa Candiani) in “Encanto”(Image courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc.)

“Encanto” 

Directed by Jared Bush and Byron Howard; co-directed by Charise Castro Smith

Some language in Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Colombia, the animated musical film “Encanto” features an all-Latino cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A 15-year-old girl, who feels ordinary in a family blessed with magical powers, tries to find her special talent while also solving the mystery of what happened to her uncle who disappeared years earlier.

Culture Audience: “Encanto” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in stories that have mystical qualities but are also about life’s realities of finding one’s own identity and self-esteem.

Mirabel (voiced by Stephanie Beatriz) and Bruno (voiced by John Leguizamo) in “Encanto” (Image courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc.)

Disney’s “Encanto” has some unnecessary clutter in the story, and the music could be better, but this animated film has enough charm to overcome its very noticeable flaws. The story gets a little convoluted and might be confusing to some viewers (especially those who are younger than the age of 7), who could still be entertained by the dazzle of the movie’s vibrant visuals. “Encanto” ultimately has meaningful messages about family and self-confidence that make the movie worthwhile to watch and appealing to many generations of people.

“Encanto” is directed by Jared Bush and Byron Howard and co-directed by Charise Castro Smith. Castro Smith and Bush co-wrote the “Encanto” screenplay. Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote eight original songs for “Encanto.” Manuel previously worked with Walt Disney Animation Studios on 2016’s “Moana.” Howard and Bush’s previous Disney film was 2016’s Oscar-winning “Zootopia,” which Howard directed and which Bush co-wrote and co-directed.

With all these talented filmmakers involved in “Encanto,” it’s not too surprising that the movie looks great and has a solid story concept. What is surprising is that some parts of the movie are more jumbled that they needed to be. And most of the songs, while pleasant, are somewhat forgettable. “Encanto” is not a Disney animated film that’s going to have an Oscar-winning hit song, such as “Let It Go” from “Frozen.” People watching “Encanto” might have trouble remembering at least three songs after watching the movie for the first time.

“Encanto” has a large ensemble cast of characters, and they are all introduced in a somewhat haphazard and rushed way. The characters are at least distinctive from each other, but viewers must have patience in the first 20 minutes of the movie as the characters show more of their individual personalities. There’s a big part of the story about magic and mystical spells that could have been streamlined and simplified, considering that many of this movie’s intended viewers might too young to grasp some of the movie’s concepts about which magical spells should be cast in order for certain things to happen.

In “Encanto,” which is set in Colombia, the story is centered on the Madrigal family, which lives in a magical place in the mountains called Encanto. It’s a family tradition that when each child in the family turns 5 years old, the child finds out during a ceremony what special power has been bestowed on them. The given power is revealed when a magical door opens in the house to reveal an enchanted space, where the child enters to get the power that is officially bestowed on the child. The power is then used as a gift to help people in the community.

This tradition in the Madrigal family began about 50 years earlier, when a young, married couple named Alma and Pedro Madrigal fled their home with their baby triplets, due to an invasion of their land, and Pedro tragically died while in captivity. After her husband’s death, Alma said a prayer to a mystical candle, which resulted in the miracle creation of Encanto, a safe and magical place to live. This candle is considered the key to the family’s magical powers.

Alma’s triplets (two daughters and a son) grew up in Encanto. The daughters got married to loving husbands, and they had children of their own. Meanwhile, Alma’s son became estranged from the family because he has psychic powers, and the family didn’t like his “gloom and doom” predictions. He has disappeared, so part of the movie is about discovering what happened to him.

Alma’s 15-year-old granddaughter Mirabel is the movie’s protagonist. Mirabel is energetic and kind-hearted, but she insecure about herself and how she is perceived by her family. In total, there are 12 people in the Madrigal family who are in “Encanto.” It’s a lot of characters to keep track of in the story, and it might be too much for people with short attention spans.

The 12 members of the Madrigal family featured in “Encanto” are:

  • Abuela Alma (voiced by María Cecilia Botero for spoken dialogue and voiced by Olga Merediz for singing) is the matriarch. She sometimes overreacts if she thinks any danger will come to her family.
  • Julieta (voiced by Angie Cepeda), one of Alma’s triplet daughters, has the power to heal.
  • Agustín (voiced by Wilmer Valderrama) is Julieta’s supportive and mild-mannered husband. Julieta and Agustín have three daughters.
  • Isabela (voiced by Diane Guererro), the eldest daughter of Julieta and Agustín, is as close to perfect as possible, in terms of her beauty and intellect. She has the power to make flowers and other plants grow.
  • Luisa (voiced by Jessica Darrow), the middle daughter of Julieta and Agustín, is tall and muscular. Her power is super-sized strength.
  • Mirabel (voiced by Stephanie Beatriz), the youngest daughter of Julieta and Agustín, was not bestowed any special gift/talent/power at 5 years old, and she feels very insecure about it. Mirabel is now 15 and struggling with self-confidence issues and feeling like she doesn’t fit in with her family.
  • Pepa (voiced by Carolina Gaitan), Alma’s other triplet daughter, has the power to control the weather with her emotions.
  • Félix (voiced by Mauro Castillo) is Pepa’s goofy and fun-loving husband. Pepa and Félix have two sons and one daughter.
  • Camilo (voiced by Rhenzy Feliz) is the older son of Pepa and Félix. A natural extrovert and entertainer, Camilo has the power to shape shift.
  • Dolores (voiced by Adassa Candiani) is the daughter of Pepa and Félix. Her power is an extraordinary hearing ability, so naturally she’s become a nosy busybody who likes to find out other people’s secrets.
  • Antonio (voiced by Ravi Cabot-Conyers) is the younger son of Pepa and Félix. Antonio, who is quiet and shy, has the ability to communicate with animals.
  • Bruno (voiced by John Leguizamo) is Alma’s prodigal son who has the aforementioned psychic power. Bruno’s “tell it like it is” nature might be too blunt for some people, so he sometimes has a tendency to rub people the wrong way.

You know a movie might have too many characters when it has to spend so much screen time explaining who everyone is before getting to the real action in the story. It takes a while for it get going, but eventually Mirabel goes on an adventure that involves finding the long-lost Bruno, whom she has never met before. Something happens that causes her family to lose their powers, and Mirabel gets blamed for it. A great deal of the story is about how she tries to make things right and get the magical powers restored to her family.

There are also some subplots about the family dynamics. Mirabel and Isabela have a tension-filled relationship because Mirabel is jealous of Isabel being the family’s “golden child,” while Isbael acts haughty and superior to Mirabel, even though Isabel secretly resents the pressure that she feels to be “perfect.” Meanwhile, Isabela is being courted by a handsome neighbor named Mariano Guzmán (voiced by Maluma), who seems like an ideal match for her. It’s a courtship that gets the approval of Isabela’s parents and Mariano’s parents, but does Isabela really want to get married?

When Mirabel finds Bruno, she discovers he’s not the terrible person he’s been described as by some people. (It’s not spoiler information to say that Mirabel and Bruno end up meeting, since it’s revealed in the movie’s trailer.) Mirabel and Bruno bond over feeling like “outsiders” in the family. The friendship that develops between Bruno that Mirabel is one of the movie’s highlights. Bruno also has a trusty toucan, because a movie like this always seems to have at least one or two helpful animal friends that are sidekicks for the human characters.

Since “Encanto” is a musical, the score and songs are placed in the movie at a pace that flows fairly well. The original songs in “Encanto” are good, but not amazing. Except for a few standouts though (such as the ensemble tunes “We Need to Talk About Bruno” and “All of You”), most of the songs are not as memorable as people might expect them to be, considering that they were written by “Hamilton” mastermind Miranda.

The “Encanto” original songs are pleasant enough, but will they resonate with people emotionally to the point where most people will want to re-watch “Encanto,” just to see the songs performed in the musical scenes? That’s highly doubtful. “Encanto” is not a movie that is going to inspire a sing-along version, like Disney did for “Frozen.” The songs of “Encanto” are just not as interesting as the characters that perform these songs.

“Encanto” offers some stunning visuals, which are the movie’s biggest assets. The movie also has lovely homages to Colombian culture, based on how various Colombian food, clothing and customs are featured in the story. All of the cast members are perfectly fine in their roles, with Leguizamo and Beatriz getting most of the best lines of dialogue in the movie. Overall, “Encanto” efficiently follows the tried-and-true formula of family-oriented animated films where the protagonist starts off feeling like a misfit and goes on a life-changing journey of self-acceptance.

Walt Disney Pictures will release “Encanto” in U.S. cinemas on November 24, 2021. Disney+ will premiere the movie at no additional cost on December 24, 2021.

Review: ‘Blast Beat,’ starring Mateo Arias and Moises Arias

May 28, 2021

by Carla Hay

Mateo Arias, Wilmer Valderrama, Diane Guerrero and Moises Arias in “Blast Beat” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

“Blast Beat”

Directed by Esteban Arango

Spanish and English with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1999 and 2000 in Colombia and Atlanta, the dramatic film “Blast Beat” features a racially diverse cast of characters (Hispanic, African American, white and Asian) representing the working-class, middle-class and upper-middle-class.

Culture Clash: Two teenage brothers, who have opposite views of the American Dream, emigrate with their mother from Colombia to reunite with the brothers’ father, who is living in Atlanta.

Culture Audience: “Blast Beat” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in well-acted and sometimes melodramatic depictions of Hispanic immigrant stories in the United States.

Moises Arias in “Blast Beat” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

Is the American Dream a worthy life goal? It depends on who’s answering that question. In the dramatic film “Blast Beat,” two teenage bothers have contrasting opinions of the American Dream, not only because they have polar opposite personalities but also because their lives are going in different directions. Directed by Esteban Arango (who co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Erick Castrillon), “Blast Beat” has some pacing issues, but the last third of this 105-minute movie is the best part. The credible acting performances of real-life brothers Mateo Arias and Moises Arias also make “Blast Beat” worth watching for people who are interested in gritty family dramas. (“Blast Beat” is based on Arango’s short film of the same name, which also starred Mateo Arias and Moises Arias.)

The “Blast Beat” feature film starts off a little cliché and uninteresting, as viewers are introduced to the two brothers who are at the center of the story. The year is 1999, and brothers Carlos “Carly” Restrepo (played by Mateo Arias) and Mateo “Teo” Restrepo (played by Moises Arias) are living with their mother Nelly Restrepo (played by Diane Guerrero) in an unnamed city in Colombia. Carly is about 17 years old, while Mateo is about 16. The Arias brothers are a lot older than the teenage characters that they portray in this movie, but this noticeable age difference isn’t much of a distraction from the story.

It’s revealed later in the movie that the Restrepo brothers’ father/Nelly’s husband Ernesto (played by Wilmer Valderrama) has been living in Atlanta for about six months. During this time, Colombia has been experiencing increasing political unrest and crime-related violence. Drug lords have been extorting money from private citizens with this ultimatum: “Pay us or we won’t protect you from being assaulted or murdered.”

Ernesto wants his wife and sons to join him in Atlanta, where he has been working menial jobs, such as painting buildings, to make a living. Relocating to Atlanta would mean that Nelly, Carly and Mateo would have to leave behind their middle-class lives and the rest of their family for a more financially unstable lifestyle in the United States, where they don’t know anyone else. The other option would be to stay in Colombia and pay off the local extortionist drug dealers for protection.

Because it’s in the “Blast Beat” movie trailer, it’s not spoiler information to reveal that Nelly makes the choice to move to Atlanta with Carly and Mateo. Nelly says that the family’s immigration lawyer (who’s never seen in the movie) has taken care of all of their asylum paperwork, so that the family can legally immigrate as refugees. She’s willing to start a new life in the United States because she thinks that their Atlanta neighborhood will be safer than in Colombia, and she wants her children to have access to American education.

Carly is excited about the move because he’s an aspiring space engineer whose goal is to graduate from the Georgia Space Institute and eventually work at NASA. Carly is in his last year of high school, so when he moves to Atlanta, he applies to the Georgia Space Institute, and will find out in this story if he has been admitted to the school or not. Mateo, who prefers to live in Colombia, doesn’t have any specific life goals, but he loves to draw and paint, especially graffiti art. He hates the idea of moving away from Colombia to a country where he won’t know anyone but his brother and parents.

Needless to say, Carly and Mateo are complete opposites in almost every possible way. Carly is a dedicated and intelligent student, who excels in math and science the most. He has long hair and loves heavy metal, especially a band called Emperor. Mateo is completely bald (his head is shaved), prefers Colombian pop music, and is a rebellious student who despises school. Mateo shows an inclination and talent to be in the creative arts rather than in science, technology, engineering or mathematics.

Mateo loves skateboarding, while Carly prefers BMX bike riding. Carly has a steady girlfriend named Mafe (played by Kali Uchis), who likes to make homemade videos of Carly doing BMX stunts. Mateo is socially awkward around girls and doesn’t have any romantic prospects in Colombia. And later in the movie, when Mateo is living in Atlanta, it’s strongly implied that he’s a virgin until he ends up having a romance with a schoolmate.

“Blast Beat” spends most of the first third of the film showing Mateo’s and Carly’s lives in Colombia. Young men in Colombia are being recruited to join the military to combat the increasing civil unrest. Mateo’s best friend is a guy around the same age named Norby (played by Cristian Madrigal), who has told Mateo that Norby’s father has paid off people so that Norby doesn’t have to serve in the Colombian Army and will be able to focus on his school studies.

Mateo has already confided in Norby that he doesn’t want to move to the United States. “Fuck the American Dream,” Mateo says bitterly. Norby asks, “Why couldn’t your brother graduate and leave by himself?” Mateo replies, “Because he’s a selfish fucking asshole.”

Mateo and Norby have this conversation outside while Mateo has been spraypainting graffiti on street walls. Predictably, a security guard (played by Jeffrey Hans) sees this illegal graffiti activity and tries to stop it. Mateo and Norby run away, while the security guard chases after them. Mateo has a skateboard for his getaway, while Norby has to flee on foot. The security guard catches up to them, but Norby and Mateo end up assaulting the security guard to get away, and then they hide at Norby’s house.

Their mischief making isn’t over though. Mateo sets off a firecracker in a room, which causes an explosion that happens shortly after Mateo and Norby leave the building. The two pals don’t get in any real trouble over it, but this incident is apparently one of many that has convinced Mateo’s mother Nelly that the family should move to the United States, so that they can start a new life somewhere else.

Nelly fears that Mateo will eventually get himself in too much trouble in Columbia. But she does what many loved ones of troublemakers tend to do when they’re in denial about a problem: They misplace a lot of blame on the troublemaker’s environment instead of seeing that the real issues are with the troublemaker, not where they live. Mateo’s rebellious streak and violent anger aren’t going to go away just because he’s living in another country.

Carly is obviously the favored child in the Restrepo family, because he’s considered to be the obedient brother who’s most likely to succeed. And that’s caused some hard feelings and sibling rivalry between Carly and Mateo. At a family get-together with other relatives, Nelly says that she will never pay extortion money. She also brags that her husband Ernesto will always take care of her, and that he found a “beautiful home in a nice and safe neighborhood” in Atlanta.

Because it takes a while (about 20 minutes) in this 105-minute movie before the story gets to Carly, Mateo and Nelly moving to Atlanta, the Colombian backstory of Carly and Mateo tends to drag for a little too long. There’s a lot of repetition over how much Carly is the “good son” who is eager to move to the United States, while Mateo is the “bad son” who wants to to stay in Colombia.

Before they move to Colombia, Carly tries to tactfully distance himself from Mafe, by telling her that they don’t need to have an exclusive relationship while they’re living in two different countries. She starts to cry because she wants more of a commitment from Carly, even if it’s in a long-distance relationship. Carly isn’t willing to give her that commitment, but he doesn’t want to outright break up with Mafe either. Later in the story, Carly finds out how much he really wants this “non-exclusive” status to apply to his relationship with Mafe.

When Carly, Mateo and Nelly first arrive in Atlanta, the two brothers are polite but emotionally distant with their father. The six months that Ernesto was away has taken an unspoken toll on the relationship that Ernesto has with his sons. Eventually, Carly begins warming up to Ernesto, but Mateo’s relationship with Ernesto is still filled with tension and resentment.

And the “beautiful home” that Nelly thought she would have in Atlanta is anything but that: It’s actually a run-down fixer-upper house, which Ernest says that he plans to renovate, with help from Carly and Mateo. However, Mateo ends up doing more of the physical work than Carly does, because Carly is allowed to spend more time on his schoolwork.

Because Mateo is treated like a second-class citizen in his own family, his resentment comes out in various ways. He gets angry at Ernesto, who gave Mateo a scooter bike instead of the “cool” bike that Carly has. Mateo gripes about the scooter bike: “I’ll look like an idiot on that thing.” Carly has been building a homemade satellite, which he has brought with him to Atlanta. Soon after moving to Atlanta, Mateo destroys the satellite’s solar panels in a fit of anger and jealousy.

When Ernesto asks Mateo what his goals are after high school, he warns Mateo that it better not be anything in the arts, because Ernesto doesn’t think being in the arts is a practical career choice. The only real complaint that Ernesto has about favored son Carly is that he doesn’t like Carly’s taste in heavy metal music, which Ernesto thinks is “satanic” music. Carly has a tendency to play his music too loud, which is why Ernesto doesn’t want Carly to have the bedroom that’s closest to Ernesto and Nelly’s bedroom.

In their American high school, Carly and Mateo have culture shock in different ways. The two brothers also both experience racism and ignorance about Colombian culture, such as people who think that Colombia is part of Mexico, or they don’t like hearing Carly and Ernesto talking to each other in Spanish. Carly and Mateo give polite corrections when people misidentify the brothers’ Colombian nationality, but these corrections are often dismissed or ignored.

Carly is an outstanding student, but his math teacher Mr. Stephens (played by Njema Williams) doesn’t like it when Carly outshines him in the classroom. When Carly suggests a shortcut to a math solution, Mr. Stephens is quick to tell Carly that shortcuts that might have been acceptable where Carly came from, but it’s not acceptable in America. It won’t be the last time that Carly hears variations of the condescending lecture “You’re in America now, and we do things better than other countries.”

As for angry and rebelllious Mateo, it doesn’t take long for him to get in trouble at his new school. In his first day at the Atlanta school, a spoiled and snobby student named Jared (played by Sam Ashby), who looks like a blonde Ken doll, accidentally bumps into Mateo in the boys’ locker room. Mateo calls Jared an “idiot,” while Jared explodes with anger, by getting up in Mateo’s face and calling Mateo a “bitch” and a “chili shitter.” Things calm down before it escalates into a full-on brawl.

A fellow student named Byron (played by Jaime Matthis), who witnessed this argument, warns Mateo not to mess with Jared, because Jared’s father is a lawyer. (It’s at this point in the movie that viewers can easily predict that Mateo is going to run into more problems with Jared.) Byron introduces himself to Mateo in a friendly manner. And later, Mateo ends up becoming friends with Byron and a fellow student named Nessa (played by Ashley Jackson), when they all first bond with each other while smoking marijuana in one of the school’s bathrooms.

“Blast Beat” has a subplot of Carly taking the initiative to visit Georgia Space Institute, where he sits in on a class led by Dr. Michael Onitsuka (played by Daniel Dae Kim), who has connections with people at NASA. Carly is so impressed with Dr. Onitsuka and what’s being taught in the class, that after the classroom session, Carly asks Dr. Onitsuka if he can audit the class. Dr. Onitsuka asks Carly if he’s a registered Georgia Space Institute student. Carly lies and says that he’s a first-year student. Carly has a big space engineering idea that he eventually shares with Dr. Onitsuka, and this idea could make a major impact on Carly’s future career.

Carly and Mateo also find new love interests with fellow classmates in their Atlanta high school. Carly has a mutual attraction to a brainy student named Alana (payed by Ava Capri), who’s in his math class. (Carly doesn’t tell Alana about Mafe.) Meanwhile, Mateo and Nessa become closer and start dating each other. It’s implied that Nessa is Mateo’s first real girlfriend.

But this wouldn’t be a drama if things went smoothly. The rest of the story continues through the school year in 2000. During this school year, Mateo gets into more trouble, and Carly has a lot of resentment over having to look after Mateo and clean up the messes that Mateo makes. And there are some other issues that could threaten the futures of Mateo and Carly. The last third of the movie gets a little melodramatic, but there’s nothing unrealistic that happens in this story.

What makes “Blast Beat” so different from many other stories about Hispanic immigrants in America is that it presents two very different sides of what the American Dream can mean in the same family. Carly represents the view that’s usually presented in movies: The immigrant who wants to move to America to succeed and make a better life. Mateo has a perspective that’s not as commonly seen in American-made movies: An immigrant who unwillingly moved to America and doesn’t see the United States as a “promised land” but as a place that makes him deeply unhappy, with a deep desire to go back to his original country.

It’s this immigrant dichotomy—rather than the somewhat formulaic high school squabbles—that makes “Blast Beat” an interesting movie to watch. It’s impossible to know how differently Mateo Arias and Moises Arias would’ve played these roles if they weren’t brothers in real life, but their brotherly chemistry with each other obviously comes from a place of genuine experiences. The rest of the cast members handle their roles capably, but “Blast Beat” largely depends on the authentic way that the two brothers portray this volatile fraternal relationship.

This emotional truth is why “Blast Beat” is effective on most levels. The movie has some flaws (including an ending that’s just a little too rushed), but “Blast Beat” overall will make a memorable impression on viewers of this unique immigrant family story. The conflicts that these two brothers exeprience have more to do with what they want for themselves and how they want to live on their own terms, rather than based on other people’s expectations.

Vertical Entertainment released “Blast Beat” in select U.S. cinemas and on TV VOD on May 21, 2021. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released “Blast Beat” on digital and Internet VOD on May 21, 2021.

2019 ACM Awards: Luke Bryan, Old Dominion, Blake Shelton, Keith Urban added to performer lineup; presenters announced

April 2, 2019

ACM Awards

The following is a press release from the Academy of Country Music:

The Academy of Country Music has announced that Luke Bryan, Old Dominion, Blake Shelton and Keith Urban have been added to the exciting lineup of live performances for the 54th Academy of Country Music Awards and will be joined by a star-studded list of presenters including Lauren Alaina, Beth Behrs, Clint Black, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Jessie James Decker, Hunter Hayes, Jay Hernandez, Lady Antebellum, Midland, Nancy O’Dell, Danica Patrick, Carly Pearce, Dennis Quaid, Michael Ray, Cole Swindell, and Wilmer Valderrama. The awards telecast, hosted by Reba McEntire, will air LIVE from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on Sunday, April 7, 2019 at 8:00 PM ET / delayed PT on the CBS Television Network.

As previously announced, Country Music’s Party of the Year® will also feature performances by Jason Aldean (ACM Dick Clark Artist of the Decade Award honoree), Dierks Bentley, Brooks & Dunn, Brothers Osborne, Kane Brown, Brandi Carlile, Eric Church, Kelly Clarkson, Luke Combs (ACM New Male Artist of the Year), Dan + Shay, Florida Georgia Line, Khalid, Miranda Lambert, LANCO (ACM New Group of the Year), Little Big Town, Ashley McBryde (ACM New Female Artist of the Year), Reba McEntire, Maren Morris, Thomas Rhett, Chris Stapleton, George Strait and Carrie Underwood.

Tickets for the ceremony are available for purchase now at www.axs.com. For more information on the ACM Awards and all ACM events including ACM Party for a Cause®, visit ACMcountry.com. You can also like Academy of Country Music on Facebook or follow on Twitter and Instagram for more immediate updates.

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