Charm can get you a long way, and Encanto is certainly charming. It brims with life, love and family and goes down exceptionally easily. It is also incredibly beautiful, matching clear technical proficiency with imaginative art design and consistent creativity. It is light, though: light hearted, light on story (which is mainly a positive) and a touch too light with its characters. But, sometimes that’s just what you need.
It is a magical realist tale. There are sharp edges but they are mostly obfuscated, somewhat stepping aware from the more resonant film this could have been. This is replaced by joy and family, though it isn’t as sharp and funny as Disney’s best. That being said, the central story does compel, and diverges nicely from the wider catalogue. It is about a family who all have magical gifts, the gifts they use to help the town, and the gifts that define them. The problem is, our main character wasn’t given a gift (when the children reach a certain age, the gift manifests as part of a ceremony) and therefore feels unimportant. When normal is special, not being special is seemingly tragic. This segues into a story where the house (they live in a magical house) seems to be falling apart, but only our protagonist notices (at first). Her complaints and warnings are misconceived as jealousy, or attention stealing, and everything starts to just fall apart.
It is a minor narrative, the stakes kept on the family level, and this works for it. The limited framework lets us focus on message and on character. The characters are nice, but not fleshed out enough despite the time they are given (expected struggles and some broad strokes make it work but don’t make it sing). We are left in a strange middle-ground where the less traditional narrative makes the film standout, and makes for a welcome reprise in the kinetic and hyperactive world of children’s cinema, but also doesn’t seem fully taken advantage of. There’s a lack of commitment and the film goes for very satisfying, but very easy, answers. But this is fine, it is a great message movie that speaks on the wavelength of a young audience: articulating what they need to know with beauty, personality and accessibility.
For an older audience, it may not wholly satisfy, but it will definitely charm. There’s also enough cultural specificity, and a good evocation of family, to ensure this will be a home run for some. It is a lovely film, an utterly endearing way to spend just shy of a couple of hours and it is certainly escapist glee. It may not stick with you, its lovely separate pieces not quite coming to an equally excellent whole, but it is a joy.