Film Critic

Chuck Koplinski is The News-Gazette's film critic. His email is and you can follow him on Twitter (@ckoplinski).

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It’s no secret that Disney animated films follow a formula, and there are few surprises in store once the princess du jour embarks on whatever quest awaits her or the requisite animal sidekick starts cracking wise. Still, when this template is executed with a sense of style and energy, there’s no question that a bit of magic is created, and if there’s a foundation upon which this empire is built on, this is it.

Such is the case with the latest from the mouse house, “Encanto,” the 60th animated feature from the studio which manages to follow the expected narrative imperative with one interesting exception. This coming-of-age tale set in Colombia features a rather unique protagonist by Disney standards — there’s really nothing all that special about her.

Mirabel (voice by Stephanie Beatriz) stands apart from the other members of the Madrigal family because she’s … normal. One of her sisters is remarkably strong (she juggles donkeys to work up a sweat), another has acute hearing (a pin dropping is a cacophony to her), and she has a brother who’s a shapeshifter (you never really know who or what this guy is!). Then there’s the cousin who controls the weather, the aunt who can heal anyone with a meal she’s prepared and the other who, when she sings, makes flowers grow.

Needless to say, it’s a little rough existing in the shadow of all of this, yet Mirabel, with her effervescent personality, has been the family’s cheerleader for years and has managed to maintain a sense of worth in this role. However, when the clan’s powers start to wane, it falls to our heroine to figure out just what has gone amiss. She suspects — and is correct — that the secret may lie with finding her brother Bruno (John Leguizamo), whose power as a seer came back to haunt him when, years ago, he caught a glimpse of the family’s future and promptly disappeared.

There are a few nice twists along the way, especially when it’s revealed what Bruno saw and just why he’s made himself scarce. Directors Jared Bush and Bryon Howard keep things humming along at a brisk pace — it’s the rare modern movie that does not overstay its welcome — but it’s the songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda that give the film its sense of pep and vibrancy. “The Family Madrigal” gets things off to a rousing start as it quickly and imaginatively introduces the family members and their various powers; “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” is foreboding and lively while providing vital information on the missing brother; and “Surface Pressure” kinetically speaks to the onus of having great responsibility. Needless to say, you won’t dread putting the soundtrack on repeat when your kids demand it.

While the film is a robust entertainment, it’s not without a vital message. The Madrigal clan doesn’t use their myriad powers for material gain but in an altruistic fashion to benefit the citizens of the titular town where they all live. No one’s needs go unmet, and all in the village are the better for it, as the generosity the townspeople receive at the hands of the magical family multiplies with the benevolent acts they then commit. This, coupled with the notion that we all have something to offer, are simple precepts, yet are driven home with a sense of immediacy that’s vital. “Encanto” may adhere to a well-worn formula, but its message couldn’t be more timely.

For DVR alerts, film recommendations and movie news, follow Koplinski on Twitter (@ckoplinski). His email is

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