Coco

coco-review Coco  (2017)    Disney/Comedy-Adventure-Fantasy    RT: 109 minutes    Rated PG (thematic elements)    Director: Lee Unkrich    Screenplay: Adrian Molina and Matthew Aldrich    Music: Michael Giacchino    Cinematography: Matt Aspbury and Danielle Feinberg    Release date: November 22, 2017 (US)    Cast: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Renee Victor, Ana Ofelia Murguia, Alfonso Arau, Herbert Siguenza, Selene Luna, Dyana Ortelli, Jaime Camil, Sofia Espinosa, Edward James Olmos, Luis Valdez, Lombardo Boyar, Octavio Solis, Gabriel Iglesias, Cheech Marin, Carla Medina, Natalia Cordova-Buckley, John Ratzenberger.

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 The talented folks at Pixar don’t just make movies, they create worlds. Worlds of wonder, worlds of unlimited imagination. They took us on a trip inside the mind of an 11-year-old girl in 2015’s Inside Out. I still marvel at its brilliance and accessibility. They’ve also shown us worlds populated by anthropomorphic toys, bugs, monsters, fish and motorized vehicles. What they do usually impresses me. For this reason, it’s easy to forgive obvious cash-grab titles like Cars 3, Finding Dory and Monsters University. Even if it’s been done before, kids don’t mind return trips to places that delighted them the first time. But I’m getting a little off-topic here; let’s move on to the subject at hand.

 coco posterWhat I admire most about Pixar is that they intersperse their brand-name titles with works that are both original and inspired. Their latest offering Coco is such a film. It’s a gorgeous celebration of Mexican folklore and culture with its story of a young boy, Miguel (Gonzalez), who wants to be a musician like his idol, singer-movie star Ernesto de la Cruz (Bratt, Law & Order), even though his family has banned music for several generations. After his great-great-grandfather walked out on his family to pursue his musical dreams, his great-great-grandmother placed a ban on music in any form that has lasted for generations. Miguel secretly listens to de la Cruz’s records and watches his old movies (he was crushed to death by a huge bell in 1942) while being pressured to join the family shoemaking business started by his great-great-grandmother.

 Miguel wants to participate in a talent contest to be held on the Day of the Dead but his grandmother (Victor, Weeds) forbids it, even smashing his guitar. Not one to be deterred, the boy breaks into de la Cruz’s mausoleum to “borrow” his guitar. Something strange happens when he strums it. He becomes invisible to all but the deceased relatives who came from the Land of the Dead to visit their descendants. For those not in the know, the Day of the Dead is a Mexican tradition. It’s the one day of the year that the spirits of the deceased can return to the land of the living. It’s a day (and night) marked by celebrations and people leaving offerings for their ancestors.

 Not sure what to do with the living boy, his ancestors take Miguel back with them to the Land of the Dead to see what they can do about returning him to his rightful place in the universe. Time is of the essence; the longer he stays where he is, the more likely he is to remain there permanently. I don’t want to give away too much about the plot so please forgive me for being vague. An old photograph plays a vital role in the story as it contains (or lacks) visual information about Miguel’s ancestry. It’s what sends him on a quest across the Land of the Dead, one in which he’s aided by a skeletal trickster named Hector (Bernal, The Motorcycle Diaries) who claims to know de la Cruz personally. In order to stay incognito, Miguel has to pose as one of the dead which he does by way of clever application of skeletal facepaint.

 WOW! That was my initial reaction to Coco. It’s more than a mere movie; it’s a work of art. The illustrations in this computer-animated film are eye-poppingly beautiful. There’s a wide shot of the city of the dead that just floored me. There’s also an early scene in which de la Cruz performs one of his songs accompanied by several female dancers on tiers. It’s a number befitting Busby Berkeley. Coco is wildly colorful, vibrant and imaginative. One of the (non-human) characters is this huge, multi-colored flying dragon-like beast called an alebrije (it’s like a spirit animal) that pursues our heroes through the Great Beyond. Some images recall the dancing skeletons that seemed to show up a lot in trippy cartoon shorts from the 30s. Not all in Coco is scary stuff. Miguel is usually accompanied by a silly street dog named Dante (as in Inferno, obviously) whose tongue is always hanging out. I LOVE him! He is most deserving of his own cartoon short. You hear that, folks at Pixar? You can attach it to The Incredibles 2 next summer (YES, it’s official!).

 I’m completely confident in labeling Coco a new classic. It’s excellent in so many ways. It’s absolutely charming. It celebrates a culture that isn’t well-known among non-Latinos in much the same way as 2014’s awesome The Book of Life. The cast of voice talents is a who’s who of Latin-American talent; it includes Edward James Olmos, Alanna Ubach, Alfonso Arau, Ana Ofelia Murguia, Gabriel Iglesias and Cheech Marin. The characters are (mostly) likable. BTW, Coco is the name of the daughter that the great-great-grandfather left behind. Now she’s a nearly silent old lady who still asks for her poppa. She’s the only family member with whom Miguel feels a close kinship. Bernal is very good as Hector, a funny and tragic figure who died under circumstances that make him the target of mockery. Bratt is great as de la Cruz, a celebrity who fully believes in his own hype. The music is terrific. “Remember Me” is a sure-fire Oscar nominee for Best Song.

 The plot of Coco is a bit twisty; there are a few surprises that will, in retrospect, seem obvious. It’s a cool story, complex yet easy to follow. The most important thing is Coco is a lot of fun. Writer-director Lee Unkrich (Monsters Inc.) and co-writer Matthew Aldrich infuse the story with plenty of humor, action and heartfelt emotion. Like many a Pixar feature, you’re likely to shed a tear or several at the end. In this case, it’s well earned. Coco is an absolute delight and a real feast for the eyes. Despite a few scary images, kids of all ages should enjoy it as will the parents tasked with accompanying them.

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