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edge staff writer


Pixar’s ‘Coco’ brimming with life

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Exceptional animated offering is beautiful and touching

Another year, another phenomenal animation experience courtesy of Pixar. Ho-hum.

The studio’s latest outing – their 19th – is “Coco,” a visually stunning and emotionally captivating story of one young man’s willingness to do anything (including venture into the Land of the Dead) in order to fulfill his dreams. It is sumptuous and sincere, with a generosity of spirit that matches Pixar’s usual M.O. perfectly.

Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez in his feature debut) is a little boy living with his large extended family in a small village in Mexico. His family has worked in the shoemaking business for generations, a business started by Miguel’s great-great-grandmother. But Miguel doesn’t want to make shoes – his truest love is music. However, Miguel’s family is adamantly anti-music – the shoemaking business only started because Miguel’s musician great-great-grandfather left his family behind in pursuit of musical glory.

Still, Miguel carries on, striving to follow in the musical footsteps of his deceased idol Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt, “Shot Caller”). But when his family finds out on the evening of Dia de Muertes, the Mexican holiday of remembrance, Miguel lashes out and flees. He winds up in the memorial to hometown hero de la Cruz; in an effort to make his way into the local talent contest, he takes hold of one of de la Cruz’s guitars.

And music can be magic.

Miguel finds himself translated; he’s now entered the plane on which the returning spirits of Dia de Muertes exist (as has his street dog buddy Dante). He can see them and they can see him … and he can even visit their homeland. It’s not long before he encounters his own departed family – all of whom scoff at his still-burning desire to be a musician. They refuse to help him return home without a promise to cast aside his dream, so he flees, hoping to track down de la Cruz himself.

He winds up in the company of an awkward, almost-forgotten hustler named Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal, TV’s “Mozart in the Jungle”) who promises to help him gain an audience with de la Cruz – and who proves to have some unexpected hidden depths.

As Miguel makes his way toward de la Cruz – all while avoiding his searching family and the various authorities looking to handle this living boy in a land of the dead – he’s left with a lot of time to consider some hard truths about what it really means to be family … and just how valuable memories can be.

It’s no secret that I’m a big proponent of the work that Pixar produces. That being said, it’s tough to argue that “Coco” is anything other than magnificent. It’s yet another example of how the studio has elevated the level of discourse with regards to animation as popular art. Their combination of commercial and critical success is the standard to which all other animation producers aspire. And this movie is a worthwhile addition to that filmography.

It’s a beautiful movie to look at – maybe one of the best that Pixar has done. There’s a richness of detail that is positively mesmeric. The character designs are of the usual high-caliber; the denizens of the afterlife are particularly stunning. But it’s the beauty of the world constructed around them – on both sides of the veil – that truly astound. Whether it’s the rough-hewn beauty of Miguel’s village or the surreal splendor of the Land of the Dead, we’re traveling through a place whose thoroughness simply can’t be fully explored in a single journey.

The story is lovely in its simplicity. The dreams of our youth are important and worth pursuing, but we should strive to never cast aside those close to us in service of them – that’s the message that “Coco” conveys. And it provides a wonderful and thoughtful exploration of Dia de Muertes (and a far more nuanced one than we’ve seen in other pop culture offerings) and its social importance. It’s an honest tale filled with genuine feeling. It might be more strongly kid-oriented than other Pixar fare, but there are still some culturally-specific references offered up for the grown-ups in the room.

The vocal cast is exceptional across the board. Gonzalez is an ideal fit for the wide-eyed, precocious Miguel. There’s an unending energy to the young man’s vocalization; it makes for some dynamite storytelling. Bernal is a delight as Hector, gently conning his way from spot to spot. His need for redemption is palpable, a lovely collaborative effort between his voice and the work of the animators. Bratt as Ernesto de la Cruz is roguishly charming as all get out. The rest of the cast is first-rate.

Oh, and there are some songs that are actually pretty excellent as well. All in all, I loved pretty much everything about “Coco.”

(Fine, not EVERYTHING. It is at this point that we will address the Disney short that serves as the lead-in to the film. Titled “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure,” it is spun off from the “Frozen” series and it is, well … interminable. It began life as a TV-sized holiday special and plays as such, with the original cast returning. It has a couple of meh songs and about 10 minutes of story spread throughout its 21-minute running time. “Frozen” completists might dig it, but that’s about it. Honestly, it’s a bummer that we didn’t get the usual Pixar short as a lead-in; those pieces have been uniformly excellent.)

“Coco” is another all-around triumph for Pixar. It doesn’t QUITE reach the topmost-tier, but it easily reaches the level just below, which only makes it one of the best animated films of the 21st century.

[5 out of 5]


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