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With: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Jaime Camil, Alfonso Arau, Sofía Espinosa, Selene Luna, Ana Ofelia Murguia, Renee Victor, Luis Valdez, Herbert Siguenza, Carla Medina, Edward James Olmos (voices)
Written by: Adrian Molina, Matthew Aldrich, based on a story by Lee Unkrich, Jason Katz, Matthew Aldrich, Adrian Molina
Directed by: Adrian Molina, Lee Unkrich
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements
Running Time: 109
Date: 11/22/2017
IMDB

Coco (2017)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Drop Dead Gorgeous

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Pixar's nineteenth animated feature film Coco, which opens Wednesday in Bay Area theaters, may seem a little lightweight compared to heart-wrenchingly profound as things like Inside Out, Wall-E, Up, or the Toy Story films.

But its simple themes of family, music, life, and death, especially in these troubling times, are more than enough to make it an endearing, enduring favorite.

Add to that its magical array of visuals — an entire "Land of the Dead" is realized — and its kind, loving representation of Mexican culture, and Coco becomes a force for good in the world.

Sure, its screenplay by Pixar up-and-comers Adrian Molina and Matthew Aldrich settles back on a few broad shortcuts to get things going and to wrap them up, but the emotional content here is genuine.

Talented twelve year-old Miguel (voiced warmly by Anthony Gonzalez) idolizes the "greatest musician of all time," the late Ernesto de la Cruz.

But his family has forbidden all music after Miguel's great-great-grandfather walked out on his great-great-grandmother to become a musician. This seems a little harsh after so many generations, but we'll go with it.

The "Coco" of the title is Miguel's great-grandmother, who would be the little girl that the no-good musician left behind; she's still alive here and barely remembers anything, but Miguel loves talking to her.

In any case, his Abuelita (voiced by Renée Victor) smashes his guitar on Dia de los Muertos and he runs away. With the help of some magical realism, winds up in the Land of the Dead, where the deceased walk around as skeletons with eyeballs.

There, he meets ne'er-do-well Hector (voiced by Gael García Bernal), who agrees to help Miguel find de la Cruz (voiced by Benjamin Bratt), if Miguel will put up Hector's photograph, allowing him to cross to the land of the living during the holiday.

Indeed, the writers and co-director Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3) have effectively explained the rules of Dia de los Muertos in a way that works well with their story and respects the actual rituals.

The many wondrous sights and sounds of the Land of the Dead include a bridge from one land to the other, made entirely of flower petals, wonderful songs, both traditional and new, and multi-colored spirit animals.

A dog called Dante, who helps Miguel, is an adorable doofus with an unbelievably floppy tongue.

It could have been fairly easy to get Miguel back home, but the writers have cooked up various ways to keep him there, including a big, nasty villain, and the old "tricked into recording a confession for all the world to hear" chestnut.

Indeed, Coco could have been a little shorter, a little simpler, but because it's drawn out, it also gets to spend a little more time in this amazing world.

The truly touching thing about Coco is that, like Toy Story 3, it accepts death as part of life. In an industry that regularly aims to make us forget about such things, simply acknowledging it — and celebrating it — has a profundity all its own.

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