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'Coco' lively, touching tale of family, following dreams

By RICK BENTLEY • Nov 22, 2017 at 2:00 PM

A casual glance at “Coco” might suggest the latest animated offering from Pixar is aimed directly at one culture because the film deeply examines the traditions of the Mexican holiday of the Day of the Dead.

Closer examination reveals that while it celebrates the day of honoring and remembering those who have died, it is really a story about family, following your dreams and respect that cuts across all cultures. Add to that a production that is so visually stunning sunglasses should be passed out at the theater and “Coco” is a treat with universal appeal.

The broad attraction of the film starts with Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez), a young boy who because of an incident that happened generations ago in his family has had music banned from his life. Just like many who have been told they can't follow their dream, Miguel defies his family and seeks out a way to show at a local music competition the guitar skills that he has been secretly developing.

His problem is making the wrong decision of borrowing a guitar from the tomb of a local music legend, Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). Traditionally, the Day of the Dead is a time to give gifts to the departed, and because Miguel decided to take instead, he's transported into the afterworld. His only hope of getting back to the Land of the Living is to get a blessing from one of his relatives.

The problem is they will only give a blessing if he agrees to give up his love of music. Miguel decides to seek out de la Cruz — who appears to be a distant relative — because he knows a blessing from the famed musician will not come with stipulations. He's helped in his quest by Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal), a good-hearted soul who is on the verge of fading from existence.

Screenwriters Adrian Molina and Matthew Aldrich have captured the Pixar style of storytelling by being able to make some very serious points with a gentle touch. The biggest mistake those creating animated productions tend to make is the tendency to dumb down the story because it is aimed at children. There are some situations and events in "Coco" that youngsters will miss, but the bulk of the story has been crafted in such a way as to fully entertain young and moviegoers.

You know the writing is solid when animated characters can touch your heart so deeply that a tissue is needed.

Pixar productions have always been presented with a visual brilliance that keeps re-defining the animation world. But, under the direction of Lee Unkrich (”Toy Story 3”) and Molina (”The Good Dinosaur”), “Coco” is by far the most staggering when it comes to the way they depict the two worlds.

There's no missing the stunning use of color and scope used in the Land of the Dead. From the neon hues used to adorn the spirit animals to the towering buildings, there is so much going on in this world that a single viewing will not be enough. And, the visuals are even more spectacular in the Land of the Living, where the animators have gotten so good in creating textures and hues that an animated hand is so visually real it looks like it would actually bleed if cut.

This design skill was not as obvious in “Cars 3” because the automobiles have such a linear design. There were some examples in “Finding Dory,” but “Coco” gave the animators the opportunity to design and create two distinct worlds, and they are triumphant in their efforts.

“Coco” also features a musical soundtrack that's the best attached to a film from the Disney Studios since “Frozen.” This is the work of Michael Giacchino, an Oscar winner for his musical work on “Up,” who composed the score. Mexican-American composer Germaine Franco co-wrote and arranged many of the songs. The combination results in a soundtrack that will be played and sung for years to come.

The only small complaint is the film may be too intense for the very young because it deals with death and a world of skeletons. The imagery is handled in a very fun and imaginative way, so that may not be a problem.

Otherwise, “Coco” manages to do what seemed to be impossible. Don’t dismiss the film as being for only one movie-going group because it focuses heavily on a specific culture. It has been written and presented in such a way that it opens up the production to a broad audience. Not seeing this movie because it deals with a Mexican holiday would be like refusing to see “Finding Dory” because you don’t like the taste of fish.

And, there is a bonus. The short film “Olaf's Frozen Adventure,” which is being shown with “Coco,” is equally as beautifully animated and features memorable tunes. It alone is worth the price of admission.

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“Coco”

3.5 stars

Cast: Antony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Jaime Camil.

Directors: Unkrich, Adrian Molina.

Rated PG for thematic elements.

Running time: 109 minutes.

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Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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