Greg Eichelberger reveiws 'Coco'

Greg Eichelberger
Staff Writer

Late in the newest Pixar/Disney Studios animated feature, "Coco," there is a scene where a father recalls plaintively singing a song, "Remember Me," to his small daughter years before. It's a heart-tugging scene reminiscent of other Pixar movies, "Up"and "Inside Out," and it's a genuine lump-in-the-throat moment so prevalent in a picture that combines the widely vibrant colors and images with a thoughtful, adult story and a message of how important family is, no matter how members may fight and disagree with each other.
Written by Matthew Aldrich ("Cleaner") and neophyte Adrian Molina and lovingly directed by Molina and Lee Unkrick ("The Good Dinosaur"), "Coco," named after a senile (or so it would seem) maternal great-grandmother character, is nothing short of a love letter to Mexico, just like "Moana" was a positive epistle to the South Pacific islands and "Brave" is an affectionate note to Scotland, etc. …
It's the story of 10-year old Miguel (voice of Anthony Gonazales in his debut), a precocious child who loves music and idolizes his country's greatest singer, Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt, "The Infiltrator, "Law and Order" TV series), who was crushed by a falling bell in the 1940s. However, Miguel's family, beginning with his great-great grandmother, hate music because her husband left her and her baby girl ("Coco,") to pursue stardom many years ago.
Trying to persuade his parents to allow him to participate in a talent show and discovering that Ernesto might just be a direct ancestor, he visits the singer's grave and steals his guitar, a magic event that sends him to the land of the dead where skeletal passed-on relatives visit their living offspring each Nov. 1 (the Day of the Dead). It's here that the visuals almost overwhelm one's senses with the amazing multi-colored world of spirits with a dizzying array of marvelous and seamless effects. Pixar has had a very good record in this department, but there were also turkeys in the bunch (notably "Cars 2," "Brave," "Big Hero Six"), but this one brings the studio to its apex once again ...
The one thing that has made Pixar Studios so successful in making high quality CGI films is not just the brilliant animation and the love and craftsmanship that go into each effort, it's those wonderful stories. While the kiddies can wallow in the vivid visual spectrum, high energy action and such lovable and classic characters as Sully, Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Nemo, Lightning McQueen and Wall-E, Bing-Bong, among others, their parents can relish the thoughtful and interesting plot lines.
Here, for a such a simple premise, the tale is extremely layered and nuanced. Miquel, like the female character in "Inside and Out," is not a cliche kid, but a real human being with all the feelings, pain, angst and emotion as our real children. When he breaks into tears after his grandmother smashes his guitar,we actually FEEL his remorse.
The scenes beyond the realm of the living are vivid, amazingly artistic and wondrous,while the emotions run from frivolity to fright to sadness and back again. it is truly a roller coaster ride of emotion that leaves you tearful one moment and exultant the next.
In this wacky world where the dearly-departed exist only because the quick remember them, Miguel finds himself a fugitive because he, well, he just ISN'T dead — yet. He is offered to be sent back home by his great-great grandmother (Alanna Ubach, "To the Bone," "Rango"), but she insists that he give up his affection for music — forever. He refuses and soon goes searching for Ernesto, but finds Hector (voice of Gael Garcia Bernal, "Salt and Fire"), a down and out corpse who cannot even visit earth because no one recalls him or has ever put his picture on the mantel of remembrance.
The two travel together through this crazy universe — along with Miguel's spirit dog, Dante — and discover all is not as it seems, however.
All the while, recognizable Mexican words, phrases and icons such as El Santo (the lucha wrestler), comedian Cantinflas, artist Frida Kahlo and others are among the spectors who seek to keep their memories alive — within BOTH worlds. The resolution is as powerful and affecting as any Pixar project has been and we are left with a wet handkerchief, but a happy heart, as well.
Grade: B+