by Greg Vellante

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday November 13, 2017


The unique appeal of Pixar Studios has always existed in its ability to craft an animated story that resonates with both children and adults. In "Up," children were given a tale of floating houses and talking dogs while adults found themselves emotionally stirred by a widowed man living out a lifelong promise to his wife. "WALL-E" gave children robots and adventure, while the grown-ups got romance and dystopian allegory. You could make this argument for nearly all of Pixar's output, in some way or another, but what separates the studio's newest from its predecessors is an uncanny ability to unite all ages through universal themes.

"Coco" is a gorgeous, inventively animated film that follows a young boy named Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) living in a small, fictional Mexican village, who dreams of being a famous musician in a large family that forbids music of any kind. Generations ago, Miguel's great-great-grandfather abandoned his family to follow a dream of musical stardom, setting off a bitter ancestral tradition of zero-tolerance for anything resembling a melody.

Miguel lives with an extended family of hardworking, enthusiastic shoemakers -- mother, father, grandmother, cousins and more, all of them thrown into the family business at some point. The eldest is Miguel's great-grandmother, Coco, the daughter of the musically-inclined man whose face has been torn out of family pictures and erased from the collective memories of his ancestors.

When Miguel's family catches him playing music, he runs away to follow the path of the man he discovers must be his great-great-grandfather -- famous musician Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). After a mishap, Miguel finds himself transported to the "Land of the Dead" on the evening of DŪa de Muertos and thrown into a quest to locate his great-great-grandfather without becoming trapped in this fantastical realm forever.

The story alone is imagination at its finest, fun-loving and pure. This creative flair in storytelling is amplified generously by perhaps Pixar's most stunning animation to date. The Mexican village in which we open the film is rigorously defined with details in both architecture and characters, while the "Land of the Dead" is an aesthetic and aural feast of colorful delights and toe-tapping musical numbers. When guitars are strummed and plucked, the animation captures every minor detail with striking accuracy, from the vibration of the strings to the intricate placement of a musician's fingers.

It's fascinating that Pixar's most introspective film about death is arguably its most thrilling and alive, but that's what "Coco" is. It entraps you on a perilous journey that sneaks up and unexpectedly floors you with emotional dividends, and these poignant moments are among the finest Pixar has ever crafted. It begins as a story of how our ancestors define us, as well as our living family members, and how these two definitions balance one another in thought-provoking ways. From here, "Coco" becomes so much more; it's a film about forgiveness and loss, and how our memories of the deceased are imperative in keeping them alive. I'd imagine this film may be many children's first encounter with the concept of death, but "Coco" handles this responsibility with grace.

When the collective themes all come to a head in the movie's profound and deeply moving third act, "Coco" captures a rare beauty that could very well have family members holding one another in tears. It uses a single song, the lovely "Remember Me," to break your heart then tenderly repair it. In an affecting blend of warmth, music, and adventure, "Coco" composes a pitch-perfect melody that made my soul sing.


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