Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Movie with Abe: Coco

Directed by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina
Released November 21, 2017

Death is a difficult idea for children to process, one that often has to be addressed in cinema. This reviewer remembers vividly the sight of a cast member from “South Pacific” returning to the stage to take his bow at the end of the performance long after his character had died, offering an opportunity to see him again that doesn’t usually come in movies. Exploring a culture-specific tradition that honors those who are no longer with the living is an exceptional and creative way to approach this concept for audiences of all ages, not diminishing what it means for someone to be gone but addressing it in a way that celebrates the power of being remembered.

In Mexico, twelve-year-old Miguel wants nothing more than to be a musician. His grandmother strictly forbids music, a policy dictated initially by his great-grandmother Coco, who is now ninety-nine years old, because her father was a musician who abandoned her mother. When Miguel discovers that his great-great-grandfather was actually famed musician Ernesto de la Cruz, he sets out to steal the legendary rock star’s guitar to compete in a talent show for the Day of the Dead. When he tries to take it, he is transported to the Land of the Dead, where he must reverse the curse he has put upon himself for stealing from the dead by receiving a blessing from his deceased family members, one he will not accept if it forbids him from playing music. As he searches for his idol of an ancestor, he is assisted by Hector, a skeleton at risk of fading away completely since he cannot cross the bridge on the Day of the Dead because no one has put his picture up to remember him.

The notion of a passport control center where skeletons are scanned and matched to the ancient photos that adorn their descendants’ mantelpieces is a sweet, creative one that serves the double purpose of helping to visually explain what could happen on the other side on the Day of the Dead and attributing some value to what being in heaven looks like on this one day each year. Its inclusion helps to heighten what is otherwise a standard animated adventure, with Miguel racing against the clock to meet his ancestor, earn back his family’s love, and help a new friend be remembered.

Everything about this spectacular works well, and the fact that it incorporates a culture not often spotlighted in Disney and Pixar films amplifies its effectiveness. Its use of music and its signature Oscar-nominated song, “Remember Me,” enhance the whole experience and make it all the more memorable. Young voice actor Anthony Gonzalez is joined by the likes of Gael Garcina Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, and Jaime Camil for an entertaining ride with a serious side that functions as a heartwarming film that transforms itself into a terrific tearjerker. This film is a lock to win the Best Animated Feature Oscar this year and would surely and deservedly be at the head of the pack any year.


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