[Screen It]


(2017) (voices of Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal) (PG)

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Computer-Animated Fantasy-Comedy-Musical: A musically gifted 12-year-old boy, who's grown up in a family where music has been banned, tries to find his long-dead music idol when he ends up in the land of the dead.
Miguel Rivera (voice of ANTHONY GONZALEZ) is a 12-year-old boy who lives in a Mexican village with his extended family. He longs to be a singer/songwriter like his long-dead idol, Ernesto de la Cruz (voice of BENJAMIN BRATT) -- the most famous musician of all time in Mexico -- but music has been banned in his family for generations. And that's because long ago, his great-great-grandfather apparently abandoned his great-great-grandmother, Mamá Imelda (voice of ALANNA UBACH), to pursue a fledgling music career, thus leaving Imelda to raise their young daughter by herself.

Now, all of these years later, and with the family having passed down Imelda's shoemaking operation from generation to generation, that former young daughter is now the elderly Mamá Coco (voice of ANA OFELIA MURGUIA) who lives in the same house as Miguel, his parents and other family members including Abuelita (voice of RENÉE VICTOR). Not only does she enforce that no music rule, but she also is preparing for the Day of the Dead festivities where the spirits of deceased family members cross over into the world of the living, as long as photos of them are displayed first.

Miguel, however, has accidentally damaged the photo of Imelda, but in doing so he discovered a folded-back section of that photo that shows a guitarist -- where the face has been ripped out of the shot -- holding a guitar that looks identical to the one Ernesto once used.

Believing this is destiny calling, Miguel desperately needs a guitar for a talent show to prove his talent. With none available, he breaks into Ernesto's mausoleum to borrow the one on display, but suddenly finds himself now a spirit where the living can't see him, but the spirits of his dead relatives can. With them thinking he might be the cause of Imelda being unable to cross over, they take him to the land of the dead. There, he learns he must cross back over before sunrise, but can only do so with a deceased family member's blessing, and Imelda won't do that unless he promises to give up music forever.

He refuses and flees from the scene, eventually bumping into the spirit of Hector (voice of GAEL GARCÍA BERNAL), a man who desperately wants to cross over into the land of the living but has been denied. Overhearing that Hector knows Ernesto -- who's to perform a concert in the land of the dead -- Miguel teams up with him, promising that if he gets to meet his idol -- who he's now sure is his long-lost, great-great-grandfather -- he'll return to the land of the living and put out Hector's photo so that he can cross over. But with time running out before sunrise, it's uncertain if that plan is going to work.

OUR TAKE: 8 out of 10
As with anything in the world of art or any other career endeavor that takes talent and/or creativity, you always worry that at some point things will eventually seem not as special, might become repetitive, or as Fonzie literally and metaphorically did so long ago, end up jumping the proverbial shark.

That would certainly seem to be a justifiable concern when it comes to Pixar, the animation studio that started with a cute little desk lamp and then went on to become arguably the most consistently creative behemoth in the entire entertainment industry. From their short films to their feature-length pics and over a span of several decades they've delivered one amazing offering after another.

But then came "Cars" that lifted (and modified as necessary to fit in talking vehicles) the plot from "Doc Hollywood." Then the various sequels (including two, count 'em, two for that talking autos flick) started arriving that seemed to signal that perhaps the creative well was beginning to run dry.

And then when the first inklings of their 19th film leaked out, everyone noted that "Coco" seemed a little too similar to 2014's "The Book of Life" in that both revolved around the Mexican holiday, Dia de los Muertos, a.k.a. Day of the Dead.

Well, now that I've seen Pixar's latest, I'm happy to report that not only is the similarity akin to any other two films that might feature the holidays of Christmas, Thanksgiving, Halloween or any others as their setting, but this is also one terrific film.

Enjoyable from start to finish and likely to make most viewers laugh, cry, tap their feet to the music and feel compelled to have their own Day of the Dead festivities to celebrate those who've passed on, this is the best animated offering of 2017.

Of course, that really shouldn't come as much of a surprise considering the co-director Lee Unkrich previously directed "Toy Story 3" (after co-directing "Finding Nemo," "Monsters, Inc." and "Toy Story 2"). Here, he co-directs with Adrian Molina who co-wrote the script with Matthew Aldrich. I'll admit, the kick-off part of the story is fairly familiar in that it features a young protagonist who finds himself at odds with his family over his talent that they won't allow to flourish.

For 12-year-old Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez), that's playing the guitar, something that's been banned for generations due to his great-great-grandfather apparently abandoning his wife, Imelda (Alanna Ubach), and their young daughter -- who would eventually grow up into the now quite old titular character (Ana Ofelia Murguia) -- by choosing music over them.

So, Miguel must not only hide his musical talent with a guitar, but also his love for Mexico's most famous singer of all time, Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), who met an untimely demise (in a funny flashback) but has lived on in the hearts and memories of the living. And he's still a big deal in the Land of the Dead where Miguel accidentally ends up when he attempts to borrow the legend's guitar from his stately mausoleum.

There, the boy runs into many of his deceased relatives, including Imelda who's none too happy with her great-great-grandson for the music thing, but also having accidentally prevented her from passing over between the two worlds to visit her living descendants. Fleeing from her and the rest of the skeletal family (who are funny rather than scary in case you were wondering), Miguel ends up meeting Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal), a man who initially appears to be a con artist of sorts who's trying to sneak over to the world of the living but is denied.

The two end up with an agreement to help each other and events are eventually revealed that explain everything, all as the sunrise clock is ticking on who might get stuck in the wrong world and who might disappear altogether.

Along the way, there's plenty of good music to take in, jokes to laugh at, and emotional moments that will leave many ranging from moist eyes to outright bawling. And as has been the case with all of Pixar's offerings, the vocal work is top-notch and the computer-generated visuals are nothing short of outstanding.

Which also holds true for the storytelling that will hold and entertain you from the opening frames through the closing credits. I loved this flick and am happy to report that Pixar doesn't seem ready to be jumping any sea predators anytime soon. "Coco" rates as an 8 out of 10.

Reviewed November 6, 2017 / Posted November 22, 2017

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