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‘Coco’ (review)

Produced by Darla K. Anderson
Screenplay by Adrian Molina, Matthew Aldrich
Story by Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina,
Jason Katz, Matthew Aldrich
Directed by Lee Unkrich
Starring Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Renée Victor, Ana Ofelia Murguia, Alanna Ubach, Jaime Camil, Sofía Espinosa,
Selene Luna, Edward James Olmos

 

Everything isn’t for everyone.

It’s a widely known truth that lets groups maintain some sense of individualism and hopes to prevent mindless consumption of other cultures.

While some may find the concept limiting, by embracing the ability to be an observer rather than a participant, rich experiences that still hold incredible meaning are possible.

This is the story with Coco, a movie that gives a peek into the traditions of Dia de los Muertos by explaining some, but asking the audience to simply absorb the rest.

Even though his family has a ban on music going back generations, Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) dreams of being a musician like his idol, the great Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). As his village celebrates Dia de los Muertos, the day the dead are able to crossover and visit the living world, Miguel becomes trapped in the Land of the Dead, unable to cross back over without the blessing of his deceased but still music-hating family.

Through the help of the endearing Hector (Gael García Bernal) Miguel goes on a life-changing journey to uncover the true ties of family.

It is always a risk to adapt a widely known cultural tradition into media meant for mainstream audiences. But directors Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina have done an excellent job creating rich vibrant worlds for both the living and the dead that evoke the beauty of Mexico. Warm earthy tones make up Miguel’s village, accentuated by the ever-present marigolds of the holiday and the bright papel picado (perforated paper banners) that tell the opening story in picture book style.

Cross to the other side and you will find a surprisingly lively land full of neon accents and skeletons that are distinctly individualized and just as expressive as their flesh and blood counterparts.

Keeping in the vein of making a movie that speaks to a different audience, there is a fair amount of Spanish throughout Coco. Yet, they take care to never have subtitles or to translate every word, tradition, or song. Rather it is the emotion evoked from Miguel performing for the first time in front of a crowd or the plaintive crooning of an ancestor whose heart was broken long ago that creates a universal sense of attachment unrestricted by language. Rarely does a movie not fall over itself to make sure that is accessible to every single population. One of the absolute joys of Coco is that it is unapologetically dedicated to Mexican culture.

The voice talent makes the movie really shine, with heavy hitters such as Edward James Olmos and Benjamin Bratt along with supporting talent like Gabriel Iglesias. It is a very carefully cast group. Bratt in particular Is well-suited for the charming but egotistical de la Cruz. Anthony Gonzalez brings the vibrancy and earnestness that you need in a young lead, and a lovely singing voice to match. Gael Garcia Bernal runs the gambit from sincere and endearing to conniving and selfish. His turn as Hector is one of the best the film has to offer.

Coco establishes a rarity in an animated film. While it does not have the traditional laughs and easygoing nature that we generally expect from Pixar, the emotional payoff at the end is worth every single second.

For a movie that is so enjoyable and infinitely watchable, I dare say it is one of the best films of 2017. It reinforces the lesson that we should all take to heart far more often: that nothing in life or death is more important than the love of tu familia.

 

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