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After a pair of entertaining, if not particularly impressive, sequels to previous films, Pixar is back to once again create an animated feature with a completely original story. If there was a fear Pixar had been losing its mojo, those fears have been laid to rest with Coco, a beautifully crafted and emotional story about music, chasing dreams, and the importance of family,
Miguel is a young boy living in Mexico who dreams of being a musician. The only problem is that Miguel's great-great grandmother abolished music from the family after her husband left her to follow his dream of being a musician. The hatred of music has been embraced by the ensuing generations, leading Miguel to keep his passion a secret. Miguel decides to chase his dream by entering the local talent show on the Dia de los Muertos, when the people of Mexico honor their deceased ancestors, but Miguel's grandmother destroys his guitar, leading the boy to take the one belonging to his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz, a local man who became a massive star, and whose crypt resides in town. Upon using the guitar, however, Miguel finds himself transported to the land of the dead, where he meets his deceased family and tries to find a way back home.
That's a fairly long setup, and Coco does take its time getting going, which is likely the reason that, at nearly two hours, this one of the longer animated movies you'll find. At the same time, it's difficult to criticize the movie too much for this decision. The topic of family is central to the story that Coco is trying to tell, and as such, you need to spend some time with Miguel's family in order for any of that to matter.
Once the story does get going, however, you'll likely be swept along with it. It goes to interesting places and meets interesting people. Stray dog Dante is as fun an animal sidekick as Disney or Pixar has produced, and his tongue animation alone is worth checking out. Hector (voiced by Gael Garcia Bernal), a lost soul who Miguel enlists into his cause, is entertaining, and just as musically talented as Miguel. Though it's probably Miguel's deceased Mamá Imelda (Alanna Ubach) who steals the show. Anthony Gonzalez's turn as Miguel is equally solid. While the character is yet another Disney protagonist with parents who "just don't understand," Miguel is far from the worst example of this storytelling cliche.
To answer your major question yes, Coco is going to tug at your heartstrings, and if you're the sort that gets a bit choked up at Pixar movies, the same thing is almost certainly going to happen here. Bring tissues.
While not a musical in the traditional Disney model, music is a bigger part of Coco than it has been in any Pixar movie to date. Kristen Anderson-Lopez of Frozen fame wrote the films original songs and while the Mexican influence means they sound nothing like "Let it Go," there's just as good a chance you'll be humming the music to Coco on the way out of the theater.
It's wonderful to see a culture that rarely gets attention be given such a major stage as a Pixar feature film. Most people probably know little about the Mexican Day of the Dead, and while some liberties are certainly taken with the mythology behind the holiday, the passion and reverence with which Pixar approaches the material is clear.
Coco is a film that kids will enjoy. Having said that, it's a remarkably mature story. Pixar movies have never hesitated to deal with adult themes, like mortality, and as you might expect, a movie that deals with ancestors that have passed on doesn't shy away from it. Coco, however, takes things a step further with quite possibly the darkest turn we've seen in a family movie for some time. It was a somewhat shocking moment.
It's not the only time the movie attempts to pull the rug out from under the audience, though it's the only one that lands perfectly. The other big "twist" will probably still be a surprise to the kids in the audience, but the adults will see it a mile away, which isn't to say it won't still be emotional for everybody.
Calling Pixar's animation visually stunning seems like an exercise in the obvious, but Coco is truly lovely to view. The Land of the Dead is bright and colorful and full of so much that it's almost distracting. Special recognition needs to go to the alebrejas, the spirit guides which consist of multiple animals combined together into several unique creatures. Each combination is bright, beautiful, and unique.
Coco isn't perfect, but what it is is an absolute joy to watch. The film proves that Pixar is still at its best when tacking new ideas rather than going back to the well.