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Coco Coaxes Tears and Wonder

Coco is Pixar‘s latest feature about a boy who dreams of becoming a musician while his family has a ban spanning generations on the art. Portraying life in a small Mexican town and being heralded as a touching tribute to the culture and folklore of Mexico, Coco manages to do a little bit of everything. It will coax out a few tears, have your eyes gaping in wonder, and, of course, make you chuckle a little along the way.

When the boy, Miguel, finds out that his father was a famous musician, he finally gives into his dream to play music and sets out to prove his family’s stance on music wrong. On the Day of the Dead, when his ancestors are supposed to visit from the afterlife, Miguel is instead mysteriously transported to the colorful Land of the Dead where he traces back the history of his family and gets to the bottom of why he feels like he was destined to play music while coming from a music-hating family.

Following the wildly successful Inside Out (2015) and Finding Dory (2016), Pixar has yet again found themselves on a hot streak. It’s a highlight of any year when the sweat and tears (but never blood because that’s not PG) of the animation powerhouse are over and we get to witness the toil pay off.

Aside from being an incredibly difficult medium to work on, the studio has built such a reputation for themselves that we all simply expect excellence every time. Coco represents the best side of Pixar, a stellar technical achievement skillfully paired with magical storytelling that cuts to the heart of every viewer, young or old, Mexican or any other human, movie buff or casual screen tourist.

A truly transcendent work of art speaks to you twice: once on screen as you try to figure out the magician’s tricks in front of your eyes and again on the ride home as your mental computer feasts on the plethora of ideas you’ve been tactfully fed. The mystery of the great show of life and the exercise of unraveling it feed into each other to create a personal journey for any and all watchers, no matter how close or far the particular source material hits.

As Miguel attempts to navigate the tricky waters of his love for his family warring with his love of the art of music, we see complex ideas that you could never just spell out in an essay and have the same widespread impact on your inner world that generally only takes root when it can sneak by the goalie. Life illuminated through contrast and conflict, Pixar captures adults and children alike because regardless of the inner baggage the viewer brings along with them, those impediments to learning about things outside of your comfort zone melt away when the stuff of life is so aptly illustrated for you. Directors Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3) and Adrian Molina (longtime writer and storyboard/animation artist for Pixar) shaped a meaningful path for the film that made it endlessly effective without breaking the story with too heavy a hand.

The wonderfully vivid world of Coco showers you with color and lively animation to keep your eyes on the screen, but what it leaves you with is a particular feeling of gratitude and reflection that is the true measure of artistic prowess.

As a lifelong Pixar fan, nothing gives me greater joy than seeing the company in top form after so many years, spending millions of dollars and man-hours just to keep you and me mindful of what it means to share the world with all facets of human life, sometimes made even more lively through the metaphorical plastic shell of a toy cowboy or even the singing dancing skeleton of a dead musician. Coco, still topping the box office weeks after release, is a must-see on the big screen for anything with a heartbeat.

A quick PS: the Frozen short that precedes Coco has gotten a lot of butts in seats, but as it completely skips the crucial elements that made the original film and Coco so good in the first place, I would suggest missing the preview time altogether and maybe using it for a quick viewing of the Incredibles 2 trailer to really ramp up the already ridiculously high expectations we love to set for Pixar.

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