‘Coco’ Disney’s Day of the Dead is full of life

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!Que bueno! “Coco,” which opened in Mexico a month ago, is now their top grossing film of all time. And, why not? It honors the traditions and culture of a people often degraded or ignored by the movie industry and selected American politicians. After “Brave” (2012), celebrating the Scottish, this is Pixar’s second film to focus on a specific nationality.

As with “Up” (2009), this family film’s mature theme might be as appealing to adults as children. In Pixar’s 19th full-length feature film, this is their first with music. It’s not a musical, per se, but the songs feel both culturally authentic and delightfully mainstream. This original story is dedicated to a holiday that most people don’t fully understand.

The enchanting story revolves around precocious Miguel, voiced by twelve-year-old Anthony Gonzales (from Los Angeles.) Set in Mexico, during Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead), Miguel fights an uphill battle against his family’s multi-generational ban on music. Desperate to prove his talent and live his dream, Miguel’s struggle transforms him to the stunning, vibrant and mythical Land of the Dead.

There, he meets skeletal ancestors, and eventually, his musical hero, Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). Along the way, Dante, a stray pooch, befriends Miguel. If you remember, Italian author, Dante’s 14th century “Divine Comedy” explores the realm of the dead. Miguel also meets Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal), a charismatic skeletal rascal. Together, they search for the real story of Miguel’s family ancestry.

The figure of de la Cruz is inspired by singers Pedro Infante and Jorge Negrete, but to us, looks just like Slim Whitman. Spanish language expressions are uttered by the all-Latino cast without subtitles, but are generally understood, given the situations and voice inflections. Nearly all provide the voices for the Spanish language version of this film.

Disney’s filmmakers traveled to Mexico five times to research the culture, people, food and traditions. They depict a small, dusty colonial Mexican town as the setting. We learn this holiday is not like our Halloween, celebrating ghosts and witches. Dia de Muertos respectively honors family ancestors who passed before us. It turns mourning into a joy of memories and reverence for “la familia.” The message is of unity and understanding.

Most of all, this optimistic storyline is delivered through music. Ernesto de la Cruz explains, “I have to sing. It’s not just ‘in’ me, it ‘is’ me!” Music aficionados will appreciate that Disney animators even depict accurate chord fingering of the guitarists. Some will note the piñatas in the background are of Pixar’s Buzz Lightyear, Woody and others.

Lee Unkrich (“Toy Story 3”) directed and co-wrote the story while Adrian Molina co-directed, co-wrote the script and co-wrote some of the songs. Songwriters Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (“Frozen), also contributed to the soundtrack, including the film’s signature song, “Remember Me,” ultimately making your eyes well up with tears.

The cast of voices is also joined by Edward James Olmos, Cheech Marin, Gabriel (Fluffy) Iglesias and of course Pixar’s go-to-guy John Ratzenberger. This film was released exactly 22 years after Pixar’s first film, “Toy Story.” However, this is Disney’s last original full-length animated feature film of the 2010s. The rest will be sequels.

“CoCo” is 109 minutes and rated PG for thematic elements. Just prior to this film, the audience is “treated” to a cartoon “short”. “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure” clocks in at 21 long minutes of frozen thud. Kids were so restless and annoyed, the featurette is being pulled from some theaters.

Es una pelicula de musica y familia. The Latino community is grateful for the respectful Disney presentation of their culture. More important, we should all be grateful for such an entertaining way to become more enlightened about a people, who are people. The story is colorful, heartfelt and amusingly macabre. This is the whole enchilada.

Ron’s Rating: B Leigh’s Rating: B

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Ron & Leigh Martel