ON THE SILVER SCREEN: LEARN A LESSON ABOUT FAMILY AND CELEBRATE DIA DE LOS MUERTOS! (COCO)

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Story by Liz Alper

Photos courtesy Disney

November 6, 2017 (San Diego) - Just in time for Dia de los Muertos, Disney and Pixar’s Coco takes audiences on a colorful journey..  Right off the bat, the music introduces you to the rich Mexican culture you'll experience throughout the film.  Music continues to carry you throughout the movie.  In fact, the movie is about music!

The story follows Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) a 12-year-old boy in a village in Mexico that loves music and wants to be a musician.  But his family is very anti-music for one reason:  Miguel's great-great-grandmother, Mamá Imelda's (Alanna Ubach) husband chose to pursue music over her and their daughter, Coco (Ana Ofelia Murguia), Miguel's great-grandmother, an old lady when the film takes place.  Because of Imelda's husband leaving her, Miguel's family has banned all music, leaving Miguel with no one to nurture his passion.  Except one.  But he's no longer living.  Miguel's favorite musician of all time is Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt).  Sort of the Mexican Elvis Presley, de la Cruz was in movies and sang chart-topping hits.  He's Miguel's idol.

On Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, Miguel's village hosts a talent show.  Before he goes out, Miguel smashed the photo of Imelda, Coco and the unknown great-great-grandfather that was on his family's ofrenda.  He notices that the guitar the unknown patriarch is holding is identical to de la Cruz's.  Miguel puts the pieces together and determines that de la Cruz is his great-great-grandfather.  He runs to tell his family, but they become angry with him and his especially doting abuelita (Renée Victor) smashes his guitar. Heartbroken and now unable to enter the talent show, Miguel runs to the cemetery and to de la Cruz's mausoleum, where his original guitar hangs.  Miguel sneaks in and takes the guitar and strums.  Suddenly, the leaves that are on the ground sweep him up and make him transparent.  He's not visible to anyone else in the living world anymore as he walks through the cemetery.

Skeletons start to rise and walk around.  Miguel runs into a group of them and is scared at first, but then they explain to him that they're his family and he recognizes his long-dead relatives.  They take him on a trip across a bridge to the Land of the Dead.  There, his Mamá Imelda tries to give him her blessing to go back to the mortal world with one condition:  give up his dream of being a musician.  Of course, Miguel objects to that, so he stays as his body slowly starts to turn into a skeleton.  He must get home before sunrise.

Trying to get away from his family, Miguel meets Hector (Gael García Bernal), an eccentric skeleton who has no photo on his family's ofrenda, so he can't get back to the world of the living and see his daughter.  Miguel promises him that he'll go back to the living realm and deliver his photo.  

Luckily for Miguel, de la Cruz is also in the Land of the Dead and he puts on a big concert every year on Dia de los Muertos and hosts a party at his mansion.  Miguel plays in the Dia de los Muertos talent show in the Land of the Dead and wows the crowd and Hector.     

They gain access to de la Cruz's mansion and Miguel wows the crowd again by singing one of de la Cruz's songs.  He falls into the pool and his skeleton disguise makeup comes off and he tells de la Cruz that he is his great-great-grandson.  De la Cruz takes him in immediately.  But it is revealed to Miguel that Hector is the real genius behind de la Cruz.  He wrote all of de la Cruz's songs.  Everyone in the Land of the Dead thinks that Hector died by choking on chorizo, but the truth is that de la Cruz poisoned him while he was still a young man to get his songs.  De la Cruz throws them out and Hector reveals to Miguel that his daughter is Miguel's great-great-grandmother, Coco, making Hector the missing great-great-grandfather from the photo--not de la Cruz--and making him and Miguel family.  A wave of energy runs through Hector, making him collapse in weakness.  He explains to Miguel that Coco, in her old age, is forgetting him.  If she forgets him completely, he disappears.  

Miguel's family finds him, Imelda and Hector reunite (though she's still mad at him), and they foil de la Cruz by exposing him for the evil fraud he is.  But as Miguel is ready to go home, Hector starts to fade.  Miguel doesn't want to leave, but Imelda forces him to with no conditions.  Once back in the mortal world, Miguel rushes to find Coco and plays a song that Hector used to play to her when she was a little girl, Remember Me.  Hector is saved and when Coco dies the next year, father and daughter are reunited in the Land of the Dead and Miguel is encouraged to pursue his dream of being a musician.

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This may be the most complicated plot to any Disney film I've ever seen.  What I like about this film is that it's not the typical "this kid stinks at a talent he/she really wants to excel at and some unexplained event happens that makes them suddenly good at it" movie (i.e. Rookie of the Year); Miguel has always been a good musician; he's just never had the opportunity to show it off because of his family.

Speaking of families, most Disney movies only teach lessons to kids.  This one teaches lessons to both parents and kids.  Parents (and extended family), nurture your child's talent.  Kids, don't be afraid to pursue your talent even if your family doesn't allow you to.  They'll eventually come around once they see you do it!

The best thing about this film--and one I was literally thanking God for in the theatre--was that it didn't need 50 songs shoved onto its soundtrack like most Disney films.  Miguel provided the music and, more importantly, Mexico provided the music.  The country, as we all know, loves music as much as Miguel and the film's rich musical score was obviously influenced by the country.  You could tell Michael Giacchino really took his time to study the traditional sounds and music of Mexico.   

One thing I didn't like about this film was that there wasn't enough time to establish friendships.  Every interaction was very short (except for the heartfelt reveal scene between Hector and Miguel) and one was left wondering if the characters had even interacted at all.  And I would've liked to see more of what an evil person de la Cruz was.  His exposure was a flashback to how Waternoose was exposed at the end of Monsters Inc. ("I'll kidnap a thousand children before I let this company die!")

Coco is a colorful, fun, family-friendly film and even if you don't know anything about Mexican culture or Dia de los Muertos, like me, it's still a lot of fun.  It teaches you a lot about family and pursuing your dreams.  And the cast is mostly Latino, an added bonus!

A Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures distribution.  Directed by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina.  Written by Lee Unkrich, Jason Katz, Matthew Aldrich and Adrian Molina.  Music by Michael Giacchino.  Cast:  Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Renee Victor, Ana Ofelia Murguia.  Rating:  PG