Grade: A-/B+
Entire family:  Yes
2017, 105 min., Color
Rated PG for thematic elements
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 7.1
Bonus features: B+/A-
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy
Amazon link

It’s almost as if the Pixar gang took inspiration out of failure and gave themselves a challenge: to make a successful animated feature about the Mexican celebration of the Day of the Dead, even though Fox tried in 2014 with The Book of Life and failed to connect with audiences or earn an Oscar nomination. But Pixar pulled it off, doing what Disney-Pixar does best: infusing the film with a strong story and characters, catchy music, comic relief, and most importantly, emotion.

You also get the feeling that Coco was a bounceback film for Pixar, if there is such a thing. Although Pixar’s last three features were ignored by the Oscar nominating committee, Coco not only got the nod, but after winning the Golden Globe for Best Animated Feature it’s also favored to win that category at the Oscars tomorrow night.

Coco is a bit of a trailblazer, too, as it’s the first film with a nine-figure budget to feature an all-Latin cast—if you don’t count Pixar good-luck charm John Ratzenberger, who also makes an appearance. Well received south of the border, it’s become the all-time highest grossing film in Mexico and has earned a worldwide box office approximately three times its budget. Critics have hailed its animation, its original music, and its emotional storyline about the importance of family and never forgetting deceased relatives.

If your little ones are creeped out by skeletons, you should know that most of the film’s 105-minute runtime is spent in the Land of the Dead, where everyone but one little boy and his dog is a walking, talking bundle of bones. But Pixar does a nice job of giving those skeletons personality and making them non-menacing and not all that creepy. They’re also humanized because the land of the dead is portrayed as a futuristic city, only one coincidentally inhabited by skeletons. One of our first glimpses comes at a checkpoint where those whose relatives on earth have displayed their photos for the Day of the Dead are lining up for a return visit home. We see them, one by one, as their photos pop up on a checkpoint computer screen, showing how they looked in life. That alone helps to take the edge off their characters. Humor also helps, along with the fact that all the skeletons are decorated much as the icons are in the world of the living on the Day of the Dead.

In Coco, directed by Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3), a 12-year-old boy who grows up idolizing Mexico’s most famous musician secretly aspires to become a musician like him, rather than following in the family business. To take that first bold step he wants to enter a talent contest. But when his grandmother smashes his guitar, he decides to “borrow” the one from the shrine to his dead hero, Ernesto de la Cruz (Banjamin Bratt). That act of stealing from the dead lands him in the Land of the Dead, as a not-alive but not-dead person. There, he learns that he will turn into one of them by dawn unless he receives his family’s blessing to return. And since his dead relatives will only bless him on the condition that he abandon music, he seeks out a blessing from de la Cruz, a man he’s convinced must be his long-lost great grandfather. Will he be able to follow his dream? Will he ever make it out of the land of the dead? Who will win out? Family or individual dreams?

Twelve-year-old Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) is the main character, but the jaw-dropping characters are the two oldest living women in the Rivera family, which, for two generations and counting, has been a family of shoemakers. Young Miguel’s grandmother, Abuelita Elena Rivera (Renée Victor) is a squat, wrinkled, fleshy force of nature whose sturdy legs match her temperament—one that is well suited to making sure that there is NO MUSIC anywhere near her family, because her grandfather abandoned his family to travel the world as a musician. But her mother, Miguel’s great-grandmother Socorro “Coco” Rivera, is also so amazingly rendered that you swear you could poke a finger in each of them and dimple their flesh.

But Disney and Pixar have always mixed cartoon styles, and the older women’s realistic depiction stands in contrast to the way they animated Miguel’s dog, Dante, who is drawn and in more exaggerated fashion, almost in the vein of the oldest Woody Woodpecker cartoons and just as slightly crazed/dazed.

Disney-Pixar has also been good at finding the emotional core, and the message here is a powerful one: don’t forget family members who have passed on—even the ones you may not have met. In a world where the message is often to live your own life apart from family, it’s nice to see family emphasized. If, in fact, more people were mindful of family and lived the first half of their lives trying to make their parents and grandparents proud and the second half of their lives trying to make their children and grandchildren proud, you get the feeling that the world would be a better place.

Language: Nothing to speak of
Violence: A fight, a smashed guitar, a pursuit, but very little real peril
Sex: n/a
Adult situations: The whole idea of death can be frightening to children, but Pixar does a nice job blunting the trauma
Takeaway: So basically, Pixar’s done it again . . . and any children old enough to understand the concept of death should actually be comforted by the film rather than unsettled