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“COCO” My rating: B

109 minutes | MPAA rating:PG

As they did with 2015’s “Inside Out,” the animation geniuses at Pixar are again pushing the narrative envelope. With “Coco” they deliver a tale so dense with visual and thematic elements that by comparison most live-action films seem simplistic.

Taking as it starting point the traditions and mythology of Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebration, the film emerges as an epic family drama that resolves with a deeply satisfying emotional coda.

But as was the case with “Inside Out,” the film’s ambitions are so grandiose that it sometimes comes off as overwritten and unnecessarily complicated. Too many  digressions threaten to derail the yarn.

In a brilliant opening sequence that harkens back to the photo album introduction to Pixar’s “Up,” a family’s history is told in papel picado, the colorful hand-cut Mexican tissue flags.

Our narrator, young  Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), relates how his great-great-great grandmother was abandoned by her musician husband, leaving her to raise her daughter Coco alone. (Coco is still alive, an ancient creature lost in silent dementia and cared for by her extended family.)  Nevertheless she established a family-run shoemaking enterprise which endures to this day.  She also banned music from her household.

This poses a real problem for Miguel, who loves music, plays it in secret, and worships the memory of Ernesto de la Cruz (voiced by Benjamin Bratt), a legendary guitar-strumming troubadour from the 1930s who starred in a series of perennially popular black-and-white movies.

In fact, Miguel comes to believe that Ernesto de la Cruz — who died years earlier in an on-stage accident — is his great-great-great grandfather, about whom no one in the family will reveal anything.

All this coincides with the Day of the Dead celebration, where photos of deceased family members are displayed in a household shrine. On this one night of the year the dear departed are invited to cross over from the land of the dead to hover around their living descendants in a sprawling cemetery lit by thousands of candles and featuring tables of food to be shared by the living and, symbolically anyway, the ghostly visitors. (more…)

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