COCO: Throughout their existence, Pixar movies have followed a basic formula. Utilize state of the art, eye-popping character and computer generated animation to attract children while crafting a story that speaks to the adult(s) who watch with them. It works beautifully incorporating a standard plot about a Mexican boy (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) who yearns to be a musician against the wishes of his shoemaking family enforcing a multi-generational ban on music. But the screenplay by Matthew Aldrich and Adrian Molina takes a colorful turn when the youth finds himself transported into the Land Of The Dead on Dia De Los Muertos. Think of it as a Mexican spin on THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) where an adolescent’s journey with a canine companion and the help of a friendly guide (voiced by Gael Garcia Bernal) lead him to appreciate home and family. Like that classic Judy Garland film, COCO has Broadway worthy songs plus elaborate visual production that feels like a paen to the culture and folklore of Mexico. Where it’s unique, though, is its willingness to deal with the subjects of mortality and death which have normally been considered taboo for “kids’ movies”. That it does so without compromising the topic while still being a life-affirming work is a credit to the excellent writing. There’s an extremely clever twist related to the perils of hero worship that finds its way into the narrative where just about all the characters contain the type of depth and dimension that’s hard to find in their live action counterparts. Some movies are superior because they can be appreciated at different periods in your life for different reasons and I believe COCO fits that profile. It’s a visual feast for the eyes as well as an emotional banquet for the soul so take it all in and stuff yourself silly. CRITIC’S GRADE: A-
DOUBLE FEATURE: A senior (Saoirse Ronan) with big dreams in a Catholic prep school experiences the struggles of late adolescence in the intelligent and perceptive LADY BIRD. Arthouse film actress Greta Gerwig’s (MAGGIE’S PLAN) directing and screenwriting debut effectively mixes heartbreak and humor as the title character navigates her way through lessons on friendship, love and the imperfections of adults dealing with their own struggles. Ronan (BROOKLYN) and Laurie Metcalfe (JFK) are both splendid in their portrayals of the complexities inherent in the relationship between mothers and daughters. It’s a realistic coming of age film about the people and places that define us as we come to the realization that for good and bad…there’s no place like home.
CRITIC’S GRADE: B+