★★★★★

Adult audiences might not expect an animated film to explore difficult issues like the death and legacy of a loved one, but Disney Pixar’s latest animated masterpiece, “Coco,” defies these expectations. With “Coco,” audiences of all ages are exposed to powerful and complex themes of love, loss and the idiosyncrasies of family dynamics in a movie highlighting the Mexican holiday of Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. The film is directed by Lee Unkrich, who has long been a part of the Disney Pixar team and served as a creative force behind such classics as “Finding Nemo” and “Monsters, Inc.”

“Coco” is the story of Miguel, a young, music-loving boy who lives in a fictional Mexican town with his large family; he is voiced by 12-year-old newcomer Anthony Gonzalez. The audience learns of Miguel’s love for Ernesto de la Cruz, a fictional singer and actor who passed away years ago, voiced by Benjamin Bratt.

The audience is also introduced to Miguel’s parents, voiced by Jaime Camil and Sofía Espinosa, his abuelita, voiced by Renée Victor, and his great-grandmother, Mamá Coco, voiced by Ana Ofelia Murguía. The family is close, though Miguel’s passion for music creates an underlying tension. After a betrayal dating back generations, Miguel’s family strongly dislikes music.

During Día de los Muertos celebrations full of remembering and honoring loved ones, Miguel argues with his family, storms off and winds up in the Land of the Dead. Here, he encounters many of his deceased relatives, as well as the charming trickster Hector, voiced by Gael Garcia Bernal. What follows is a beautiful story of remembrance, betrayal and reflection on the true bond of family.

“Coco” finds strength in its script, written by Adrian Molina and Matthew Aldrich. Although the movie is meant for a younger audience, it provides comedy for children while delivering clever jokes and dry humor appealing to older viewers. As in the other Disney Pixar films “Inside Out” and “Up,” the script of “Coco” simply and powerfully illustrates complex and intricate human tendencies in a relatable manner. The focus on family highlights both the tension and fierce love present in family dynamics.

The film’s musical score assists in illustrating these themes. Original songs like “Remember Me,” written by Kristen-Anderson Lopez and Robert Lopez — the couple behind the Oscar-winning composition “Let it Go” in the movie “Frozen” — beautifully tie together the introspective messages of the movie through repetition.

A mix of animation, comedy, fantasy, mystery and musical, “Coco” breaks conventions by centering on a Mexican boy and Mexican culture, a welcome diversion from the often whitewashed family films. The movie showcases Mexican culture through its focus on Día de los Muertos and its discussion of traditions like displaying photos of deceased loved ones on an altar and scattering flower petals in a path to the altar to guide their spirits. This focus on detail is an education in Mexican customs and the holiday’s significance.

The filmmakers successfully created an emotionally complex movie that appeals to a wide array of audiences, typical of Disney Pixar films. Each theme presented in “Coco,” from honoring the dead’s legacy in life to remembering the importance of strong family ties, is universal, making direct connections to the audience’s life experiences. In a single movie, viewers receive the gift of a comedy, a thought-provoking mystery and a life lesson.

“Coco” will make audience members laugh, cry and consider their place in their family’s lineage while wondering how they will be remembered after death. “Coco” is a spectacular mix of lightheartedness, adventure and serious speculations about life and loss, just in time for the holiday season’s family gatherings.

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