'Coco' strums the heartstrings (MOVIE REVIEW)

Phil on Film

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - "Coco" is made of chills, tears and entrancing artwork and music. A magical experience from the first frame through the final credits, it's a resonant fable that speaks to the heart of the young and old alike.

Set in Mexico on Dia de los Muertos, when people pay tribute to dead loved ones with macabre art, cuisine and festivals, the film follows the tale of a 12-year-old boy who longs to become a musician despite familial demands that he stick to the shoemaking business. His journey takes him into the realm of the dead, inhabited by departed spirits who mourn for the living just as the living do for the dead.

The film is a moving work of art, pulsing with sound and color of Dia de los Muertos murals and panoramas come to life, all set to a nonstop flow of folk music. The filmmakers manage to dive into Mexican culture -- which is alarmingly underserved by pop culture-- without turning it into caricature. 

Some have knocked "Coco" for being too similar to the similarly themed "The Book of Life" (2014), but the similarities stop at the sugar skull art style. "Coco" bursts with originality and carves out its own path, taking more inspiration from the likes of Hayao Miyazaki, whose films tend not to have villains and focus on a transformative journey of a hero and surrounding characters.

The musical short film "Olaf's Frozen Adventure," which plays before "Coco," sets the table with an adorable and funny film about the bumbling snowman's attempts to establish holiday traditions for Anna and Elsa. 

The ending is a culmination of the film's themes and plotlines that hits hard emotionally, even though the ending is predictable from the opening scene. Once you wipe away the tears and scrutinize the logic of the finale in relation to the rest of the film, though, it doesn't hold up as well.

The misstep aside, "Coco" is a glorious and fascinating film that may one day be hailed as one of Pixar's greats, standing alongside the likes of the "Toy Story" series, "Finding Nemo" and "Up."

Above all, "Coco" drives home the sentiment behind Dia de los Muertos celebrations: That one of the best ways to celebrate life is to unflinchingly stare at death.

RATING: 3.5 stars out of 4.

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