Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5. USA, 2017. Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar Animation Studios. Story by Lee Unkrich, Jason Katz, Matthew Aldrich, Adrian Molina, Screenplay by Adrian Molina, Matthew Aldrich. Cinematography by Matt Aspbury, Danielle Feinberg. Produced by Darla K. Anderson. Music by Michael Giacchino. Production Design by Harley Jessup. Film Editing by Steve Bloom, Lee Unkrich. Academy Awards 2017. Golden Globe Awards 2017. New York Film Critics 2017. Washington Film Critics Awards 2017.
Pixar combines plenty of charm and minimal manipulation to a degree they haven’t managed in years, with a film that also surpasses the similarly themed animated film touching on the Mexican cultural tradition of Day of the Dead celebrations, The Book of Life. A little boy has grown up without music and must listen to it, learn it and play it in secret thanks to his family’s having banned all traces of it at home. His great-great-grandmother (Alanna Ubach), long deceased and founder of the family’s successful shoe business, was jilted by a musician and never forgave him, but young Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) loves watching the films and playing the records of his favourite singer, Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt) that he has stashed away in his private hiding place. When he hears of a singing contest that he thinks might break the spell over his entire clan, Miguel is hopeful of his chances until losing the one thing he needs to win, his guitar. Thankfully, de la Cruz’s guitar is held in the mausoleum where he is buried, so Miguel goes against his principles and steals it; because this happens on the Day of the Dead, when the boundary separating us from the afterlife is at its haziest, he is quickly transported to the underworld where he meets earlier generations of his family, a great opportunity to also meet the deceased de la Cruz and do some hero worship. Miguel must figure his way out of this place before he becomes a ghost himself, sidetracked by an annoying vagrant (Gael Garcia Bernal) who has business to settle in the land of the living and begs the kid’s help before he becomes a completely forgotten soul. The plot is actually much more complicated than even that complicated description, and some of your younger viewers might scratch their heads trying to figure out the details, but the gorgeous animation, wonderful musical score (including many a memorably tuneful song) and zesty direction will keep even the smallest kids from rejecting this satisfying film’s many offerings. Adults will be equally entranced, and I dare anyone not to be reduced to tears by the conclusion and the revelation of the reason that the film is named after the pint-sized hero’s elderly grandmother. Many praised Up for having a wonderful opening ten minutes, but imagine how much more skill it takes to keep that level of emotional sympathy going for an entire feature.