For a re­view of “Coco,”

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One thing’s for cer­tain — you’re go­ing to want to call your grand­par­ents af­ter see­ing Pixar’s lat­est mas­ter­piece “Coco.” Cen­tered around the Mex­i­can hol­i­day of Dia de los Muer­tos ( Day of the Dead), “Coco” uses the vi­brant col­ors and style of the hol­i­day to spin an imag­i­na­tive tale rich in tra­di­tion and cul­ture, while beau­ti­fully cel­e­brat­ing fam­ily.

Dia de los Muer­tos is a day when fam­i­lies honor and memo­ri­al­ize their an­ces­tors with elab­o­rate “ofren­das”— of­fer­ings of food, drinks and other gifts on dec­o­rated shrines with pho­to­graphs and me­men­tos— as a way to keep the spir­its of fam­ily mem­bers who have passed on alive in the mem­o­ries of their loved ones.

Us­ing the hol­i­day as an in­spi­ra­tion, co- di­rec­tors and co- writ­ers Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina spin a cre­ative and col­or­ful tale about ay­oung boy, Miguel( An­thony Gon­za­lez ), who des­per­ately wants his fam­ily to un­der­stand his pas­sion for mu­sic. It’s not un­til he un­earths the truth about his fam­ily his­tory that they are able to un­der­stand­why it’s so im­por­tant to him.

Com­ing from a long line of shoe­mak­ers, mu­sic is for­bid­den in Miguel’s home, ever since his great- great grand­fa­ther left the fam­ily to pur­sue his mu­si­cal dreams. Armed with a few cryptic clues, Miguel de­duces that his grand­fa­ther was leg­endary mu­si­cian Ernesto de la Cruz ( Ben­jamin Bratt), and plans to “bor­row” a gui­tar fromthe fa­mous singer’s tomb to play in the tal­ent show.

But steal­ing from the dead plunges Miguel into amys­te­ri­ous oth­er­world, a lim­i­nal space where he’s able to in­ter­act with the dead souls who cross over to the liv­ing world on Dia de los Muer­tos. His de­ceased fam­ily mem­bers bring him across the bridge of flow­ers to the Land of the Dead, so Miguel can ob­tain a bless­ing to re­turn home be­fore sun­rise. That sets off a wild ad­ven­ture in which he tracks down de la Cruz, with the help of way­ward soul Hec­tor ( Gael Gar­cia Ber­nal), while evad­ing his strict great­great grand­mother Imelda ( Alanna Ubach), who’s still smart­ing from her hus­band’s re­jec­tion.

The hu­man world of “Coco” is won­der­fully de­tailed and rich, but the Land of the Dead is where themagic truly hap­pens. The spir­its are friendly, clat­ter­ing skele­tons with dec­o­rated skulls and loosely con­nected joints. The neon- pat­terned an­i­mal spirit guides, “ale­bri­jes,” soar through the sky and breathe flu­o­res­cent fire. The ghost of Frida Kahlo sum­mons dancers from huge, flam­ing av­o­ca­dos, while bright marigold flow­ers serve as the sym­bolic and real bridge be­tween the hu­man and dead worlds. It’s a feast for the eyes.

“Coco” is a back­stage mu­si­cal, where all of the songs are pre­sented in a the­atri­cal set­ting, as part of the plot — char­ac­ters aren’t burst­ing into song without provo­ca­tion. Each song has a mean­ing, as Miguel sum­mons his courage, con­quers his stage fright and learns that songs can be the con­nec­tion, the mem­ory that con­nects the liv­ing and the dead.

For all of the stun­ning vi­su­als and eye- pop­ping de­lights of “Coco,” it’s all about the heart of the mat­ter, and the film de­liv­ers. Unkrich and Molina, aswell as Ja­son Katz and Matthew Aldrich, who re­ceive story by cred­its, use the themes of fam­ily his­tory, mem­ory and legacy to cre­ate a tremen­dous ly mov­ing story, with an im­por­tant mes­sage about hon­or­ing our roots. It’s a gor­geous, emo­tional film and another home run for Pix ar/ Dis­ney.

“Coco,” a Pixar/ Dis­ney re­lease, is rated PG for the­matic el­e­ments. Run­ning time: 109 min­utes. ★★★★  

“Man Who In­vented Christ­mas”

There have been nu­mer­ous TV, film and stage adap­ta­tions of Charles Dick­ens’ “A Christ­mas Carol” over the years. None have com­bined as much charm, warmth and hol­i­day spirit as Bharat Nal­luri’s “The Man Who In­vented Christ­mas.”

OK. Be­fore you start shout­ing “Bah, hum­bug,” this tech­ni­cally isn’t a di­rect adap­ta­tion of thewell- known story of Ebenezer Scrooge, Ja­cob Mar­ley, Tiny Tim and those three ghosts that Dick­ens wrote in six weeks in 1843. This ver­sion has taken the novella and blended it with bi­o­graph­i­cal ma­te­rial to look at the jour­ney Dick­ens made from be­ing mired in a writ­ing funk af­ter three flops to cre­at­ing one of the great­est pieces of lit­er­a­ture.

Dan Stevens, who has al­ready showed a great act­ing range through his work in the live- ac­tion ver­sion of “Beauty and the Beast” and the thought- pro­vok­ing “The Ticket,” takes on the role of Dick­ens. It’s a de­mand­ing part as the char­ac­ter goes from an in­ter­na­tional celebrity to a man wrestling with soul- wrench­ing demons. The story sug­gests Dick­ens had such a vivid imag­i­na­tion that his char­ac­ters would spring to life as soon as he found the proper name for them.

Stevens han­dles ev­ery chal­lenge thrown at him, even when Dick­ens ap­pears to be on the verge of madness as he al­lows him­self to be judged by the char­ac­ters that he’s fash­ioned in his mind. There’s an en­ergy to the way Stevens plays the role that makes even the film’s dark­est mo­ment when Dick­ens faces his dark­est fears feel alive.

His com­pan­ion on the quest to fin­ish the book is a man­i­fes­ta­tion of Scrooge ( Christopher Plum­mer), who serves as both a writ­ing guide as Dick­ens finds his way through the novel and as a per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of all that Dick­ens sees wrong with the world and him­self.

Plum­mer’s per­for­mance beau­ti­fully gets across the best and worst of Scrooge to make this one of the most en­ter­tain­ing ver­sions of the char­ac­ter ever played. The ac­tor has the great abil­ity to be both a Scrooge with a black heart and one who, like Dick­ens, has fi­nally faced his demons.

Much of the dark­ness in the writer’s life comes from his re­la­tion­ship with his scal­ly­wag of a father, John Dick­ens ( Jonathan Pryce). Dick­ens is burdened by the nat­u­ral need for a son to have his father’s ap­proval while try­ing to keep his father out of sight and mind. This emo­tional bat­tle is help­ing choke his cre­ative drive.

Pryce turns in a com­pelling per­for­mance, find­ing the right amount of charm that makes his char­ac­ter be­liev­able as a man who has — as Dick­ens puts it — spent his life bob­bing like a cork on the wa­ters of life. He also han­dles the mo­ments when John Dick­ens must show his true dark side such as when he gets caught ri­fling through his son’s trash to find pa­pers that fea­ture a sig­na­ture that he can sell.

The screen­play for “The Man Who In­vented Christ­mas” by Su­san Coyne is based on the book by his­to­rian Les Stan­di­ford that dra­ma­tizes the pe­riod when Dick­ens wrote “A Christ­mas Carol.” The com­bi­na­tion of fact and fic­tion is struc­tured to show a par­al­lel of how while Scrooge was seek­ing sal­va­tion from his miserly ways, Dick­ens him­self deal­ing with be­ing shack­led to dark chains cre­ated by his fears of fail­ure, the pain of aban­don­ment is­sues and con­cerns his writ­ing abil­i­ties were about to wither away.

The ma­jor­ity of Nal­luri’s re­cent work has been in tele­vi­sion, and that helps, as he doesn’t try cre­ate a large and bustling Lon­don, but one that would fit in the con­fines of a TV for­mat where there is more of a feel­ing of claus­tro­pho­bia. He’s lined the streets with all so­cial lev­els of peo­ple who are united by one thing: a pas­sion for the writ­ings of Dick­ens.

It’s be­come a tra­di­tion that some— or many— filmed ver­sions of “A Christ­mas Carol” be shown on tele­vi­sion dur­ing the hol­i­day sea­son. “The Man Who In­vented Christ­mas” should be added to the an­nual mix be­cause it not only of­fers a fresh look at the fa­mil­iar ghost story, but it also has a lot to say about the good in hu­mans if they will only stop try­ing to sup­press it. God bless the film­mak­ers, one and all, for cre­at­ing sucha treat.

“The Man Who In­vented Christ­mas,” a Bleecker Street re­lease, is rated PG for the­matic el­e­ments, mild lan­guage. Run­ning time: 104 min­utes. ★★★

Bharat Nal­luri’s “The Man Who In­vented Christ­mas” stars, Christopher Plum­mer, left, as Ebenezer Scrooge and Dan Stevens as Charles Dick­ens.

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