“Coco” bursts with color and life, just like we might expect of a film by Pixar Animation Studios. After some not-so-impressive films lately, “Coco” brings back the originality and attention to detail exhibited last by “Inside Out.”
Twelve-year-old Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) loves music and taught himself to play the guitar by looking at videos of his famous hometown idol, Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). Miguel’s great-grandmother, Abuelita (Renee Victor), forbids music in the family’s home. Why? Because Miguel’s great-great grandfather left his wife, Imelda (Alanna Ubach) and daughter, Coco (Ana Ofelia Murguia), to pursue music creating an enduring family rift. No photo of him resides on the family’s ofrenda, to be honored at the annual celebration of Dia de los Muertos.
When Abuelita discovers Miguel with his guitar sneaking off to play in the town’s music festival, she destroys the guitar forcing Miguel to find another. While stealing Ernesto de la Cruz’s guitar from his crypt, Miguel finds himself transported to the Land of the Dead, where the dearly departed live in skeleton form (although they do have eyeballs that makes them not scary for little kids) and seem to lead a life parallel to that of the living.
Miguel meets his family whom he has only known through their photos on the ofrenda. Listening to Mama Imelda, he learns the details of the music ban. In order to return home, Miguel needs the blessing of his family. Mama Imelda gives it but with the proviso that Miguel give up music forever. Believing Ernesto de la Cruz to be the great-great grandfather who left his family, Miguel seeks him out for a blessing without the “no music” clause.
To help him find Ernesto de la Cruz, Miguel joins forces with trickster, Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal), who says he knows the singer. Hector seems to be fading away and tells Miguel he has little time. Nobody has a photo of Hector on their ofrenda, and if he is not remembered by a living person, he will totally fade into nothingness.
The movie’s fast pace and colorful journey, keeps the audience engaged although the film does lag a bit in the middle. The music is masterfully done, especially the ballad, “Remember Me” that runs through the film in a variety of renditions. Particularly delightful is Miguel and Hector’s duet of “Un Poco Loco.”
“Coco” celebrates family, tradition, reconciliation, and music. Miguel’s family of shoemakers, although still a loving family, can’t see that Miguel’s dream is to be a musician. The generations-old hurt that still grips the family leaves no room for Miguel’s aspirations. Only reconciliation will enable to Miguel to follow his passion.
The film also celebrates the Mexican tradition of the Day of the Dead, although in a non-religious way. Rather than being something morbid, it reminds us to honor those who have come before us and laid the foundation upon which we build.