Directed by: Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina
Written by: Adrian Molina, Matthew Aldrich
Starring: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Renee Victor, Jamie Camil, Gabriel Iglesias
Death is a tough subject to tackle, especially when it involves kids. But when I look at the Latin tradition of Dia de Los Muertos (The Day of the Dead) and the way they celebrate a person’s life instead of mourning their death, I can’t help but feel a little jealous in that this culture has created such a positive and rich tradition around the death of their loved ones. Disney and Pixar’s Coco takes the colorful and celebrated tradition of Dia De Los Muertos and crafts a beautiful, heartwarming and unexpected story around The Day of the Dead.
Coco is about music, family, and how important it is to remember the ones you loved. It stars Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) a bright-eyed, young boy looking to escape the ingrained traditions of his shoe cobbling family in order to chase musical stardom. The conflict ensues immediately as we quickly learn that long before he was born Miguel’s family has forbidden music and musicians from there household after Miguel’s great, great grand-father seemingly abandoned his family in pursuit of a musical career. And thus the Rivera family from then on has hated music and has tried everything in their power to remove it from their family and lives. But of course any musician knows there is no hiding one’s passion for song, so Miguel has been secretly learning the guitar and wants to emulate his idol and town hero the world’s most famous musician Ernesto de la Cruz. Miguel’s desire to follow his dream despite the wishes of his family leads him on a journey that finds him crossing over to the afterlife during The Day of the Dead. Once Miguel has crossed over we realize he doesn’t have much time to break the curse he has been plagued with and return home before he is trapped in the land of the dead forever.
To break the curse Miguel must find his dead family members and receive their blessing to return home. Easy enough right? Unfortunately for Miguel through the blessing he is looking for is not one he receives and thus starts a journey through the underworld to find his great, great, grandfather; the musician so Miguel can get the blessing to be a musician like he so desperately desires.
Coco is another delightfully emotional journey that will touch the lives and hearts of every viewer young and old. For a movie surrounded by death Coco is as bright and colorful as any Pixar film before it in more ways than one. Coco is definitely Pixar’s best-looking film to date, everything outside of our characters is almost photo realistic and the use of color and the aesthetic of Latin culture blend together to become a fiesta for your senses as each frame is a work of art. But like all Pixar film’s Coco’s strength lies in its message and heart. Never once does Coco feel like a dower film, even in its darkest moments I never get the feeling of dread that can sometimes accompany Pixar’s films. Don’t get me wrong, I cried, and like most of Pixar’s pictures, I guarantee you’ll cry too, but not because someone dies, or tragedy befalls our character, you’ll cry because all you feel by the end of this movie is the hope and comfort that you will be remembered.
Coco’s characters are all insanely charming even the ones you don’t want to like: from Miguel’s loveable yet Music hating grandma to Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal), his unlikely friend in the underworld. Even his great grandma and titular character Mama Coco (Ana Ofelia Murguía), all have their moments in Miguel’s journey and all serve a spectacular purpose in displaying the importance of family. My favorite character and the one who probably will have you laughing the most in Miguel’s animal companion, and almost grotesque, but adorable street dog named Dante. Dante is a joy to watch and you anticipate his reaction whenever he is on screen, he also has a bit of an unexpected story of his own that delighted not only myself but the audience. Coco is no slouch when it comes to music either, as even if your not a fan of the Latin style, its song are extremely beautiful, well-crafted and expertly performed. The songs could easily have been pulled from mainstream radio as they feel much more “real” than other Disney/Pixar ballads.
Coco does its best work when it’s following the traditions and purpose of Dia de Los Muertos, a holiday that doesn’t focus on what we lost but instead forces us to celebrate and remember the ones we love even though they are no longer physically with us. As I looked at my 6-year-old daughter in the movies final moments and we both began to cry, I knew that she understood the importance of family and keeping them alive through our memories. As we began to walk out, with tears still in her eyes she said, “don’t worry dad, I’ll never forget you.” This moment is why Pixar is the best at what they do, they take concepts and ideas that we normally don’t want to confront or fear others can’t handle and make them not only palatable but undeniably enjoyable.