Cast: Voices of Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Anthony Gonzalez, Alanna Ubach
Director: Lee Unkrichs
It’s the holiday season, and the makers of Pixar’s new film Coco choose an unusual backdrop to frame its plot against – the Mexican festival Dia de los Muertos, otherwise known as Day of the Dead, or the day you honor the dear departed. Ironically, it’s this morbid touch that gives the film its heart. Just as the film’s protagonist Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) crosses over into the Land of the Dead, you feel the movie come alive.
“Coco” tells the tale of 12-year-old Miguel, born to a family of shoemakers, but who dreams of becoming a singer. This is easier hummed than done because the family has a longstanding allergy to music ever since Miguel’s great great grandfather abandoned his wife and his daughter in search of a singing career and fame.
The story is predictable, as Miguel, enraptured by Mexico’s late singing legend Ernesto De La Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), wants to follow in his footsteps. But it takes flight when the boy, by a quirk of fate, crosses over to the Land of the Dead. It is his skeletal ancestors and some splendid spirit animals that can help Miguel back home. Meanwhile, seeking out De La Cruz in this land of the dear departed, Miguel encounters a kooky musician, Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal), who is desperate for his family – back home in the land of the living – to remember him so he doesn’t fade into oblivion.
Coco is resplendent with macabre imagery, especially the gorgeous Land of the Dead – a metropolis reached by a bridge of marigold petals, and where skeletons have to pass by an airport immigration-sort of check. It’s the delicious tongue-in-cheek humor, the exotic Mexican culture, lilting songs, and heartfelt emotion that powers the film along its journey.
Pixar scores on these fronts, and frankly, because director Lee Unkrich imaginatively seasons this narrative about family with the bittersweet flavors of death. It’s a bold theme for a film that will be widely consumed by children, but it’s inoffensive, accessible stuff.
I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for Coco; the film’s beautiful ideas of death and beyond will linger with you, long after you’ve left the cinema.