My review for Disney Pixar’s Coco is going to be short and sweet, because my reaction to the film is a simple one: it is positively delightful. This movie may be the most culturally significant piece of filmmaking that has ever come out of Disney animation and it has come at a timely moment in our culture’s collective consciousness. Coco tells a deeply rich story of Mexico’s history, traditions and lore that crosses boundaries and tells a beautiful universal message of family, love, and following dreams that leaves a poignant finish on a downright entertaining film.
Coco follows the story of young Miguel and his entire family tree. Dreaming of becoming a musician, Miguel is plagued by the mistakes of his great-great-grandfather who left his wife and daughter Coco for a life as a musician on the road. Cutting them out of their lives forever, Coco’s mother forges ahead, creating a family shoemaking business and cutting music out of their family’s life forever — quite an issue for a social culture that thrives on its musical history and traditions. On Día de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), Miguel gets sucked into the Land of the Dead and encounters his ancestral past as well as Hector, a forgotten soul who helps Miguel chase his dream of being a musician while healing the wounds of his ancestors.
Directors Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina create a visual masterpiece, particularly in relation to the film’s fantasy world, the Land of the Dead. The Día de los Muertos calaveras, or skulls, come to vibrant life as representations of Miguel’s dead ancestors. Humor and detail collide to reinvent a staple of Mexican culture and identity in more ways than one, including the re-creation of “ofrendas” or altars to the dead, the visual externalization of blessings, and the intricacies of Mexico’s family life traditions. Aside from the culturally specific centerpieces, Unkrich and Molina have expanded on Pixar’s remarkable animation veritae, riding a delicate line between pure realism and the film’s roots in fantasy.
Anthony Gonzalez as Miguel and Gael Garcia Bernal as Hector are both lively revelations in the film. Gonzalez captures a mature, but dreamlike vision of youth in his vocal performance while Bernal brings distinction to his zany character. Both actors also provide textured voices to the film’s soundtrack, which features emotionally punchy tunes by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez as well as impressive vocals by cast member Benjamin Bratt.
Verdict: 5 out of 5
Coco is a funny, entertaining, heartwarming, and emotional journey of self-discovery and love of family that anyone and everyone will be able latch onto. It provides a long-overdue animated introduction to Mexico’s rich history of tradition while not taking itself too seriously and leaning deeply and head first into childhood fancy. The film is visceral in its countless laughs and moments of tear-jerking levity that bring the film an effect of brilliant life amidst a story based in death and mourning.