Coco (2017) / Animation-Fantasy
MPAA Rated: PG for thematic elements
Running Time: 109 min.
Cast (voices): Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Renee Victor
Small role (voices): Gabriel Iglesias, Edward James Olmos, Cheech Marin, John Ratzenberger
Director: Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina
Screenplay: Adrian Molina, Matthew Aldrich
Review published November 29, 2017
Pixar bounces back into form with Coco, another heartwarming tale of adventure that incorporates the fostering of family as the most important thing in one's life, as well as delving into the upholding of traditions in one's culture as something that is worth honoring and protecting. As with The Book of Life, this animated feature looks at the folklore behind Dia de Los Muertos (Mexico's annual Day of the Dead celebration), in which families commemorate their lost loved ones, keeping them alive by remembering them and celebrating that memory for that special day.
Though the film is called Coco, the main character is actually Miguel (Gonzalez, The Bridge), a twelve-year-old Mexican boy who has big dreams of one day becoming a famous musician, much like the romantic legendary guitar playing movie star, Ernesto de la Cruz (voiced by Bratt, Doctor Strange). If only his family, shoemakers by trade, hadn't outright banned all music to ever be mentioned, due to Miguel's great-great grandfather, a musician who walked out on the family, including his young (now old) daughter Coco), in order to pursue his career. Miguel tries to sneak in a practice session only to be caught and find his prize guitar smashed to bits.
Still willing to continue in his passion, Miguel sneaks into the mausoleum of none other than his idol, de la Cruz, and snags his famous guitar, only to find that playing the instrument immediately channels him straight into the Land of the Dead, where he meets the deceased ancestors his family always honors for the Day of the Dead, including Mama Imelda (Ubach, To the Bone), from whom he will need a family member's blessing before sunrise in order to return to the realm of the living. But to do that, Miguel seeks to see if he can patch things up between Imelda and his long-lost great-great grandfather, who just might be someone he has admired all along.
As with all other Pixar films, Coco is mesmerizing to look at, with particular detail to 3D backdrops and surroundings that are meticulously detailed and truly immersive -- a tapestry of environment, if you will -- especially when the action takes place while traversing through the metropolis known as the Land of the Dead. Also of note is the design of the skeletal characters (calacas), which are mostly comprised of skull heads and bones, but they all are conceptually distinct enough in their appearance to tell them apart, and offer an array of expressive personalities to further give them each a uniqueness, despite their homogeneity in core design.
Perhaps the weakness of Coco will lie in its predictable storyline, as it becomes clear from early in the Land of the Dead sequence where things will be going for the rest of the plot, if you know how these stories always go. However, as I always say when it comes to knowing your destination, there can still be enjoyment in the journey, and Coco's journey has enough quality moments, especially ones that draw upon emotion, such that it becomes easy to overlook the fact that it follows a familiar path, and a dark one that includes death, betrayal, and fiendishness. Many a tear will be shed among filmgoers as the film reaches its very touching conclusion, which means that, despite familiarity, we enjoy this particular family, and are invested in their plight, thanks to the quality of the characterizations and storytelling.
With a solid voice cast that emphasizes their vocal work over their star power (there are recognizable actors in a few roles such as Bratt and Bernal (Blindness), but none that cast in order to sell the film commercially), a vibrant color scheme, outstanding visuals, terrific toe-tapping tunes, and an imaginative concept, this will likely go down as a favorite Pixar film for many who follow the animation company's output religiously. Even if you're not someone who follows on brand, it's still a beautiful film on many levels, and an easy recommendation for young, old, and everyone in between.
©2017 Vince Leo