Coco Is An Eye-Popping Musical Journey Into The Land Of The Dead
Miguel loves music. His family? They totally hate it. And so the preteen hero of Pixar’s new animated feature, Coco, is in a tough spot—especially since he lives in a bustling Mexican town where the main square is crowded with talented Mariachi musicians who congregate around a statue of their most famed predecessor: the legendary Ernesto de la Cruz (voiced by Benjamin Bratt).
Miguel has a strong affinity for de la Cruz, plus a talent of his own (one that goes far beyond shining shoes in his role on the lowest rung in his family’s footwear mini-empire). Miguel plays guitar and belts out traditional Mariachi songs with the skill of a professional, only he does it in secret, with only a canine pal for an audience. All that suddenly changes during a Dia de los Muertos mishap that lands Miguel on the wrong side of the dividing line between the land of the living and the Land of the Dead.
Stuck in Pixar’s eye-popping world of skeleton and spirit ancestors, Miguel and a new friend, Hector (that’s Gael García Bernal under all that animation) race against time to get the boy back to where he belongs: with his (living) relatives. On the way, the pair sing many, many songs. Oh, and they also uncover the secret behind the family’s generations-old grudge against music.
Directed by Pixar vet Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3, Finding Nemo, Monster’s Inc.) and co-directed by Adrian Molina, Coco is an entertaining, lighthearted, surface examination of the culture and traditions that surround Day of the Dead celebrations. It’s the kind of cross-cultural message that small kids can process (whether they’re used to marking the occasion with their families or no). Strangely though, the visuals in the movie might be a bit too scary for those same small kids. The result is that the demographic this movie has the potential to appeal to could be pretty narrow. But Pixar has always had one major thing going for them though: kids will watch anything animated at least once.
For adult viewers, one of the film’s strong points is it’s sweet message about the importance of family—both the people that are still with us and those that live on only in memory. The other thing the studio does well is to handle the subject matter with care and an obvious attempt at cultural consciousness. Pixar broke its rule about not letting insiders see their work in advance so that they could get feedback from a team of Latino consultants.
In terms of the animation itself, the painstaking work that the Coco team poured into the project is obvious from the opening credits that begin with a scene telling Miguel’s family history using traditional papel picado (an intricate type of decorative paper art). Other standout moments include the scenes that take place in the wacky and vibrant Land of the Dead, where a skeleton can be knocked apart like a set of bowling pins only to reassemble themselves completely unperturbed. There’s also the beautifully drawn sugar skulls, and the way the animators capture the movement of thousands of traditional marigold petals fluttering up and down the streets of Miguel’s town.
Pixar’s latest, Coco, is in theatres November 22. Hot tip for all you Frozen fans: the movie is preceded by a brand new holiday-themed short featuring Elsa, Anna, and that snowman guy. It’ll give your kids a couple new songs to sing incessantly until Frozen 2 thaws in 2019.