Over the years we’ve seen a lot of things come our way via Pixar – monsters, talking bugs, talking toys, talking cars – but with “Coco” they’re crossing into what I’d call unexpected territory … the supernatural, in the form of a young boy visiting his dead ancestors.
Hector (voice of Gael García Bernal) and Miguel (voice of Anthony Gonzalez) in Disney/Pixar's “Coco.” (Photo courtesy of Disney/Pixar)
Miguel (voice of Anthony Gonzalez) is a young boy in the small Mexican village of Santa Cecilia. He longs for nothing more than to be a famous musician like his hero, the late Ernesto de la Cruz (voice of Benjamin Bratt). The only problem is his family of shoemakers long ago swore off of music after his great-great-grandfather (a musician) abandoned the family in search of fame and fortune.
While his family is getting ready to celebrate their dead loved ones – minus the now-shunned great-great-grandfather – for Día de Muertos, Miguel is readying himself to compete in a local talent show.
After a confrontation with his family over his musical ambitions, Miguel finds himself in the tomb of de la Cruz, who he now believes to be his great-great-grandfather, ready to borrow his sacred guitar to compete.
The attempted theft magically transforms Miguel into a half-human, half-skeleton who can only communicate with the dead – including his ancestors, who take him to the Land of the Dead in an attempt to return him to the Land of the Living before the sun comes up. Miguel, however, has designs of meeting de la Cruz, and seeks the assistance of a lonely drifter, Hector (voice of Gael García Bernal), to make that a reality.
Miguel (voice of Anthony Gonzalez) stumbles upon the guitar of his idol Ernesto de la Cruz in Disney/Pixar's “Coco.” (Photo courtesy of Disney/Pixar)
In terms of story creativity, “Coco” might be one of Pixar’s best. In terms of story execution, however, I think it falls more in the middle of the pack.
We’ve seen this idea of a Pixar child taking a magical journey into that “other world” that’s hiding just below the surface of our consciousness (“Monsters, Inc.”). But “Coco” one-ups it by taking it from a rather superficial premise (boogeyman training, essentially) and giving it an extra level of depth.
Honestly, without Googling Día de Muertos, the only knowledge I have of the celebration is what I discussed in my high school Spanish class. In 1995. And I know I’m not alone in that knowledge base (and others probably have even less). Now, I’m not pretending to have a great understanding of it now having seen this movie, but I trust that Pixar did enough research to convey how important it is to the culture it’s representing on screen.
Aside from that very important piece, it fell kind of flat. There’s very little mystery over what’s going on; the “twists” are pretty predictable; not many characters beyond Miguel, Hector, and de la Cruz, are fleshed out; and any there’s too big of a reliance on filling down spots in the plot with music. We’ll call the latter the “Frozen Effect” – a shorter, more concise story would’ve almost been better than too many songs.
As always, the animation on display is top-notch. We’re probably to the point where the actual characters Pixar creates – at least in human form – are about as good as they can get. Where things continue to shine, and seemingly improve every time out, is in the “less noticeable” areas – the scenery, the background, the (in this case) supernatural elements.
After all of these years, it is still a joy to watch a Pixar movie … even if the story isn’t quite up to where I’d like to see it.
Overall, “Coco” is definitely not one of Pixar’s finest, but its creativity and animation are outstanding and make it worthwhile family viewing.
★★★ of ★★★★★