Release Date: November 22nd, 2017 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina Actors: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Renee Victor, Jaime Camil, Edward James Olmos, Sofia Espinosa
ometimes I think I’m cursed,” begins Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), as he recounts the story of his family, all the way back to his great, great grandmother Imelda (Alanna Ubach), whose musician husband abandoned her to raise a child by herself. As a result, that daughter, Coco, grew up without music, as the very thought of it was banished from her household. Through the generations, her family would find prosperity in shoemaking – a profession passed down to little Miguel. But Miguel doesn’t want to be a mere cobbler; instead, he wishes to follow in the footsteps of his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), a man who started off as a nobody but followed his dreams to become the “greatest musician of all time.” Cruz perished in 1942 when he was crushed by a giant bell, but that’s not enough of a deterrent for the boy not to wish to be just like the legendary crooner.
Unfortunately, Miguel’s family seems to be the only one in all of Mexico who hates music. And his abuelita (Renee Victor) sternly continues the tradition of shunning everyone and everything that might persuade Miguel to pursue his not-so-secret passion for singing and playing the guitar. But when a Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) talent show provides an opportunity for Miguel to reveal his skills to the whole town, it might just be too alluring to pass up.
In the world of “Coco,” mariachis are bad influences. But it’s the stubborn old grandmother who is the real villain – a bitter woman who smashes things and screams at Miguel in one instant, before smothering him in hugs the next. As all of Miguel’s extended family members insist, family is everything – even if it leads to unhappiness and shattered dreams. This is a rather tragic notion, particularly for anyone distant from the pressures of traditional Mexican culture. But, there’s plenty of comedy, especially from stray dog sidekick Dante, to placate viewers who might push back against the notion of an inherited bond that extinguishes certain freedoms.
It’s a reasonable, if overly plain, setup, not deviating far from comparable pictures about the redemptive powers of music. But then, as if anticipating audiences losing interest in something so obvious, a magical component is introduced. Miguel comes into contact with the Land of the Dead, full of spirit creatures and mystical bridges that guide the deceased into a megalopolistic realm like something from “Inside Out” or the Harry Potter universe. And one of its inhabitants is the slippery, surreptitious Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal) – the most interesting character in the film – who, like Flip from “Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland” or Honest John from “Pinocchio,” initially appears as a flim-flam man, intent on manipulation. But as Miguel gets caught up in the rules of the Land of the Dead, the need for a blessing by sunrise, and locating Ernesto de la Cruz’s skeletal spirit, Hector grows more integral. And “Coco” steadily becomes more intriguing.
Unlike Pixar’s “WALL·E” or “Up,” which present premises that are immediately unique or moving, “Coco” takes its time to explore its themes and dive into the action. As rebellion confronts a lack of familial support, and proving one’s worth (a sweet sentiment) challenges the easily forgettable, misplaced blame on music rather than irresponsibility, “Coco” has the sense to reverse roles, flip sources of villainy, and generate poignant moments even from wholly guessable revelations. A few inconsistencies with the afterlife aside (death is itself a sticky subject in a family-friendly arena), the film’s progression steadily reveals the potent interactions for which Pixar’s projects are known; it’s equal parts jokey and mature, fun-loving and melancholy. Toward the conclusion, even as it treads dangerously close to the moral quandary of promoting fame as an equivalent to being fondly remembered by loved ones, “Coco” musters a sensationally emotional climax in the vein of many of the studio’s most treasured predecessors.
– Mike Massie