Coco is a movie for “All Age class”. Animated movies often promote the fact that the dynamic, unadulterated mind of a child knows the best solutions and it is the adults who need to learn and understand the correct way of good life.
For the first time ever a culture as rich as that of Mexico has been portrayed so aptly and sans tweaking onscreen. The film feels like a love letter to the country, glorifying and building a heartwarming story around their rooted festival of Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead).
Miguel Rivera (Anthony Gonzalez) is a 12-year-old boy in Mexico who wishes to be a musician like his idol, the mid-century legend Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). Miguel’s great-great-grandmother was abandoned by her musician husband, and the Rivera family begins to hate music. The family has maintain a strict policy against music ever since. Instead, each subsequent generation has gone into the family business of making shoes.
But could it be that de la Cruz was in fact Miguel’s long since written-off great-great-grandfather? That certainly appears to be the case. So in order to participate in a music competition on Día de Muertos, Miguel “borrows” de la Cruz’s famous guitar, his own having been smashed earlier in the day by his grandmother. But with the very first strum, Miguel is transported to the Land of the Dead. There, he meets departed members of his own family and ultimately, with the help of a trickster named Héctor (Gael García Bernal), de la Cruz himself.
As Miguel traverses the afterlife, he realizes the importance of leaving a legacy behind, for to be forgotten by the living imposes another death sentence, and nobody knows if there is a second afterlife beyond the first.
It’s pretty heavy stuff. But there isn’t any hint of gothic gloom surrounding this afterlife; it’s a cheerful, misshapen shantytown populated by decorated skeletons, and luridly colored alebrijes, the creatures that guide the souls of the deceased.
The first sight of the overpopulated afterlife is jaw-dropping, but during the second act, the film slows somewhat. Funnily enough, the skeletons aren’t as interesting to look at as Miguel’s fleshy family, and the masses of bones and fairy lights start to fade into the background.
It’s at this point that I noticed the younger children in the theatre were growing bored. Pixar always includes plenty of details for the adults to enjoy, and Coco definitely leans toward older viewers, more than usual. Children younger than six might find it difficult to relate to the majority of Coco, and the fact that there isn’t an excess of humor doesn’t help keep the little ones in their seats. But things pick up again toward the end, and the finale is another bittersweet, Pixar patented tear-jerker.
I need to rant about the short at the beginning. I’m sure you’ve noticed that Pixar always plays a cute little short before their films, which are always supremely innovative, and sometimes even better than the feature. Well, Coco is preceded by a soulless Frozen spin-off centered around Olaf the irritating snowman. It’s twenty-one minutes long (I felt every second of it), and has, like, fifteen musical numbers, all instantly forgettable.
Even my son, who is a big Frozen fan, kept asking if Coco was actually going to play or if we’d just walked into Frozen 2 by accident. It’s time to let it go Disney (see what I did there?) – even the kids are getting annoyed by Frozen oversaturation.
Anyway, once you make it past the Olaf ordeal, Coco proves to be a pleasant surprise – an emotional, philosophical story of life and death, that despite the gorgeous visuals, doesn’t sugar-coat anything.
Right away, both the importance and the potential danger of respecting one’s heritage is highlighted and proves to be a poignant theme.
Younger children might not be quite as entertained as you, but Coco is the best children’s animation I’ve seen since Kobo and the Two Strings. For a child struggling to understand the death of a grandparent, or even a beloved pet, this film offers an in-depth introspection on what it means to live a full life, and how memories can keep the deceased from disappearing entirely.
Coco deserves a watch.My advice is to round up the family, take them to Coco.This Thanksgiving, take the family on an adventure like you’ve never seen before.