Coco is a 2017 computer-animated family comedy-drama film co-directed and co-written by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina. The film stars Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Renée Victor, Ana Ofelia Murguía, and Edward James Olmos.
Coco is based upon the Mexican holiday Día de Muertos, or Day of the Dead, a tradition in which people’s deceased relatives are remembered and honored in the form of a shrine and a collection of offerings called an ofrenda, decorated with pictures of the deceased family members. It is said that these pictures permit the deceased to cross over from the spiritual world to the material world for a time to reconnect with their living relatives. As such, the ofrenda also contains gifts for these benevolent familial spirits.
Coco is set in the fictional Mexican village of Santa Cecilia. Coco follows the story of Miguel Rivera, a 12-year-old aspiring musician. Therein lies the problem. The Rivera Family is vehemently anti-music; back in the 1930s, Rivera patriarch Mama Imelda got her heart broken after her husband, a musician, left the family to travel the world, never to be seen again. Imelda banished all music from her life, learning how to make shoes as a way to support her daughter, Coco, Miguel’s great grandmother. Coco’s daughter Elena Rivera continues to enforce her grandmother’s ban on music, with most of the family following suit, save for Miguel.
Miguel idolizes Ernesto de la Cruz, the most famous singer in all of Mexico, known for his wildly successful songs and films in the 1930s and 40s, before being crushed in a tragic bell accident. He dreams of being just like him. He plans to play in the town plaza during a Day of the Dead festival, but Abuelita Elena discovers this, and angrily destroys his guitar. A defiant Miguel steals the guitar of Ernesto de la Cruz, which unwittingly transports him to the Land of the Dead, where he meets the spirits of the deceased Rivera Family. He discovers that he is now cursed, and thus cannot return to the Land of the Living without it being lifted. He, with the help of his family and some new friends, must navigate the Spirit World and figure out a way back to his family.
Coco is a hard movie to review. It is hard to find any legitimate criticism of any kind. It doesn’t transcend the genre, mind you. It does not reinvent the wheel, but it does everything perfectly. It follows convention while avoiding cliches. Indeed, it does follow typical plot points and has “twists” older members of the audience will see coming a mile away, but this does not lessen the impact of the movie in the slightest.
The cast of Coco is excellent, and surprisingly comprised of largely unknown actors of legitimately Mexican descent. They are all brilliant, especially Anthony Gonzales, who voices Miguel. He’s 12; the deck is largely stacked against child actors, let alone child voice actors. The fact he was able to pull this off perfectly is very, very impressive. I like everyone in this film, but honestly the foreign names are hard, so just take my word for it, they are all very good.
The animation is also on par with normal Pixar, so it is excellent, as well. They make it look easy. Even the musical numbers are great, and I normally despise musical numbers. I think part of the reason I loved them is because, seeing as how the movie is about music, they actually work in the context of the film, so they weren’t random or jarring at all. They flow very well.
Everything in this movie, in fact, works well. On top of being a genuinely brilliant film in it’s own right, it also manages to insightfully portray Mexican people and culture, namely it’s largest, most well-known, and longstanding traditions, which probably has something to do, once again, with the multicultural casting and behind-the-scenes staffing of this film.
I will warn you, though, the one thing that prevented me from giving it a perfect 5 on Letterbox’d was the short shown before the movie. The short was Olaf’s Frozen Adventure. Long story short, it was almost a half-hour long and I could not stand it. It colored my judgement of Coco, but ultimately I still gave it a 4.5 out of 5.
I don’t really know what else to say other than the fact that Coco is extremely good and deserves its praise. The casting, writing, singing, animation… everything just gels so well to the point where the last ten minutes literally moved my best friend, a grown, 21-year-old Computer Science major, to tears. That is not a dig at my friend. Rather, Coco is sincerely just good enough to do that. It is deserving of all of it’s praise and is almost certainly the best animated American film of the year; don’t be surprised if it wins a ton of awards. I recommend it to anyone and everyone.