Coco is another Pixar classic!


Pixar returns with another beautifully animated story about family, memory and the nature of tradition in the brightly colored Coco.

Pixar has solidified its status as the preeminent studio for entertainment with a heartwarming mix of sentiment and humor bathed in beautiful animation. They’ve had their missteps — you wouldn’t be shamed for forgetting Cars 3 came out this year — but their latest feature, Coco, is a return to form. This colorful tale of life, death and remembrance reanimates the heartstrings and secures a spot as the perfect holiday film.

Set in a tiny Mexican hamlet, Coco follows Miguel (voiced by newcomer Anthony Gonzalez). Miguel wants to be a musician like his idol, deceased guitarist Ernesto de la Cruz (voiced by Benjamin Bratt). But because of a decades-long grudge held by Miguel’s great-grandmother, music in any form is banned. In a fit of anger Miguel breaks into de la Cruz’s crypt and steals his guitar, only to find himself trapped in the Land of the Dead on Dia de Muertos.

Screenwriters Matthew Aldrich and Adrian Molina create a warm and inviting atmosphere even before Miguel starts seeing skeletons. His town is filled with color, bright pastels and crisp whites. His family is large and close-knit, anchored by his strong-willed Abuelita (voiced by Renee Victor) who spends her time feeding Miguel, whether he likes it or not. The need to honor one’s heritage is strong, especially on Dia de Muertos where Miguel’s family have a large ofrenda, or offering table, with the photos of their deceased relatives they’re paying tribute to. The ofrenda is what sets everything in motion, acting as a beacon for those seeking family or who fear they’ll be forgotten.

The trailers for Coco haven’t spoiled much of the actual story, which isn’t strictly about Miguel’s attempts to leave the Land of the Dead before sunrise. There are plot machinations that can, at times, seem a bit out-of-left field; a sharp turn into murder feels like an abrupt about-face to instill conflict in the third act. These beats keep Coco from feeling aimless, though it’s unnecessary. What makes Coco an indelible piece of Pixar mastery is its emphasis on familia. Miguel sees his family as a hindrance, keeping him from his dream of music. Conversely, his grandmother’s staunch need to observe tradition passed down from her ancestors keeps her at arm’s length from her grandson. It’s the two coming to a compromise that keeps the stakes high.

Once Miguel enters the Land of the Dead, the luscious color palette takes on an added brilliance, kicking Coco into gear. Miguel meets his deceased relatives, all possessing skeletonized personality, and attempts to get their “blessing” to return home. But when he discovers the blessing comes with the caveat that he can’t play music, Miguel goes on the run. He teams up with a lonely man named Hector (voiced by Gael Garcia Bernal) desperate to cross over to the Land of the Living or risk being forgotten by his loved ones. Once Miguel and Hector meet, the film takes on an added poignancy. The characters have an easy camaraderie, but it’s unclear why Hector is so desperate to meet his family until the film’s final act when the title becomes clear.

Coco is at its best when it focuses on tough, amorphous concepts. Similar to Up, Coco is about death and how we choose to remember, or forget, those we love. Family takes center stage, with Miguel being the character everyone loves and fights over. The afterlife isn’t frightening but welcoming, despite everyone’s skeletal look. There are distinct class differences, and a crossing the border joke plays as sufficiently snarky and pointed for a family feature.

The voice cast is spectacular with young Anthony Gonzalez delivering his lines with nuance, whether it’s humorous or dramatic. His exasperation at some of the plot decisions are particularly hilarious. Gael Garcia Bernal and Benjamin Bratt steal their scenes as Hector and Ernesto de la Cruz, two men with a shadowy history. Bratt’s voice is perfectly suited to voice a Mexican singing star who tends to steal lines from his movies when talking to other people, smooth and charming. Alanna Ubach and Renee Victor are also wonderful as Mama Imelda and Abuelita, respectively.

In a feature so focused on music, it’s a shame Coco’s biggest misfire is its songs. Pixar isn’t in the musical business like Disney — and, in case you were wondering, Frozen is not a Pixar film but a Walt Disney Animation project. Frozen’s composers, Robert and Kristen Anderson-Lopez are brought on to craft Ernesto de la Cruz’s songs, but none of them truly catch fire. “Poco Loco” and “Remember Me” are sweet in the moment, but they lack the memorability of something like “Let It Go.” It’s doubtful children will be singing either come year’s end, but Coco isn’t about sales; it’s about family.

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Coco is a sweetly enigmatic tale about heritage with jaw-dropping animation that continues to cement Pixar’s status as the best animation house operating today. The songs may not work, but they’re incidental in a feature that’s more focused on holding family close, even when they’re not around.