One thing’s for certain — you’re going to want to call your grandparents after seeing Pixar’s latest masterpiece “Coco.” Centered around the Mexican holiday of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), “Coco” uses the vibrant colors and style of the holiday to spin an imaginative tale rich in tradition and culture, while beautifully celebrating family.
Dia de los Muertos is a day when families honor and memorialize their ancestors with elaborate “ofrendas” — offerings of food, drinks and other gifts on decorated shrines with photographs and mementos — as a way to keep the spirits of family members who have passed on alive in the memories of their loved ones. Using the holiday as an inspiration, co-directors and co-writers Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina spin a creative and colorful tale about a young boy, Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), who desperately wants his family to understand his passion for music. It’s not until he unearths the truth about his family history that they are able to understand why it’s so important to him.
Coming from a long line of shoemakers, music is forbidden in Miguel’s home, ever since his great-great grandfather left the family to pursue his musical dreams. Armed with a few cryptic clues, Miguel deduces that his grandfather was legendary musician Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), and plans to “borrow” a guitar from the famous singer’s tomb to play in the talent show.
But stealing from the dead plunges Miguel into a mysterious otherworld, a liminal space where he’s able to interact with the dead souls who cross over to the living world on Dia de los Muertos. His deceased family members bring him across the bridge of flowers to the Land of the Dead, so Miguel can obtain a blessing to return home before sunrise. That sets off a wild adventure in which he tracks down de la Cruz, with the help of wayward soul Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal), while evading his strict great-great grandmother Imelda (Alanna Ubach), who’s still smarting from her husband’s rejection.
The human world of “Coco” is wonderfully detailed and rich, but the Land of the Dead is where the magic truly happens. The spirits are friendly, clattering skeletons with decorated skulls and loosely connected joints. The neon-patterned animal spirit guides, “alebrijes,” soar through the sky and breathe fluorescent fire. The ghost of Frida Kahlo summons dancers from huge, flaming avocados, while bright marigold flowers serve as the symbolic and real bridge between the human and dead worlds. It’s a feast for the eyes.
“Coco” is a backstage musical, where all of the songs are presented in a theatrical setting, as part of the plot — characters aren’t bursting into song without provocation. Each song has a meaning, as Miguel summons his courage, conquers his stage fright and learns that songs can be the connection, the memory that connects the living and the dead.
For all of the stunning visuals and eye-popping delights of “Coco,” it’s all about the heart of the matter, and the film delivers. Unkrich and Molina, as well as Jason Katz and Matthew Aldrich, who receive story by credits, use the themes of family history, memory and legacy to create a tremendously moving story, with an important message about honoring our roots. It’s a gorgeous, emotional film and another home run for Pixar/Disney.
Directed by: Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina.
Voiced by: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Renee Victor.
Rated: PG GRADE: A
Running time: 109 minutes