Miguel Rivera (Anthony Gonzalez) is a young boy from Mexico who dreams of being a musician. His dreams are quashed by his family who, due to Miguel’s great-great grandfather abandoning them to pursue his singing career, expressly forbids music from being played. Miguel soon realises his great-great-grandfather was his idol and beloved musician Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), and he steals his guitar from his tomb in order to use it in a competition. However, he does this on Mexico’s Day of the Dead, which curses him and becomes a spirit, meeting his deceased relatives and going to the spirit world. Due to needing a relative to break the curse, his great-great grandmother Mamá Imedla Rivera (Alanna Ubach) conditions him not to play music when he returns. Refusing to accept this, Miguel meets a wayward and nearly forgotten spirit called Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal), who agrees to help him unite with Ernesto in exchange for having his picture put up on Day of the Dead and allowing him to cross over to the living world.
Coco is the follow up project from Oscar-winning director and Pixar regular Lee Unkrich, who insisted on being well-researched on this due to anxieties of respectfully and accurately depicting a culture that wasn’t his own. To do this, he enlisted the help of Mexican-American Pixar storyboard artist Adrian Molina to help him co-write, and eventually he became co-director. Adding to this included several trips to Mexico itself and making the cast predominantly of Latin American descent. With all that said, its attention to detail and respect for a different culture I think it really pays off for Coco. This is a wonderful film getting across a really interesting cultural tradition in such an engaging way for children and bigger children.
I’ll just get the negatives out of the way, and most of them are story based. The plot itself has a really overcomplicated set up that kind of leaves you being rushed along until we finally get to the spirit world, which is the main hook of the movie. While the focus is character driven at the start, it’s attempts to get so much information out there comes at the expense of really connecting to the rest of Miguel’s family in a significant way, in particular the title character Coco. While the movie does get you to connect to her eventually (can’t say how for spoiler reasons), her lack of presence in the first act is really strange considering how important she ends up being. The montage with Miguel hanging out with her is really cute, though.
I also think the plot suffers a little by being a tad predictable. Despite such an involved set-up, the story itself once it gets going is pretty straightforward. That’s great, especially considering the demographic the movie is aiming at shouldn’t really get lost, but some of the reveals seem a bit too obvious even for children of a certain age not to see coming. It also does that surprise villain thing that Disney really loves now, and it really does not work. The villain is easily the weakest element here.
Everything else, however? Really great. I love every character in this movie. Despite my complaints earlier about family members feeling undercooked, you definitely grow to care about them and their struggles to move passed this family tragedy. Miguel is such a great lead too-spirited, rambunctious and strongly empathetic, he definitely stands out. I also think he’s one of the first Pixar protagonists to actually be a child, which is interesting. Hector is incredibly loveable too-a charming trickster with a heart of gold and a very understandable motivation once you learn about it. Imelda Rivera is a wonderful foil for Miguel early on, and has a few reveals herself which actually do work for the narrative.
The animation and colour palette are absolutely stunning. There’s a very clear distinction between the real world and the spirit world shown in the colours-the latter is so elegantly and gorgeously thought out and every use of bright, vibrant colouring like the aqua blue or bright golden orange really make the scenery pop, and are designed in very awe-inspiring and mesmerising ways. It really makes this valley of death look inviting, which is a deliberate choice.
Providing to this inviting feel is the music, which has wonderful compositions by Germaine Franco, Adrian Molina, Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. They capture the vividness and magic of traditional Mexican music, and work well into the film’s main theme of memory and its power. Music has a way to connect us to our past in ways that are hard to describe, and the celebration of music truly gets this across as Miguel and his family try to heal from painful memories.
Coco truly captures the vivid tapestry of Mexican heritage and culture and absorbs its audience into a wonderfully alive and emotionally gripping world. Its weak story structure and plot are made up for by an endearing cast, strong visual design and wonderful music that will be celebrated as one of Pixar’s greats. It’s a wonderful story about the power of memory and the importance of who you are remembered by, and definitely one to take all the family out to.
Also, it should win an award for Best Movie Dog of 2017.