Film Review: 'Coco'
I sound like a broken record saying Pixar has done it again - after all, Inside Out was fantastic - but in Coco, we have something magical.
Its music and lyrics rivet the soul. Its inspired animation is astounding. Its grounding in real-life culture and family experiences make it deeply relatable. Its characters, most notably its young, musical hero Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez), are unforgettable. And with its story about taking risks, embarking on otherworldly journeys and discovering the meaning of family, Coco blends in all of its strongest elements to be a truly special movie that stands an entire echelon above anything Pixar has done before.
The thing about Miguel's musical aspirations, however, is that he comes from the Rivera family, deeply steeped in the shoemaking trade. The Riveras also strictly forbid music to the point where even touching an instrument is a cardinal sin. The ban is most notably enforced by his abuelita (voiced by Renee Victor), who will throw her shoe at the first drop of a note. The ancestral ban comes from a scandal many generations prior, when a father left his wife and child to pursue a music career.
That child is Miguel's surviving great-grandmother, mama Coco (voiced by Ana Ofelia Murguía). Even though she is near the end of her life, mama Coco is the rock of the Rivera family.
Even though is family means him well, Miguel yearns to pursue his musical ambitions. His ultimate idol, the late and great singer Ernesto de la Cruz (voiced by Benjamin Bratt) drives him to seize his moment and pursue his dreams at the cost of ostracizing his family. Yet on the cold evening of Día de los Muertos, the tradtional Mexican holiday to remember the deceased, Miguel attempts to borrow the iconic guitar of de la Cruz from his tomb to enter a music competition - sending him stumbling into the Land of the Dead, where long-gone people walk as colorful, animated skeletons. The setting brings to life the artistic style and iconography of the Mexican holiday to vibrant (after)life. It's a wondrous world of cultural inspiration that only the greatest dreamers could conceive.
This incredible world - and the movie as a whole - is just the biggest example of Coco nailing all of the idiosyncrasies in Mexican and Latino life. Whether it's the alebrijes, which are colorful mythical beasts, or something as simple as abuela being offended when Miguel refuses more food, the effect is so profound that one cannot help but feel pride in witnessing a cultural celebration play out on screen.
Along with Miguel meeting his many deceased relatives in the Land of the Dead, his otherworldly company is the clever musician Héctor (voiced by Gael García Bernal, who made a name for himself in the timeless Y Tu Mamá También), claiming to personally know the great Ernesto de la Cruz. Miguel's mission: to receive the blessing of de la Cruz, who he identifies as the father who left his great-great-grandmother and his mamá Coco long ago, to return to the Land of the Living and live his dream of playing music, even if his entire family stands against it.
Pixar films are known for being thoughtfully original, but Coco takes it to the next level by constantly reinventing itself and providing surprises at every turn. With a slew of original songs sung in both Spanish and English (you will never forget "Remember Me"), this rich musical variety keeps Coco high-energy and fresh. In this film, the simple stories of pursuing dreams and discovering the secrets of the past are reinvigorated. There is not a single dull moment in the film.
And that's only a sign of things to come: Coco does what other movies rarely do, and crafts a stunningly profound ending that is sure to turn on the waterworks. The rest of the movie is already great, but it's the ending that has instantly made Coco a timeless classic, and you'll be begging to watch it again the moment it's over.
From the very first frame to its very last, from the first strung of a guitar to the first beat of the closing credits, Coco never comes once regresses or declines, constantly reaching new heights. A cinematic treasure that is not to be missed, Coco is not just a perfect animated film; it's a perfect film.
Rated PG. 109 minutes.
Written by Lee Unkrich & Adrian Molina.
Directed by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina.
Starring Anthony Gonzalez and Gael Garcia Bernal.