Celebration of culture is front and center in Lee Unkrich’s gorgeous Coco. Using Dia de Muertos, Unkrich and co-director Adrian Molina continue Pixar’s embrace of culture and tradition as the living celebrate their loved dead. Through music, language and color, the strength of family bonds is not only ageless. It is timeless.
As the Rivera family prepare to celebrate with offerings and photos, Adrian Molina and Matthew Aldrich’s script (based on the story by Unkrich, Molina, Jason Katz and Aldrich) reveal a troubled history in the family surrounding music, which is absolutely forbidden.
The film opens to vibrant cutouts depicting the Rivera’s history, where we learn how their discontent with music was formed. Believing he was meant for more, young Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) avoids his family’s attempts to take up the family business, instead trying to get himself heard in a local Dia de Muertos celebration. Events transpire where he ends up in the Land of the Dead and now must find a way to return to the living before it is too late.
Aside from the gorgeous visuals, the voice cast is first rate. Grandmother Abuelita (Renee Victor) is on fire as she forbids Miguel’s playing music. As Mama Coco, Ana Ofelia Murguia makes a memorable impression. In the Land of the Dead, Miguel’s relatives are just as supportive of his growth as his living relatives are, as long as it doesn’t involve music.
Gael Garcia Bernal is Hector, a charming trickster who knows how to help Miguel maneuver the Land of the Dead. Benjamin Bratt is the esteemed Ernesto de la Cruz, a recording artist and movie star who is as charming on the screen as he is in the afterlife.
As Miguel, Anthony Gonzalez is the anchor of the film. His steady, young voice carries a range of emotions while still being able to carry a tune, and he does so very magnificently. Alfonso Arau, who is more familiar to American audiences as El Guapo in Three Amigos and Juan in Romancing the Stone, voices Papa Julio, Miguel’s great-grandfather.
One of Pixar’s enduring strengths is their animation. There were many times through the 3D screening where the images looked as real as a physical person standing next to me. It only continues to get better with each Pixar film. Pixar is also focused on characters, and Coco is replete with relatable characters. The music, both Michael Giaccino’s gorgeous Mexican-inspired score and original songs performed by the voice cast truly immerse you in the holiday that this film celebrates.
Although the well-developed characters and the vibrant images wrap us up in the story, Pixar’s tried and true formula is still on full display. It doesn’t detract from the overall feelings and emotions that they built with the characters and music, the narrative felt recycled. It’s a minor nitpick considering the amount of work and the level of detail they manage to achieve. For an original Pixar film, it is a gorgeous entry in their legacy. I’m hopeful that they can expand on the formula with Incredibles 2 next Spring.
Already a hit in Mexico, Coco is undeniable fun and it will entertain families from around the world with its breathtaking CGI and its strong characters.
Coco is rated PG by the MPAA.