Adventure Animation

'Coco' Film Review: A love letter to Mexico bursting with heart, music and terrific performances

November 22, 2017Ben MK

As an animation studio, Pixar has had the good fortune of creating films that have been both critically and commercially acclaimed. And their latest, Coco — a heartwarming and entertaining tale about family, music and following your dreams centering on the Mexican holiday of the Day of the Dead — is no doubt destined for the same successes.

The story of a boy who finds himself crossing the boundary separating the Land of the Living and the Land of the Dead, Coco follows Miguel Rivera (newcomer Anthony Gonzalez), a 12-year-old with aspirations to be a famous musician just like his idol, the late singer/guitarist/movie star Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). There's just one problem, though, for music — in all its forms — has been outlawed in Miguel's family. And it has been ever since his great-great-grandfather left his wife and daughter to pursue a career in song, spurring Miguel's Mamá Imelda (Alanna Ubach) to transform their family into one of the most respected shoemakers in all of Mexico.

Still, far be it for that to stop Miguel, who manages to sneak countless pieces of de la Cruz memorabilia past the watchful eye of his Abuelita (Renée Victor), who rules the Rivera household. Miguel has even fashioned his own homemade guitar, modeled after de la Cruz's signature instrument. But when his Abuelita smashes Miguel's pride and joy — which he was planning to play at the village talent show — the chain of events that ensues leads Miguel to break into de la Cruz's shrine and borrow the original from his hero's final resting place.

All of this transpires on Día de Muertos, and no sooner does Miguel strum his first chord on de la Cruz's guitar is he magically transported to the Land of the Dead, where he embarks on an adventure beyond his wildest dreams. With mere hours until sunrise — after which he will forever remain a skeletal apparition — Miguel must find a way to return home, while also dodging his irritated, long-dead relatives. Teaming up with a street dog named Dante and a helpful skeleton named Héctor (Gael García Bernal), who, in turn, needs Miguel's help to be able to see his beloved daughter one last time, Miguel learns a valuable lesson about family, tradition and, last but not least, himself.

Directed by Toy Story 3's Lee Unkrich and co-directed by Adrian Molina, Coco is a prime example of Pixar movie magic. On the surface, it's a whimsical, visually resplendent and kid-friendly romp filled with music, skeletons whose eyeballs have a tendency to drop into their jaws, and rainbow-colored spirit animals called Alebrije. However, none of that undermines the emotional maturity of the story, which Molina and fellow screenwriter Matthew Aldrich have rooted in Miguel's quest to connect with the great-great-grandfather he never knew.

That said, it should come as no surprise that Coco knows how to pull on audiences' heartstrings. However, even if you've grown weary of Pixar's tried-and-true approach, it's hard not to appreciate the care the filmmakers have put into this love letter to Mexico. Not since 2012's Brave has Pixar staked so much on cultural themes, and it pays off here in spades, bestowing Coco with a color and a flavor far beyond Pixar's usually vibrant visuals.

The end result is a surefire contender for the best animated movie of the year. Bursting with sincere heart, memorable music and terrific performances, Coco is a breath of fresh air amid a busy November packed with everything from big budget action movies to blockbuster comedies. Only the most jaded would disagree.

Coco releases November 22nd, 2017 from Walt Disney Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of PG for thematic elements. Its runtime is 1 hr. 49 min.

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