Over the years, Pixar has brought life to a number of things — toys, cars, monsters and robots, to name a few. With Coco, Pixar manages to bring light and color to death, a theme ordinarily off-limits or glossed over in children’s movies.
Coco centers on Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), a boy in love with music despite his family’s strict abhorrence of any musical note whatsoever. This hatred is due to an unwelcome story in the family’s past regarding Miguel’s great-great grandfather who abandoned his wife and daughter (Miguel’s great-grandma Coco) for music.
Despite his family’s uncompromising ban on music, Miguel idolizes famed musician Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), who tragically died after being crushed by a giant bell during his last performance.
After Miguel attempts to “borrow” his idol’s guitar in the altar the town has built to remember him, he is suddenly transported to walking with skeletons as a live boy on the Day of the Dead — the one day of the year where one’s ancestors can come back and visit with family if they are remembered by having their picture set up by relatives left on earth. After finding his ancestors in skeleton form, it’s a race to get Miguel home before sundown unless he wants to stay in the Land of the Dead forever.
The Land of the Dead is a bright, intriguing spectacle filled with striking visuals and vivacious color more elaborate than Pixar has every achieved. In typical Pixar fashion, the film manages to bring emotionalism, depth and realism to animated characters, and in this case, even manages to bring these attributes to walking skeletons.
Coco’s finale is packed with warmth and emotion, but viewers are taken on a long, and sometimes confusing journey to get to this point, making the second-half of the film better than the first. At the end though, viewers are left feeling good and emotionally satisfied with the joyful and tearful ending.
Despite being a Pixar film, (and in addition to the overarching theme of death), Coco surprisingly packs in quite a bit of darkness — stealing, lying and a horrific murder to top it all off. The Land of the Dead is not treated as a creepy and dark place, nor is it a peaceful and light home after death. Rather, it seems to be more of a place to have fun in the afterlife, where everybody — both “good” and “bad” — come to reside.
Although not Pixar’s strongest, Coco is its finest production since Inside Out (2015), reminding moviegoers of the magic of Pixar. Coco is a story about family and holds true to its message that, no matter what, family is what is most important, both in life and death. Coco tells a good story, but its best feature is how it offers an interesting reflection on mortality, remembrance and ancestry.
Ultimately, Coco’s main tune “Remember Me” sums up the message well: “Remember me / Though I have to say goodbye / Remember me / Don’t let it make you cry / For even if I’m far away I hold you in my heart / I sing a secret song to you each night we are apart.”
Photo courtesy of Disney Pictures