Review: Seven years in making with thorough research in Mexico along with solid team led by Lee Unkrich to celebrate appropriate representation (including writer, Adrian Molina, who got eventually promoted into co-director), Pixar’s nineteenth feature, Coco, results in a highly respectful tribute to Mexican culture and tradition, specifically, ‘Dia de los Muertos’ a.k.a. The Day of the Dead.
In preparation of the carnivalesque, marigold-laden Mexican festivity of the dead, 12-year-old Miguel Rivera (voiced by Anthony Gonzales) is entangled in a fateful adventure between life, death and family that bounds them altogether. The boy only wants to follow his passion—to simply play guitar and sing like his hero, a famous Mexican singer and actor, Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt)—much to his shoemaker family’s dismay due to a past predicament. When a talent show is held at the town’s plaza, Miguel ignores his family’s cries of refusal and joins up anyway. For that, he steals the monumental guitar from de la Cruz chapel, which makes him cursed and strands up in the Land of the Dead.
In one night and one night only, Miguel needs to find his family’s blessing to return to the living world; but, that won’t be an easy quest. Accompanied by a hairless Mexican dog, Dante, and guided by a con-artist, Hector (Gael García Bernal), he sets up a journey he will never forget.
With the rising amount of ‘things/places/terms of the dead’ in the story, Coco might sound sombre and ghastly, which sounds about right; but, that’s also not completely true. As Pixar has gone further than they’ve ever done (FYI, they’ve previously gone to infinity and beyond, to the underwater, to some dystopian world, even, to a monster metropolis) to the realm of the dead, they never loses the vibrant touch and the penchant of visual treats. Coco is built in a real world where death is celebrated like homecoming and in a tradition-laden made-up world where dead people is amusing as ever as they live in a vivacious, neon-bathed world. The whole world-building brings up uplifting atmosphere to the film, making whatever happens in that world more heartfelt and sensitively touching.
The plot is rich with layers of conflicts juxtaposed with clever rendition of local myths. Family and the bond between them is in the core of the story; it’s the film’s well-played message as well as the source of conflicts at the same time. It is said that dead people can return to the living world during the Day of the Dead for as long as the living people remember them and/or put their photos in ofrenda, a family gallery of the deceased. Of course, there are rules about that here and there; but, Coco chooses to deliver those exquisiteness modestly, putting a more straightforward story full of trivia (which often foreshadows future events in the story) and a feast for eyes with carnival-colored world. Plus, Coco also brings up Mexican folk art into the story as in the deceased character’s skeletal design and alebrije, mystical animals.
Conflicts might be overlapping sometimes, but as long as we stick to Miguel’s journey, we are instantly guided to the film’s magic. It takes some time before series of creative awe and the visual panache unravel Coco‘s real charm; but, when it does, Coco will deliver an emotional drive to wrap up the whole journey. From the whole presentation, this might not be among Pixar’s best. Coco might be ‘un poco loco’ but, in the end, it will be one to remember long after it ends.