I feel like I am still walking on air after viewing the beautiful film from Disney Pixar, “Coco”, but I do have to be honest and say I had a slight reservation beforehand due to a statement to the effect that this was “another” Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) themed film. (In my book, there cannot be one too many films featuring such marvelous film and music talent, especially coming from Hollywood.) I do understand the reference to “another” such computer-animated feature film, “The Book of Life” released in 2014. Believe me, as much as I liked the previous film, “Coco” screenwriters use the theme of an internationally recognized cultural event to gather with family and friends to remember our loved ones who preceded us in death, but they do not focus solely on the activities and viewers will discover how much more deep the story is.
Lee Unkrich (“Toy Story 3”) directs the film, along with co-director Adrian Molina, based on the screenplay by Molina and Matthew Aldrich from the story by Unkrich, Molina, Aldrich and Jason Katz. I have to admit I love a great variety of music and admire the musicians who perform it. This story about 12-year-old Miguel Rivera (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) who wants to follow his dream of being a musician is especially heartwarming, more so when his family has forbidden him to hear or play any kind of music due to a multi -generation strict ban that he does not understand. He doesn’t want to disrespect the family and looks for a solution. It just so happens when he does, he goes on a grand adventure that reveals so much more than expected. It is a must see for families of all ages who can enjoy the story, the animation, the music, as well as all the voice performances by each actor, and visuals that can bring on a range of emotions with the humor and the tender family moments, regardless of anyone’s background or heritage. The story is such that it certainly appeals to adults and can be understood by children, including the humor from gags the Land of the Dead characters perform.
From the moment the opening scenes appear on the screen, the Pixar art department animators in this production pull the viewers into the story. I admire the use of the “papel picado” (the colorful paper cut art squares usually seen during fiestas around town) at the beginning of the film to introduce the story.
There is a gorgeous scene of a bridge created with marigold flowers that is breathtaking on the large screen and is a beautiful use of the flower petals that are to be a path for the loved ones to find their way to be together.
There is a spectacular use of the colorful folk-art sculptures from south of the border, the alebrijes, that the audience will find appealing no matter what age. Miguel has a dog, Dante (a Xoloitzcuintli) that goes with him on his journey. Learning about this dog’s breed and cultural history is new to me and most likely will be for other audience members who love their pets. Although the alebrijes are in different sizes, they are not depicted as monsters, but they do show their protective side.
Miguel learns to play the guitar on his own (in hiding) and is anxious to perform such as the deceased local singing legend, Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). Miguel does all this on his handmade guitar because he is forbidden by his family and is expected to join the family business – one created by his great-great-grandmother Mamá Imelda (Alanna Ubach, “Meet the Fockers,” Bravo’s “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce”) in their town of Santa Cecilia after some family drama. Unfortunately, he is considered defiant and his Abuelita (Renee Victor, “Weeds”) does the unthinkable. I could feel Miguel’s heartbreak in that scene.
During Miguel’s journey away from home, he meets an unfamiliar character, Hector (Gael García Bernal), who at first appears a bit questionable when he is too eager and willing to assist Miguel. García Bernal is excellent in his role where he appears to have his own agenda, yet as the story develops the audience ultimately learns the truth about his character.
Grandparents are important in many families, and there are households in which multiple generations live under the same roof. Miguel cherishes his great-grandmother Mamá Coco (Ana Ofelia Murguía, Amazon’s “Mozart in the Jungle”) and despite their age difference, he chooses to confide in her. They share a special connection and even if a viewer’s grandmother does not look like Mamá Coco, their relationship might bring back some relatable memories from the past. Try not to cry in your popcorn.
At times in our society, we see young people acting bratty and disrespectful to their elders, and with “Coco” it serves as a reminder about an upbringing of respect for others, young and old, alive and well or otherwise. It also serves as a reminder for elders to listen to what our children may be trying to convey to us, especially when it comes to their true creative and personal dreams. It is a very cool way to remind all of us not to forget those who came before us and opened up a path for us to be where we are today.
“Coco” features an original score from composer Michael Giacchino (“Up”) who worked with Germaine Franco (composer for “Dope”) and was recorded featuring an 83-piece orchestra. “Coco” also features a mix of traditional and contemporary Mexican music and songs as source music. Camilo Lara (creator of the music project Mexican Institute of Sound) serves as a musical consultant and helped filmmakers with the diverse genres, ranging from cumbias to mariachi music. The film also contains original songs, including “Remember Me,” “Un Poco Loco,” “Everyone Knows Juanita,” “The World Es Mi Familia,” and “Proud Corazón.” The “Coco” soundtrack is available now from Walt Disney Records.
Other cast members include: Jaime Camil, Alfonso Arau, Sofía Espinosa, Selene Luna, Luis Valdez, Herbert Siguenza, Carla Medina, Edward James Olmos, Lombardo Boyar, Gabriel Iglesias, Natalia Cordova-Buckley, Carla Medina, Dyana Ortelli, Blanca Araceli, Salvador Reyes, Cheech Marin, Octavio Solis and John Ratzenberger.
MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Source: Disney Pixar, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures