Coco voice cast: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach
Coco movie director: Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina
Coco movie rating: 3.5 stars
This time, Disney Pixar animation tackles death and the afterlife. And while the adventurous studio has made some overtures towards that before, here it takes this further — to the pain and fear of being forgotten. “The final death”, as one character puts it.
And it does so while telling us the story of a 12-year-old boy from Mexico hoping to make it as big as the country’s biggest singing sensation, growing up in a very traditional Mexican family, with its very Mexican rituals and beliefs. They consider music a curse, because of what happened to one of the ancestors, and want Miguel to join the family profession of making shoes.
The boy, Miguel (Gonzalez) rebels, and on the day of the dead, decides to compete in a musical talent show. For that, he needs a guitar, and the only place he can get one is in the shrine of that greatest singer, Ernesto de la Cruz (Bratt). But the moment he picks the guitar to take it away, he is transported to the netherworld, where his extended family, as well as Ernesto and Frida Kahlo, exist as delightfully decorated skeletons in a neon-lit world. With Kahlo the heart of every party.
Coco, like many animations before it, is about finding yourself while never losing sight of your family. Disney finds a way to tell this story differently, in an un-American setting, with refreshing music, and with moving insights on the costs of pursuing your passion. The detailed animation captures even the thin film of water on Miguel’s red sweatshirt, as well as the flickering light of the candles lit to welcome the spirits of the dead to this world. Along the way, Miguel finds an unlikely friend in Hector (Bernal), a dead man who lives in fear of not being wanted by anyone among the living. It’s a friendship free of the usual tropes, of young and old, experience and inexperience.
Towards the end though, Coco drags. It doesn’t help that it comes tagged with a “short” from the new Frozen film, which is anything but brief. And as the Christmas cheer begins, far from original.