Pixar movies always look good, but Coco is in a class by itself. Ablaze with eye-popping color, every widescreen frame is filled with richly detailed settings and appealing characters. Any concerns about overlap or redundancy with Jorge Gutierrez’s impressive The Book of Life (which also dealt with Day of the Dead) should be put aside. Coco has its own story to tell, which it does with gusto and great respect for the culture it depicts.
The movie opens with a mariachi band playing “When You Wish Upon a Star” over the Latinized Disney logo. How can you not smile in response? Scenes continue on that high note (pun intended), using traditional Mexican paper cut-outs to provide the exposition we need to engage in the story. Next we meet our vivacious, wide-eyed hero Miguel, who thrives on the one thing his entire family is forbidden from partaking in: music. He has to find a way to follow his passion without disrespecting (and alienating) his family. When a talent show coincides with Dia de los Muertos, he’s forced to choose between following his dreams and honoring his deceased loved ones.
It takes great effort to create a storyline as clear-cut as this. Director and co-writer Lee Unkrich devoted six years to Coco, determined to “get it right.” He builds a world we’ve never seen before and fills it with colorful and compelling characters. We can’t help but root for Miguel as he embarks on his odyssey. And somehow, the eeriness of imagery associated with Day of the Dead is disarmed by ingenious production design and clever gags. The movie isn’t about death: it’s about celebrating life and connecting with our heritage.
Unkrich and his collaborators consulted a variety of cultural experts and lived with several families to soak up atmosphere and inspiration. Michael Giacchino worked with Mexican composers and musicians to create an authentic score. Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alfonso Arau, and newcomer Anthony Gonzales (doing a terrific job as Miguel) breathe life into each of their characters beautifully.
This is Pixar at its best. Coco has broken box-office records in Mexico, where it has enjoyed a rapturous response. It now remains for Americans and others around the world to discover its colorful magic.