Arts movie review

Steal from the dead, spend a night with the dead

Pixar’s Coco invites viewers into a lively world where our ancestors reside in relative harmony

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Miguel and Hector singing over the beautiful realm of the dead.
Courtesy of Disney Pixar Studios

Directed by Lee Unkrich
Music composed by Michael Giacchino
Screenplay by Matthew Aldrich and Adrian Molina
Rated PG, Now Playing

The world of Pixar’s Coco is incredible. It seems as if no aspect of the Mexican Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos, is overlooked. The movie’s central holiday is ever-present in backgrounds rich in color and detail. Panoramas throughout the film include a traditionally decorated neighborhood; a sprawling, glittery graveyard; and a set of huge bridges made of glowing marigold petals that lead into the vibrant city of the afterlife.

Coco stars Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), a boy who yearns to emulate his idol, the legendary guitarist Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). Unfortunately, Miguel’s relatives expect him to become a shoemaker. He is forbidden to play music — he’s warned early on that his great-great grandfather did just that and ended up abandoning his family. Because Miguel’s ancestor turned his back on his family members, they turned their backs on him; his picture is omitted from the family’s ofrenda, a sacred altar that invites the deceased into the living world on Día de los Muertos.

However, Miguel is convinced that his great-great grandfather did a good thing in pursuing music. He delves into his family history, and his curiosity ends up trapping him in the realm of the dead. It takes teaming up with a desperate skeleton named Hector (Gael García Bernal) (and most of the movie) for Miguel to return to the land of the living and discover some truths about family.

As Pixar movies often do, Coco toys with thoughtful themes. There are stark contrasts, for example, in how certain characters exist in the afterlife. Some of them are happy, mansion-owning souls; others are desolate inhabitants of slums, waiting to experience a ‘final death’ when they are forgotten. But appearances, of course, aren’t everything — Miguel’s journey teaches him how to see past a cross-generational misunderstanding.

Ultimately, the knowledge Miguel gains by the closing sequence is not unheard of: we should pursue the truth, and our dreams, while maintaining supportive relationships with those around us. But his path to those lessons is important, and definitely worth watching, with its practically-flawless graphics and gorgeous tunes. This movie made us cry so many tears that it was hard to see the screen — but hard not to see Coco being a hit for audiences everywhere.