By Mark Saldana
Rating: 4 (Out of 4 Stars)
Disney/Pixar attempts to celebrate and honor the Mexican cultural celebration of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) with their newest film. Much like Disney celebrated Polynesian folklore in Moana, Coco highlights the annual celebration in Mexico that honors loved ones who are no longer living. The film offers a beautiful and respectful representation of a lovely culture and wonderful tradition with a story full of laughs, great songs, and a lot of heart. It is a film people of Mexico or Mexican descent will relish and enjoy, and a film that will enlighten people of other backgrounds.
In Santa Cecilia, Mexico, Miguel Rivera (Anthony Gonzales) dreams of becoming a talented and famous musician like his idol Ernesto de La Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). He has one major obstacle to overcome, though–his family. Ever since his great-great-grandfather abandoned the family to pursue a career as a musician, the broken-hearted wife, child and their subsequent descendants banned music for all future generations of Riveras. Instead, the family carries on the more “respectable” tradition of making shoes. Miguel simply doesn’t have shoe making in his heart, though, and decides to ignore the wishes of his family. When a mishap on the Day of the Dead sends him to the land of the dead, Miguel discovers the long lost members of his family. His great-great-grandmother Imelda (Alanna Ubach) agrees to grant him her blessing to return to the land of the living, under the condition that he refuses to pursue his love of music. After Miguel angrily turns down her offer, he decides to seek out his musician great-great-grandfather with the help of a nearly forgotten spirit named Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal). Miguel and Hector strike up a deal that will hopefully get Miguel back to the living and enjoying his passion for music.
Written and directed by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina who both co-wrote the screenplay with Jason Katz and Matthew Aldrich, Coco is an absolute delight and is such a wonderful celebration of Mexican culture tradition. As a member of the Mexican-American community, I sat enraptured and entertained with this vibrant and colorful film which never perpetuates cultural stereotypes and presents the traditions in a loving and mostly reverend way. I say mostly reverend, because the film does offer plenty of hilarious comedy, but none of it is ever disrespectful. The movie also offers people of all ages some lovely life lessons about foolish pride, the importance of family, and having the courage to pursue one’s dreams. And because the movie is not only about Dia de los Muertos, but also about the joy and beauty of music, the film has a marvelous soundtrack of songs performed splendidly by the cast. The movie and songs are mostly in English with some Spanish mixed in, so that the film is also accessible to English speaking people.
The filmmakers have assembled an outstanding cast for the movie. Talented young actor Anthony Gonzalez lends his voice to Miguel and does an outstanding job with the drama, comedy, and songs. Benjamin Bratt is also amazing as Mexican singer Ernesto de la Cruz. Much like Elvis Presley in the U.S. and Vicente Fernandez in Mexico, the character of de la Cruz becomes a superstar of both stage and screen. Gael Garcia Bernal gives a hilarious and lovable turn as the voice of deceased con man Hector, a man who reluctantly agrees to help Miguel get home. Other voice cast members include Alanna Ubach, Renee Victor, Jaime Camil, Alfonso Arau, Herbert Siguenza, Gabriel Iglesias, and Cheech Marin. All of whom deliver great performances. Even Disney/Pixar regular John Ratzenberger gets in on the fun.
And fun doesn’t quite begin to describe this truly magnificent family movie. I feel that the film should be appropriate for children of most ages, but since it does get into the subject of death, parents should be prepared. Also, some children might find the skeletal look of the dead characters a little frightening at first. However, the comedy that results from their appearance should lighten the mood.
After a few good or so-so movies, Disney/Pixar has re-emerged with another excellent movie that should certainly garner attention in multiple film awards’ animation categories. The animation looks phenomenal and perfectly captures the lovely colors of Mexican culture. The gorgeous visuals superbly match the ethereal heart that the filmmakers and performers have put into this movie and the results are spectacular.