'Coco': Film Review


Steeped in Mexican culture and folklore, the production ranks among Disney-Pixar's most engaging efforts.

Dia de los Muertos, the multi-day Mexican-originated holiday honoring dead family members and friends, proves to have a remarkably revitalizing effect on Pixar, as evidenced by the truly resplendent Coco.

Not only does the Disney outfit’s 19th feature, co-directed by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina, emerge as Pixar’s most original effort since Inside Out, it’s also among its most emotionally resonant, touching on themes of belonging common to Finding Dory and the Unkrich-directed Toy Story 3.

Delivering a universal message about family bonds while adhering to folkloric traditions free of the watering down or whitewashing that have often typified Americanized appropriations of cultural heritage, the gorgeous production also boasts vibrant visuals and a peerless voice cast populated almost entirely by Mexican and Latino actors.

Although not due to arrive in North America until Thanksgiving, the film had its premiere Friday at the Morelia International Film Festival in Mexico and will open there the following week, just ahead of Dia de los Muertos festivities.

It’s a safe bet that audiences the world over will go loco for Coco.

Despite the title, the lead character is, in fact, Miguel (terrifically voiced by young Anthony Gonzalez), a 12-year-old resident of the town of Santa Cecilia who dreams of becoming a famous musician just like his idol, the late, great Ernesto de la Cruz (played with pitch-perfect grandiosity by Benjamin Bratt).

Only trouble is, Miguel’s family has forbidden any form of music in their household for the past several generations — ever since his great-great-grandfather was said to have abandoned his loved ones in pursuit of his singing career.

Despite the strong-armed disapproval of resident family enforcer Abuelita (Renee Victor), Miguel sets off to follow his muse, and, in the process, finds himself subject to an otherworldly occurrence that results in his only being visible to those who have crossed over from the Land of the Dead to take part in Dia de los Muertos celebrations.

Miguel’s only hope of reversing the effect is to be blessed with a magical marigold petal by his great-great-grandmother, Mama Imelda (Alanna Noel Ubach), but she’ll only comply under the condition that he’ll forever renounce any and all musical aspirations.

At every imaginative juncture, the filmmakers (the screenplay is credited to Pixar veteran Molina and Matthew Aldrich) create a richly woven tapestry of comprehensively researched storytelling, fully dimensional characters, clever touches both tender and amusingly macabre and vivid, beautifully textured visuals.

There’s dazzling work on display in the inventively delineated lands of the Living and Dead, connected by a bridge constructed entirely out of thousands of those brilliant, shimmering marigold petals. And behind the scenes, the assembled voice cast similarly shines. Ana Ofelia Murguia coaxes some genuinely earned tears as Miguel’s fading great-grandmother Mama Coco (the de facto title character); over in the Land of the Dead, Gael Garcia Bernal amuses as the seemingly carefree Hector, who serves as Miguel’s resourceful tour guide.

Equally affecting is the film’s musical palette, with resident Disney-Pixar composer Michael Giacchino delivering yet another stirring score that blends seamlessly with traditional source music and tunes contributed by Molina and Germaine Franco, all topped off with the film’s soulful signature song, “Remember Me,” penned by Frozen twosome Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez.

Production companies: Pixar Animation Studios, Walt Disney Pictures
Distributor: Disney-Pixar
Cast: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Noel Ubach, Renee Victor, Jaime Camil, Gabriel Iglesias, Ana Ofelia Murguia, Edward James Olmos
Directors: Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina
Screenwriters: Adrian Molina, Matthew Aldrich
Producer: Darla K. Anderson
Executive producer: John Lasseter
Production designer: Harley Jessup
Editor: Steve Bloom
Composer: Michael Giacchino
Casting: Natalie Lyon, Kevin Reher

In English and Spanish
Rated PG, 94 minutes