In 2014, “The Book of Life” debuted, promoting the love and family ties which intertwine during Dia de los Muertos, charming the hearts of movie fanatics and artists alike. The idea of another movie about Mexico’s deeply-rooted ‘Day of the Dead’ tradition seemed out of the question, at least for a long while.
So, when Pixar’s “Coco” released two weeks ago, many were shocked. Not only was the movie not well-advertised, but it premiered in the midst of a seemingly saturated market.
We’ll start with this quick disclaimer: If you’re looking for another average and forgettable movie about the Dia de los Muertos, you’re going to be sorely disappointed.
Immediately, you’re thrown into the world of 12-year-old Miguel, a beautifully energetic, empathetic and passionate boy; there is nothing he loves more than playing music, and he will go to any length to do so. The problem, however, is that his family is cursed.
Miguel’s great-great-great grandmother was married to someone whom she loved deeply. The couple had a kid together named Coco, and suddenly they were at a crossroads. His great-great-great grandfather wanted to play music, and he ended up leaving his family to pursue his passion with a promise of returning.
He never did.
Instead of blaming the person, or the problem, Miguel’s family held a five-generation grudge against music, vowing to never play it or be around it. Any instance of playing music was grounds for having instruments destroyed and facing serious reprimand. But, that didn’t stop Miguel.
In the midst of a horrible plan to play at a music competition, Miguel accidentally gets trapped in the land of the dead, right as Dia de los Muertos is happening. When there, he meets his family and his musical idol, Ernesto de la Cruz, who Miguel believed to be his absentee great-great-great grandfather.
Nothing is as it seems, however. Suddenly, Miguel is thrust into the world of the dead, and has to learn how to grow up quickly. He is forced to make a lot of choices which only further his character development.
While it may be argued that Pixar can sometimes come up with characters which embody a cookie-cutter stereotype of what they are supposed to be, “Coco” shatters that idea completely with a cast of loveable and well-developed characters.
At the end, you’ll feel as if you’re part of the family–a really hard feeling to experience while watching a movie. Miguel feels like a little brother, while Coco feels like your long, lost great-grandmother.
The animation leads these characters to feel real–different body shapes and all–to perfectly mesh together the worlds of the living and dead, which aren’t too far apart, after all. Taking a topic like death and making a kids’ movie out of it, and then marketing it in the United States, may seem like an ambitious concept. But it’s done so in a gentle way which makes it watchable for all involved.
“Coco” is bright, but not in a tacky way. It has the right balance of realistic and non-realistic animation. It’s unpredictable, heartwarming and downright charming, and if this isn’t the best Pixar movie of all time, it damn near rings close.