Many Pixar films center around a common theme of a protagonist trying to find their way back home, but their latest and greatest — named “Coco” after a young Mexican boy Miguel’s great-grandmother — doesn’t just simply rehash what has made previous films from the celebrated animation studio so special and blazes its own trail of inventiveness. It’s also a visual treat that delights with just about every frame once Miguel enters the land of the dead during his journey in a creative tour de force for Pixar. The film’s central theme about family in the context of Mexico’s culture and their tradition of celebrating Dia de los Muertos is at the heart of the film with a splendid story that propels the plot with an unexpectedly powerful emotional weight.
Miguel wants nothing more to be a musician but his large family’s complicated history with music forbids instruments or singing while encouraging the family’s shoemaking business that has expanded with each generation. Why music is so frowned upon by this family is explained right from the start, but Miguel stubbornly challenges this puzzling ban because music calls to him as he worships Mexico’s greatest musician Ernesto de la Cruz, who died decades ago but left an enduring legacy — particularly in the town that Miguel lives in.
Miguel’s journey into the land of the dead on Dia de los Muertos begins after his family (mostly his grandmother) finally puts their foot down and won’t allow him to enter a local talent show. A lovable dog named Dante joins him on his quest to finally learn the truth about his family’s heritage and without revealing any spoilers, there are plenty of surprises along the way along with plenty of laughs.
Pixar is a master of blending comedy with superb animation, but “Coco” succeeds largely around its central theme of family while celebrating loved ones that have passed on. Why the movie is named after Coco becomes more clear as the movie progresses and while children will assuredly love the jokes and the likable Miguel, as well as the humorous dog Dante and his friend Hector that he meets on his quest, there won’t be a dry eye in the theater among the adults once Miguel learns the truth about his family.
With music being the main driving force behind the plot, the soundtrack is lively and catchy and one of the best things about the film. The songs, especially the centerpiece of the film “Remember Me”, drive the plot again and take deeper meaning as the movie’s simple but engaging plot moves along. Parents shouldn’t let the images of skeletons and its frank discussion about death dissuade them from taking children to see “Coco”, it’s a beautiful film that has plenty of laughs and a joyous tone. Highly recommended.