Pixar Animation Studio’s latest film, “Coco,” is as richly emotional as it is gorgeously animated. While not as unique or engrossing as many of the studio’s previous efforts, “Coco” is a heartfelt, feel-good story layered onto a stunning visual canvas.
The film tells the story of Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), a young boy in Mexico who dreams of following in the steps of his ancestor, the legendary musician Ernesto de la Cruz. In a short and creatively animated introduction, the film explains how Miguel’s family shunned previous generations’ music in response to the actions of a past musician in the family. Because of this, Miguel isn’t allowed to pursue his passion for guitar. But after being transported to the Land of the Dead on the sacred holiday Dia de los Muertos — when Mexican families celebrate and pray for their deceased — Miguel sets out to find his deceased ancestor and idol, Ernesto.
“Coco’s” narrative is neither spectacular nor groundbreaking — audiences have likely seen similar stories before. However, that doesn’t detract from the film’s overall impact. While the script’s turns are clearly defined, to the point of being predictable, they effectively keep audiences invested until the film’s poignant ending.
Visually, “Coco” is nothing short of jaw dropping. From Miguel’s fluid and musically accurate guitar picking to the Land of the Dead’s lush color palette and detailed skeleton inhabitants, Pixar’s latest film proves once again why the studio is one of the most respected in its industry. Character animations such as the elderly and frail Mama Coco are beautifully nuanced and painstakingly detailed, from her weathered face to her hunched posture and wrinkled hands.
While the characters in “Coco” are vivid, the worlds they occupy may have them beat. Pixar breathes life into Miguel’s small Mexican village and every frame of the film radiates energy. Perhaps more than anything else, “Coco” is a love letter to Mexico and its people. The film celebrates its culture unabashedly and fills a void in mainstream media for Mexicans everywhere.
Nowhere else is this love more powerfully expressed than the film’s music. From original songs written in both English and Spanish to a heavily Latino-influenced score, “Coco” boasts its heritage as proudly as its protagonist, voiced magnificently by the 13-year-old Gonzalez. Gonzalez lends both his speaking and singing voice to the film, and his passionate performance lies at the heart of the movie’s success.
What ultimately separates “Coco” from the rest of Pixar’s esteemed filmography is its deeply-rooted and authentic sense of family. Miguel’s family is everything real families are, for better or worse. His family both loves and annoys him, as it’s the main hindrance to him achieving his dream. Throughout the film, Miguel’s family dynamic is tested, and by the end of the movie audiences will remember why families act as they do with an emotionally earned climax.
“Coco” is a worthy addition to Pixar’s catalog, although it may not rank among the studio’s best. The film lands its narrative turns despite being somewhat predictable, and its emotional moments are well paced and executed. It embraces its duty to represent Mexico and fashions it into a world both magical and real. By the end of its runtime, “Coco” emerges as a vibrant, heartfelt journey about the importance of family and pursuing one’s dreams.
“Coco” is now playing in theaters nationwide.