Aspiring musician Miguel, confronted with his family’s ancestral ban on music, enters the Land of the Dead to work out the mystery.
Disney•Pixar has put out another amazing movie. This one will bring you to tears as many of its predecessors have in the past. Writer/Director Lee Unkrich finds a heart and puts it into a movie about Dia de Los Muertos. The Mexican Day of the Dead is when ancestors can come back for one day to visit the living, but only if their family remembers them. The shining star is Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), a twelve-year-old would-be musician in a family of shoemakers.
Years ago, music ripped the family apart when Miguel’s great-great-grandfather left his wife and daughter to sing on stage. Miguel’s great-great-grandmother decided the day her husband left, music would leave her family as well. Everyone in the family is content to make shoes surrounded by family until the precocious twelve-year-old enters the picture. He wants to follow in the footsteps of the famous guitarist and singer Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). Desperate to play the guitar, Miguel swipes Ernesto’s guitar from the mausoleum of the famous singer. Miguel’s punishment for stealing from the grave is to join the dead by becoming a member of the Dia de Los Muertos. To return to the Land of the Living, and his family, Miguel has to seek out Ernesto to get his blessing to return to life, and he needs to do so before dawn, or he will be stuck in the Land of the Dead.
While on the hunt for Ernesto, Miguel makes a new friend, Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal, who promises to help the young boy navigate the afterlife. In return, Miguel promises to help put out a picture of Hector in the Land of the Living. This is where the real story begins. Everything up to this part is the lead up to the real story. Miguel, in search of Ernesto, meets other family members in the Land of the Dead, including Mama Imelda, who will not give him a blessing to go back to the Land of the Living as a musician. She sends her spirit animal to hunt down Miguel before he reaches Ernesto in an attempt to control her family, even from beyond the grave. The boy refuses to give up and finds his own way to play music even in the almost afterlife as he searches for his dream and a way to make it come true, along with keeping his family, neither of which he is willing to give up for the other.
Miguel learns a lot about himself and the importance of family and friends. His own spirit animal, a stray dog named Dante from the Land of the Living, helps to pull him in the right direction, toward his real family and the importance of love. The ending is beautiful. Like most headstrong boys, Miguel needs to lean on his family for guidance, and his family also needs to learn to let go and forgive. By the end of the movie, the family learns to make music again.
The vibrant Mexican culture comes to life in this story of forgiveness and rich ancestral family. A few stunts are overdone. With so many skeletons on screen, bones scatter far too many times. But the family and effervescent nature of Miguel, coupled with all his co-stars, outweighs the minor negatives. Between the music, lights, and rich colors, “Coco” is a four-course meal for the eyes and ears. The limitations of the afterlife are the only other negative as it is set up too much like the living world but is still rich and imaginative. The family legacy is perfectly displayed in this version of the land of the dead.
Like most Disney•Pixar movies, a lesson is embedded into “Coco.” In this case, the lesson is the importance of family. Children today are so entranced by famous people they fail to see how empty their admiration can be for people in the spotlight who are undeserving of such unadulterated reverence when they have a family full of love who need to be upheld. The plot is a bit predictable, think Ratatouille in Mexico, but still worth the watch because of the emphasis on family and the colorful new tribute world created. The animated film goes to great lengths to show fear and tangible emotions about death, life, and love. One has to wonder if the real holiday this movie honors, is as vibrant and eloquent as the movie. Fill yourself up on turkey and stuffing then take the kids to the theater for a truly enjoyable flick.
In theaters Wednesday, November 22nd