Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote:
Patty: This is Selma taking a siesta.
Bart: Ay, caramba!
Brief Plot Synopsis: Child goes to the afterlife and it's actually not entirely tragic.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Four Conan O'Briens out of five.
Better Tagline: "That is not dead which can eternal lie / ¡Ay, mi amor! ¡Ay, mi amor!"
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Young Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) wants nothing more than to take up the guitar and become a musician like his idol, the famed singer Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). Unfortunately, music has been banned in Miguel's family since his great-grandfather left the family to pursue his own musical dreams. When he attempts to steal de la Cruz's guitar from his tomb, Miguel is transformed into a ghost. Meeting deceased members of his family (who have come to visit for Dia de Muertos) in the cemetery, Miguel learns he must travel to the Land of the Dead to find a way back to the world of the living. Ironic, yes?
"Critical" Analysis: It seems weird that it took until the 21st century to get a mainstream movie about the Day of the Dead that wasn't George Romero-related. Fox’s The Book of Life was (probably?) the first, and then you had the opening scene of the 24th James Bond movie, Spectre. Now we get Coco, and with the full court Disney/Pixar press, combined with the growing Latino population of the United States, it promises to be huge. But is it, you know, any good?
Admittedly, “good” is a pretty low bar to clear for any (non-Cars) Pixar movie, and Coco is quite enjoyable, if formulaic. The studio’s trademark excellence in animation is on full display, with first-rate character renditions and a phantasmagorical depiction of the Land of the Dead leading the way. There’s some excellent voice work on the part of Bratt and Bernal as well, and plenty of inside jokes both obscure and overt: the most persistent running gag involves Frida Kahlo, for example, and the great El Santo himself has an afterlife cameo.
It’s no mean feat giving personality to skeletons, but this is Pixar we’re talking about. The souls in the Land of the Dead naturally feature the decorations of the holiday, and fortunately all seem to have intact eyes. But director Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3) never lets the parade of calaveras and spirit animal alebrijes take away from the story, even when it goes somewhat unexpectedly dark as Miguel learns not everything he’s assumed about his family's past is true.
And unlike The Book of Life, which this movie has already been accused of gravy training, Coco features a much more intimate story. Miguel’s question for his great-grandfather’s blessing dovetails the standard Disney “follow your dreams” slug line with the Mouse House’s long-running focus on family (no, not that one). Fortunately for Miguel, his parents are both uncharacteristically still alive, though Coco is the one Disney movie where you can still (sort of) interact with your deceased mom and dad.
Unkrich and writers Adrian Molina and Matthew Aldrich spent a great deal of time in Mexico researching Dia de Muertos and the effort shows. There’s an authenticity to the “living” scenes in Miguel’s Mexican hometown and a reverence for the holiday’s traditions that makes Coco a refreshingly respectful and grounded portrayal of the culture.
Coco’s been in development since 2010, so its genesis can’t really be tied to any current political activities. The timing of its release couldn’t be better, however. America in 2017 feels like an increasingly dark and xenophobic place. Fear of the “other” is greater than at any time in recent memory, and while one movie isn’t going to change the climate at the top here in the United States, let's hope younger people experiencing the joys of another culture will help prevent them from becoming the kind of racist shitbags that run our country today.