Alternatively enchanting and moving, “Coco” is another lovely work from Pixar Animation Studios. Right from its very first scene, I was instantly charmed by its colorful style and vibrant spirit, and that was just the beginning of more things to enjoy and admire. While observing how it supremely works as a superlative visual experience full of rich cultural details to notice, I also found myself touched a lot by its deceptively simple but undeniably heartfelt drama about life, death, love, and family, and its overall achievement is more than enough to confirm to me that Pixar has lost none of its magic yet.
Its story revolves around a 12-year-old Mexican boy named Miguel Rivera (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez), who has aspired to be a musician like his legendary idol Ernesto de la Cruz (voiced by Benjamin Bratt) but has been hiding his aspiration from his family mainly due to the strong opposition from his grandmother Elena (voiced by Renée Victor). Since Elena’s grandfather left his wife and daughter a long time ago for developing his musician career, music has been strictly forbidden in the Rivera family for many years, and, as shown from a series of comic moments, Elena has diligently stuck to that tradition as the matriarch of her family. She and everyone else in the family expect Miguel to devote himself to their old shoemaking business which was founded by her grandmother, and he has been in fact working as a shoeshine boy in their small town.
Nevertheless, Miguel does not give up his hope of being recognized for his musical talent which has been appreciated only by a stray dog named Dante, and there soon comes a chance he cannot possibly resist. During the town festival held on the Day of the Dead, a Mexican holiday which has always been associated with Malcolm Lowry’s unforgettable alcoholic masterpiece “Under the Volcano” and its 1984 movie adaptation by John Huston in my mind, there will be a music contest which will draw many local musicians, and Miguel is quite eager to compete with them at that contest – especially after accidentally discovering one hidden thing about Elena’s musician grandfather.
Of course, his determination inevitably clashes with his family, and that only makes him more determined than ever. As he later looks for a guitar to use at the upcoming contest, it soon comes to his mind that there is a precious guitar preserved in de la Cruz’s mausoleum which happens to be right in the middle of the town cemetery, and he decides to borrow it for a while. After breaking into the mausoleum, he tries to play that guitar a bit, but that turns out to be a big mistake. He inadvertently puts himself in the boundary between his world and the realm of the dead, and he is certainly scared as his sight is filled with all those dead people coming to see their living families on the Day of the Dead.
Among those dead people, there are Miguel’s diseased family members, and they take him to their realm for taking care of his trouble. All they will have to do is giving a blessing to Miguel, but then Miguel refuses to follow a condition from Elena’s grandmother Imelda (voiced by Alanna Ubach), and that is how he comes to get involved with some dead guy who may help Miguel if Miguel helps him in exchange. In his spirited voice performance, Gael García Bernal clicks well with his plucky young co-star, and I was especially tickled by his certain humorous scene associated with a famous Mexican artist.
Never overlooking what is seriously being at stake for its young hero, the screenplay by director Lee Unkrich and his co-writers Jason Katz, Matthew Aldrich, and Adrian Molina, who is also the co-director of the film, joyfully bounces from one narrative point to another, and the film impresses us with lots of visual pleasures. While that huge bridge placed between the world of the living and the realm of the dead is definitely the most visually striking element in the film, there are also numerous colorful and humorous details shown from the realm of the dead, and I particularly like how the dead characters in the film are lovingly depicted with considerable individual personalities although they are basically a bunch of walking skeletons.
Within such a bountiful visual background like this, the family drama inside the story turns out to be more complex and touching than expected. There are some predictable narrative turns, but the film always finds unexpected ways to surprise and entertain us, and everything in the story eventually culminates to a rather modest but powerful moment, which has grown on me since the screening I attended during last evening and, in my inconsequential opinion, wonderfully exemplifies the power of good storytelling.
Like any good films associated with music, “Coco” is supported well by its fabulous soundtrack. While Michael Giacchino’s commendable score ably holds the ground, a number of various songs are effectively performed on the whole, and “Remember Me”, the main song of the film which is composed by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, certainly deserves to be remembered for how it is flexibly utilized throughout the film.
As many of notable works from Pixar Animation Studios did before, “Coco” shines with wit and imagination while also distinguishing itself with deft storytelling and sincere drama. While it may not be as great as “Wall-E” (2008) or “Inside Out” (2015), this is indeed another glorious triumph from Pixar, and I am certainly willing to revisit it someday.