One thing is for certain: You’re going to want to call your grandparents after seeing “Coco,” Pixar’s latest masterpiece. Centered on the Mexican holiday of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), “Coco” uses the vibrant colors and style of the holiday to spin an imaginative tale rich in tradition and culture, while beautifully celebrating family.
On Dia de los Muertos, families honor their ancestors with elaborate offerings of food, drinks and other gifts on decorated shrines as a way to keep the spirits of dead family members alive in the memories of their loved ones.
Using the holiday as an inspiration, co-directors and co-writers Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina spin a colorful tale about a young boy, Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), who desperately wants his family to understand his passion for music. It’s only after he unearths the truth about his family history that they understand why it’s so important to him.
Music has been forbidden in Miguel’s home ever since his great-great grandfather left the family to pursue his musical dreams. Armed with a few cryptic clues, Miguel deduces that his grandfather was legendary musician Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt) and plans to “borrow” a guitar from his tomb to play in a talent show.
But stealing from the dead plunges Miguel into a mysterious otherworld, a liminal space where he interacts with the dead souls who cross over to the living world on Dia de los Muertos. His deceased family members bring him across the bridge of flowers to the Land of the Dead, so Miguel can obtain a blessing to return home before sunrise. That sets off a wild adventure in which he tracks down de la Cruz with the help of wayward soul Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal).
The human world of “Coco” is wonderfully detailed and rich, but the Land of the Dead is where the magic truly happens. The spirits are friendly, clattering skeletons with decorated skulls and loosely connected joints. The neon-patterned animal spirit guides soar through the sky and breathe fluorescent fire. Bright marigold flowers serve as the symbolic and real bridge between the human and dead worlds. It’s a feast for the eyes.
“Coco” is a backstage musical, where all of the songs are presented in a theatrical setting, as part of the plot — characters aren’t bursting into song without provocation. Each song has a meaning, as Miguel summons his courage, conquers his stage fright and learns that songs can be the connection, the memory that connects the living and the dead.
For all of the stunning visuals and eye-popping delights of “Coco,” it’s all about the heart of the matter, and the film delivers. The filmmakers use the themes of family history, memory and legacy to create a tremendously moving story with an important message about honoring our roots. It’s a gorgeous, emotional film and another home run for Pixar/Disney.
Rated PG for thematic elements.