Get ready to have all the heartstrings pulled, it must be time for another Disney/Pixar film: Coco. Based on the Mexican holiday of Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead), the story follows a 12-year old Miguel who sets off a chain of events relating to a century-old mystery, leading him to an extraordinary adventure and family reunion.
Miguel loves music. He is self taught and very talented. But his family has one rule in the house: no music. Many years ago Miguel’s great-great-grandfather left his family to achieve his musical dreams, thus banning music for generations. Due to plot, Miguel is under the impression that he is related to his idol and the towns’ one and only star, Ernesto de la Cruz. Needing to play in the towns’ music completion, he takes Ernesto’s guitar. Once a note is played he is transported to the Land of the Dead, an afterlife dimension where the deceased people come to visit their relatives on Dia de Muertos every year.
After being transported to the Land of the Dead, Miguel finds his dead relatives and Imelda, the matriarch of the family who started the ban on music many generations ago. Needing to get her blessing so he may return to the Land of the Living, Miguel must promise not to play music. He has until dawn to convince Imelda there’s nothing wrong with music before he becomes a ghost and stays in the Land of the Dead forever. He refuses and escapes though the Land of the Dead, leading him on a grand adventure full of humor, song, color and extraordinary artistry representing the Mexican people and their traditions.
Representation matters! And here it is in all its glory, a holiday and its customs many people outside of Mexico and bordering states have never heard of. It’s a beautiful holiday where on November 2nd each year families make alters and place ofrenda (offerings) or a collection of objects and food that the deceased enjoyed in life. The deceased familiy members then come and visit their family at a huge celebration of food, drink, music and skull decorations.
Death isn’t something to be feared. Instead, death is seen as a natural cycle of life. The holiday helps the living celebrate the loved ones who have passed: Family members participate by painting skull faces on themselves to scare the dead away at the end of the festivities. But in modern-day, the people paint their faces to represent loved ones or an expression of themselves. Whatever the reason someone celebrates this holiday it’s full of love, remembrance and beautiful creativity.
The film is one of the first animated features to use 90% Mexican and Mexican-American voice talents. You can hear the joy in each actor’s voice, that they knew this was an important story to tell representing an entire country. And Disney/Pixar takes you and immerses you into another tradition in a brilliant way.
Newcomer Anthony Gonzalez wonderfully plays Miguel. He manages to carry the weight of the movie with just his voice. For someone so young he makes you believe he has years of wisdom. In the Land of the Dead, Miguel befriends Hector, a charming trickster who enlists his help. Gael Garcia Bernal provides the voice for Hector: he is funny, quick witted and a real treat for the movie. Hector is a great character: down on his luck and will do anything to cross into the Land of the Living to see his family one last time. Together they make a great duo.
The whole cast is pretty solid, each getting their own time to shine. The two who stood out were Renee Victor as Imelda and Benjamin Bratt as Ernesto de la Cruz. Each plays a very strong character and must try to force Miguel into what they think is best. Each brings something special to their role. It’s hard to say what it is specifically that makes their performances so good, but hopefully when you see it you’ll feel the same.
This movie is beautiful from top to bottom, full of life and color. Each scene moves and is alive, some of the best animation I’ve ever seen. You feel the joy from the environments Miguel interacts with. Much love and research was put into making this movie one to be proud of. The movie is a wonderful addition to the Disney/Pixar catalog and a great piece of pure art to show the world a wonderful Mexican tradition that a whole country and people can be proud of.