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I know I have said it many times in the past, but at this point, it really shouldn’t be a surprise when Pixar obliterates all expectations that have been placed upon it. The studio that has revolutionized the way we see family films over the past three decades has delivered yet another memorable, beautiful production. Based around the Mexican tradition of Dia de Muertos, COCO is a celebration of life, death, music, and family.

Twelve-year-old Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) lives in the small Mexican village of Santa Cecilia. He is the descendent of a long line of shoemakers, although he has no aspirations of following in his family’s footsteps. More than anything else, young Miguel wants to be a musician. He idolizes Ernesto de la Cruz, an incredibly popular singer/songwriter/actor who had perished long ago. Unfortunately, he cannot so much as hum a note in the presence of his family. This ban on all melodic merriment traces back to Miguel’s great-great grandfather, who abandoned his wife and daughter, Coco, to become a musician.

Furious that his family can dictate how his life should unfold, and convinced that he is related to de la Cruz, he attempts to enter a talent show on Dia de Muertos to prove to the world exactly what he can do. After his grandmother smashes his homemade guitar, due to her steadfast ban against music, Miguel breaks into Ernesto’s mausoleum, with the intent of borrowing his famous guitar. His actions, however, trigger a wholly unexpected set of consequences. His theft transports him to the Land of the Dead, where he meets many of his deceased relatives. Despite their adamant proclamations that he return to the Land of the Living, Miguel, along with the help of a bumbling skeleton named Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal) attempts to track down de la Cruz.

On paper, the Land of the Dead hardly seems like an appropriate setting for a family film. Inhabited by skeletons, it is a place where, had the film gone in a different, Tim Burton-like direction, could have been absolutely terrifying. In the loving, creative hands of Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina, however, it is the most spectacularly vibrant, colorful, beautiful film of the year. From the moment Miguel crosses the bridge to the Land of the Dead, a sprawling, awe-inspiring metropolis emerges. Filled with millions of lights and countless brightly colored dwellings, it is a staggering technical marvel, whether you have an affinity for animation or not.   

COCO does tackle a number thematic elements, obviously, as death is an imperative aspect of the story itself. There are a number of difficult sequences, but unlike the utter devastation that played out in BAMBI, in this particular film, death isn’t a tool used in the destruction of innocence. Instead, COCO introduces the world to a cultural celebration that is based solely on honoring and showering love upon those who are no longer with us. To Pixar’s credit, it couldn’t have been easy getting this story to the big screen. Not only was the scale of the animation staggeringly ambitious, but to tell an unconventional tale such as this is an incredible risk. Fortunately, like the studio often does, it delivered in every conceivable aspect. Like Tomm Moore’s 2014 masterpiece SONG OF THE SEA, you could take virtually any frame of COCO, and it could stand on its own as a work of art. It is impossible to grasp the full magnitude, and comprehend the full scale of its sprawling wizardry in one sitting.

Most importantly, COCO delivers lovable characters who are tender, tenacious, and often laugh out loud funny. Miguel is as likable and well-rounded leading character as Pixar has produced in years, and Hector delivers as the clumsy, lovable loser. The supporting characters are all top-notch as well, ranging from fiery to adorable and everything in between. For a film featuring thousands of skeletons, COCO is full of life, hope, and hubris. The theme of familial love stands at the crux of everything COCO stands for, and this dynamic is simultaneously heartwarming, heart-wrenching, and hilarious.



RUN TIME: 1 hr. 49 mins.

GENRE: Animation, Adventure, Comedy


Anthony Gonzalez,

Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt

DIRECTOR: Lee Unkrich

Writers: Lee Unkrich

A special thanks goes to Regal Cinemas at Destiny USA for allowing me to attend this month’s film.

Brian Miller