Pixar movies are known for their exquisite animation. Pixar movies soar when they have excellent stories (the Toy Story trilogy). Coco, Pixar’s moving and authentic dive into Mexican culture, soars.
Set in Mexico during Dia de los Muertos, the boy Miguel longs to become a musician, an avocation his family forbids because a musician ancestor once abandoned the family. He tries to follow his passion, but becomes trapped in the world of the dead. He must get the blessing of a dead family member to return to the living. Just when we think we know the score, there is an unexpected plot twist.
The colors of the Mexican town in daytime perfectly capture the look and feel of Mexico. But the scenes in nighttime and in the world of the dead, explode on the screen, and it’s hard to decide which is the most spectacular. There’s an overhead shot of the town cemetery on the night of Dia de los Muertos, with the glow of candles from every grave. The worlds of the living and of the dead are separated by a bridge of flowers made out of marigold petals. And then there’s Pepita, a giant winged panther in the world of the dead.
The exploration into Mexican culture is authentic because it is so firmly anchored to the Mexican sense of family. There are no stereotypes here, and all of the characters look far more Mexican than do many faces on Spanish-language television. There are many inside chuckles, such as the character of Ernesto de la Cruz perfectly capturing the Mexican singing movie star of black and white films. There is, of course, the focus on the Mexican version of Dia de los Muertos with its ofrendas and criaturas.
The three main adult characters are superbly voiced by Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt and Alanna Ubach. We also hear the voices of Edward James Olmos, Cheech Marin and Luis Valdez. The only decidedly non-Latino voice talent is John Ratzenberger, who has still voiced a character in every Pixar film.
Emotionally moving, culturally authentic and visually stunning, Coco is splendid in every way. Coco is the best Pixar film in years and one of the best movies of the year.