Pixar pays tribute to Mexican culture in Coco, the first of its kind.
In the land of the living, the movie starts with a prologue using papel picado (chiseled paper flags) banners and silhouette animation. This ends at the Rivera ofrendas (altar commemorating deceased loved ones), in which we are introduced to a family of humble shoemakers with a boy who wants to break from tradition.
Miguel ends up crossing an orange marigold bridge to the land of the dead, a fully realized world of skeletons with painted skulls, glowing stacked houses, and flying alebrijes (fluorescent pattern coated animal spirits).
The rules are easy enough to follow for the kids. The dead go through an airport-like checkpoint – managed by a 50’s vintage-inspired immigration office – to go back and forth between two worlds. The dead exist by the memories of the living, whom they can visit as long their pictures are put up during the Day of The Dead.
Past the well-intended imagery, Coco marches to the routine beats of Pixar that it fails to make the most of the movie’s potential.
While the imagery here is gorgeous, the movie doesn’t take advantage of Dia de los Muertos’ Macabre iconography that was better utilized by The Book of Life. With Mexico’s penchant for music and festive spirit, it’s a missed opportunity that Coco isn’t a musical. The film’s main song, “Remember Me” – made by the same composers of Let it Go – fits its tear-jerking scene to a tee but its a bland ballad on its own.
The plot proceeds like clockwork that you’ll have an idea of what’s going to happen the moment perfunctory characters (the voice-acting is great at least) are introduced.
As per Pixar’s routine storytelling, the movie deals with destiny and desire as Miguel defies his family to be a musician. Accompanied by a Xolo aptly named Dante and a gangly con artist named Hector, he goes on a quest in a magical underworld to meet his idol and go back to fulfill his dreams in the land of the living. The man, of course, isn’t what Miguel thinks he is, and suddenly you have a telenovela – in a fitting black and white reveal – involving reckless ambition.
In the end, we have the standard-issue emotional resolution. In fairness, it is still well earned. The plot efficiently builds up to this moment that it could still stir affections from anyone who has a grandmother, no matter how predictable it looks for adults familiar with Pixar movies.
Despite its stale offerings, Coco is executed well to work for kids. It’s not going to pull any surprises for the adults who will accompany them in the cinema, but this adventure tale is enough for a family weekend regardless of the occasion.
Coco reminds us about the ties that bind families together – compromise, sacrifice, forgiveness – as well as the bonds that make it last forever – memories of and respect to those who came before you.
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