Movie Review: Coco

Voices by: Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt

Directed by Lee Unkrich

Running Time 1hr, 49min, PG

My Rating: A

Aside from a couple misguided sequels, Pixar has never made a bad movie. And this year’s “Coco” (2017), as much a celebration of one’s coming of age as it is a celebration of Mexican culture and folklore, continues the studio’s 19-picture hot streak most of us have likely taken for granted.

In the movie, we find our protagonist in Miguel Rivera (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez), a precocious 12-year-old who dreams of someday becoming a famous singer-songwriter. If he were part of any other family, such an aspiration would likely be supported. But this brood isn’t just unsupportive of Miguel’s artistic inclinations – they’ve also completely banned music from the household.

This might seem dramatic. But the Riveras have a convincing reason for despising anything melodic. A few decades ago, the family’s matriarch (Alanna Ubach) was married to a musician who eventually dumped her and their child to pursue his career. As such, the Riveras have associated years of unhappiness with the art form.

Understandably, this ban is something Miguel will not accept. Blessed with lightning-fast fingers and an impressive lyrical ability, he knows that his love of music is something that cannot be tucked away.

Without anyone in his family willing to support him, he finds solitude in his own unofficial secret hideaway. There, he spends time with his guitar, the neighborhood dog, and old movies starring music legend Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), to whom Miguel looks up.

The movie starts just as the Día de Muertos holiday is beginning, and this coincides with Miguel’s decision to try to enter a celebration-centric talent show to win both his village’s and family’s approval. This hits a snag, though, when his grandma smashes up his guitar in a fit of rage.

Desperate, he breaks into de la Cruz’s tomb thinking he’ll be able to get his hands on the singer’s famed guitar without anyone noticing. But this unleashes a sort of quasi-curse. Before he can so much as admire the instrument’s sound, Miguel finds himself invisible to everyone in the area – except for the visiting spirits. He has, it seems, temporarily become a ghost. He’s informed that the only way things can return to normal is if he gets a blessing to return to the living world from someone who resides in the Land of the Dead.

His deceased family members are more than willing to aid him, but there’s a catch: they’ll only help him return to Earth in his boyish form if he stays away from music. This, of course, won’t do. So he sets out to find the spirit of de la Cruz, whom he’s come to believe just might actually be the great-great grandfather who purportedly ruined his family’s life.

Such kickstarts a magnificently entertaining journey, the pit stops delightful and the animation high concept and stunningly beautiful. Indeed, this is one of Pixar’s most fanciful features, Miyazaki-esque in its whimsy and humor.

And it is also among its most touching. Though the studio’s no stranger to making movies that almost always cater to the you’ll-laugh-and-you’ll-cry formula, “Coco” earns its misty eyes and its grins.

Backed by a well-cast, all-Latinx voice ensemble, “Coco” is the best family movie of the holiday season. And in our times of unyielding civil strife, a film as feel-good as this one makes for the shot of dopamine I’m sure most of us need to set the new year off on the right foot.

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