Using music to navigate a familiar theme of the rebellious kid, Coco journeys through the land of the living and the dead with a healthy sense of self-awareness that keeps things emotionally engaging.
Along the way, notable figures and traditions – often used as pop culture props – take the spotlight and are reoriented to their rightful cultural place. It may have taken an uproar and controversy after Disney pulled some tone-deaf (read: massively stupid) moves, but the final version of Coco is more rooted in the culture from which it’s vivid tale arises. Coco does a great job of mixing the magical and practical traditions with recognizable family drama and disagreement.
Miguel is a young boy with a love of music and the desire to be a musician. The only problem is, he’s growing up in a close-knit family unit with only one hard-and-fast rule, NO MUSIC. The ban on music is multi-generational and non-negotiable. No one in Miguel’s family (living or dead) wants to hear about his dream of singing and playing the guitar. His dreams and ambition are pitted against his family’s traditions. It makes for a story that’s highly relatable and emotional – possibly more so because of the animated storytelling elements.
Miguel’s expected to join the family business and settle into a music-free life. The onscreen dynamic is loving, smothering, and has a familiar feeling that older audience members will relate to even as young watchers are lured in by the bright colors and the easily accessible world. There’s more than one theme vying for center stage in Coco but they all balance one another and come together to tell the story of a family that’s visually and contextually relatable.
His elders feel they have good reasons to steer the family clear of music and musicians; but once Miguel discovers what he believes to be a connection between his family and his hero, music legend Ernesto de la Cruz, he acts impulsively to challenge his family’s rules and triggers a curse that takes them all on a journey deep into the land of the dead and their own past.
Miguel must travel through the Land of the Dead to undo the curse, before sunrise, but things become more complicated when he again runs face first into his family’s aversion to music. He runs away from them in search of his hero and what he hopes will be unconditional support. The story is simple in the best Disney/Pixar way possible. By that I mean there are jokes, high jinx, touching moments and a mystery that everyone can see coming from ten miles away but unfolds in a way you’re interested in watching play out. The music does a wonderful job of keeping this film moving forward at a quick pace and adding subtle cues and flavor to the storytelling.
Without overplaying its hand, Coco reveals and explains many story elements and cultural themes as the mystery of Miguel’s past unfolds. Their importance to tradition and culture add a depth and humor to what’s essentially the story of a boy running away from home and head-first into trouble.
The entire mystery is woven around Dia De lost Muertos and the tradition of welcoming/celebrating one’s ancestors who’ve returned to visit from the Land of the Dead. These elements of myth, legend, and culture aren’t a gimmick. I was amused and fully engaged by this film’s witty moments. Unlike too many other movies, Coco feels like its coming from an authentic place and hopes to tell its story while honoring closely held and deeply cherished Mexican tradition. Every frame is colorful, vibrant, and breathtakingly full of life. This family dynamic and traditions are the glue that holds this magical tale together.
Coco has a message and multiple morals to its multi-layered story but when it’s all said and done, Coco is about family.
It’s perfect for a trip to the movies after you wake up from plate three of Thanksgiving dinner.
Overall Rating: 4 out of 5