Directed by Lee Unkrich
Screenplay by Adrian Molina and Matthew Aldrich
Story by Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina, Jason Katz and Matthew Aldrich
Starring Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Renee Victor, Alfonso Arau, Edward James Olmos
Culture is the hallmark of civilizations. It is a part of our language, our heritage and our families. Pixar and Disney have striven to embrace culture in all of their films. The beauty of culture is that it is ageless. And timeless, for it is not just for the living, but also for the dead, something that Lee Unkrich and his team explore in the new animated Pixar-Disney production, Coco.
Adrian Molina and Matthew Aldrich’s script (based on the story by Unkrich, Molina, Jason Katz and Aldrich) is centered around the Dia de Muertos holiday, as the Rivera family prepare to celebrate with offerings and photos of the dead. Music, however, is not allowed.
The film opens to vibrant cutouts depicting the Rivera’s history, where we learn of their discontent with music. Believing he was meant for more, young Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) avoids his family’s attempts to take up the family business, instead trying to get himself heard in a Dia de Muertos celebration. Instead, he ends up in the Land of the Dead and now must find a way to return to the living before it is too late.
Aside from the stunning visuals, the voice cast is first rate. Grandmother Abuelita (Renee Victor) is on fire as she absolutely forbids Miguel’s playing music. As Mama Coco, Ana Ofelia Murguia makes a memorable impression. In the land of the dead, Miguel’s relatives are just as supportive of his growth as his living relatives, as long as it doesn’t involve music. The centerpieces in the Land of the Dead are Gael Garcia Bernal as Hector, a charming trickster who knows how to help Miguel maneuver and Benjamin Bratt as the esteemed Ernesto de la Cruz, a recording artist and movie star who is as charming on the screen as he is in the afterlife.
The anchor of the film is Anthony Gonzalez as Miguel. He was perfectly cast to play this role, which required a steady, young voice needed to carry a range of emotions while still being able to carry a tune, and he does so very magnificently. Alfonso Arau, who is more familiar to American audiences as El Guapo in Three Amigos and Juan in Romancing the Stone, voices Papa Julio, Miguel’s great-grandfather.
One of Pixar’s enduring strengths is their animation. There were many times through the 3D screening where the images looked as real as a physical person standing next to me and it only continues to get better with each Pixar film. Pixar is also focused on characters, and Coco is replete with relatable characters. The music, both Michael Giaccino’s Mexican-inspired score and original songs performed by the voice cast truly immerse you in the holiday that this film celebrates.
Although the well-developed characters and the vibrant images wrap us up in the story, Pixar has a formula that works for them. And while it doesn’t detract from the overall feelings and emotions that they were going for, the narrative felt recycled. It’s a minor nitpick considering the amount of work and the level of detail they manage to achieve. For an original Pixar film, it is a strong entry in their legacy. I’m hopeful that they can expand on the formula with Incredibles 2 next Spring.
Already a hit in Mexico, Coco is undeniable fun and it will entertain families from around the world with its breathtaking CGI and its strong characters.
Ben’s rating 3 out of 4