Coco: Mexican Realism Infuses Animated Family Pic with Uncommon Soul

By Kim Hughes

RATING: A

It’s daring to set a film intended for children in a mystical netherworld populated by the dead —who actually look dead, albeit in a gentle way — while your protagonist’s mortality slowly dwindles, his skin going from opaque to transparent.

But that’s Coco for you.

 Family matters on both sides of the spiritual divide...

Family matters on both sides of the spiritual divide...

The latest from the brain-trust at Disney’s Pixar studio succeeds twice: it drives home the importance of family amid murderous and scheming skeletons (and some very nice ones, too) and it trusts that long-held Mexican traditions surrounding death will seem sensible and not scary.

Little Miguel loves music, but his close-knit family has long banned it in deference to great-great-grandmother Mamá Imelda, whose domestic life was upended by her musician husband’s errant ways. Her daughter Coco, Miguel’s beloved but deteriorating great-grandmother, is the link between past and present.

On the sly, Miguel decides to enter a talent contest but his attempts to borrow a famous guitar, once owned by his idol (and possible great-great-grandfather) Ernesto de la Cruz magically transports Miguel into another world. There, amid Day of the Dead festivities, Miguel and his canine sidekick stumble on deceased family members who must send Miguel back to the world of the living before dawn. But first, some pressing issues must be resolved.

Coco is a lovely film, with fizzy songs sure to resonate with the small-fry and empowering messages about following dreams and helping friends. It’s also explosively colourful, and beautifully rendered, details that will charm parental guardians as well as their wide-eyed charges. And while there are some familiar names in the voice cast (Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Edward James Olmos, Cheech Marin, John Ratzenberger) showmanship is kept low. The focus stays on these delightful characters.

Coco. Directed by Lee Unkrich. Starring Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Renée Victor, and Edward James Olmos. Opens wide November 22.