If you are looking for a wonderfully crafted animated movie that all ages can relate to, Pixar has set the standard over the years. Recent films such as Inside Out, Toy Story 3, and Finding Dory displayed the flexibility of the animation studio. Somehow, the studio continues to put out excellently crafted films that children find fun and adults can relate to on some level. Their most recent release, Coco, is no different as a young hero learns about life, death, and the importance of family.
All his life, Miguel (voiced by newcomer Anthony Gonzalez) has had a passion for music. His family, on the other hand, has a iron-clad displeasure for it: Ever since his great-great-grandfather abandoned the family decades ago to pursue a musical career, every descendant has shunned both his tainted memory and any melody that happens to breeze by an open window of their home. They are practical shoemakers, not dreamers. However, the idealistic and tenacious 12-year-old has a song in his heart and determined to not let it die as his fingers ache to play the strings of a guitar. Like every hero on a quest, he will find away to reach his dreams.
Coco’s story focuses on Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), the annual Mexican celebration to remember the dead. In Miguel’s case, it’s a literal bridge between the living and the dead. In his singular pursuit of his musical dreams, Miguel finds the instrument belonging to his hero, spangled and celebrated troubadour Ernesto de la Cruz (voiced by a suave Benjamin Bratt) and unwittingly crosses to the other side. While he is still technically alive, Miguel won’t remain that way in the land of the dead – if he cannot win an ancestor’s approval and find his way before sunrise, his little adventure will become a permanent one.
There is an undeniable charm as Coco crosses a turning point that most animated movies don’t cross: dealing frankly and cheerfully with death. There are moments of Pixar inspiration and imagination (from a campy battle of the bands, a lovable blockhead, and bright clinking skeletons). The swirl of color and culture on the screen matches the sharpness of the narrative, carrying the story along so that the topic of death doesn’t weigh on the mind of the audience. Coco finds its place among Pixar’s better films, but not its best; something gentle and sweet, despite playing it safe with the status quo. It definitely makes a case for Best Animated Movie when Oscar season arrives.