Coco: Next Level, by Rudie Obias
Pixar is known as an animation studio that specializes in out-of-the-box family movies like The Incredibles, Up, and the Toy Story trilogy. And with Coco, Pixar goes a bit further with stories that are fun for the whole family with a very creative and eye-popping trip to the afterlife. While Pixar has certainly been hit or miss over the years with questionable efforts like Monsters University and Cars 3, Coco is definitely one of the better movies from the studio this past decade.
Set in a fictional Mexican village called Santa Cecilia, Coco follows a 12-year-old boy named Miguel who is part of a family of shoemakers that hates music because his great-great-grandmother married a musician who abandoned them to pursue fame and fortune. They have a very strict rule that music is not allowed in the house. The only problem is Miguel doesn’t want to make shoes, he wants to be a musician.
When trying to perform in his town’s talent show during Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), Miguel “borrows” a guitar from his hero Ernesto de la Cruz, the most famous musician in Mexican history who died nearly 100 years ago. Once Miguel plays the guitar he is automatically transported to the afterlife where he’s reunited with his deceased family members, as he tries to find a way back home before he’s trapped forever.
While Coco is a very enjoyable journey through the afterlife full of great characters and fun moments, the story is very formulaic and structured like a video game with side quests and mini-missions. The plotting relies heavily on a “point A and point B” structure that keeps an audience engaged in spurts. Often times, Miguel has to accomplish “A” to get to “B” and once at “B” he has to accomplish “C” to get to “D” and so on and so on. It makes the movie over-complicated while it seems that it could’ve been simplified for a more meaningful adventure.
However, one of the reasons why Coco works is its strong characters and very talented voice cast, which includes Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Ana Ofelia Murguia, and Anthony Gonzalez, who voices Miguel. He’s a child actor who centers the movie with real urgency and pathos. I was invested in the story mostly on the strength of Miguel’s desire to be a musician, as he comes around to understanding the real meaning of family and the holiday Día de Muertos. Once he’s in the afterlife, he befriends a charming trickster Hector, who is in danger of “dying” because his memory in the real world is about to fade away. Once the living forget about their dead relatives, they cease to exist in the afterlife.
Thematically, Coco shows the importance of family, while respecting the elderly and remembering the dead. It’s not too often family films highlight the elderly as an important link between the past and the present, but Coco does it in a way that’s not heavy handed, but rather fully inspired and sincere. While there are some scary and disturbing moments for children (and even adults), Coco is one of those rare kids movies that talk up to their audience, as it doesn’t need to pander to edgy and hipster sensibilities. It’s wholesome and charming and packs a hard emotional wallop, despite its shortcomings.