In Coco, there’s betrayal, murder, heartbreak, and lots and lots of skeletons. There’s also humor, humanity, and some of the best visual gags in years. It’s a recipe that demands precise measurements of all ingredients lest the resulting concoction be a mess. And because it was cooked up in the labs at Pixar studios, there’s always a chance of it resulting in Cars 3 and not Ratatouille. It comes with the territoy. But Coco, a tender family saga steeped in the vibrant world of Mexican folklore, sees the studio high-form. It’s their best work since Toy Story 3.
Coco tells the story of a young Mexican boy named Miguel who dreams of dazzling the world with his guitar, much like his hero Ernesto de la Cruz, the most famous musician in Mexican history. The only hiccup? His grandmother and the rest of his shoemaking family have strictly forbidden music of any kind thanks to Miguel’s great-great grandfather running out on his wife and daughter to pursue his dream of being a world-famous musician.
The film features some of the most effective visual gags in recent memory and includes what may be the funniest onscreen death in movie history
After his family discovers his love of music and his intention to enter the town’s talent show, Miguel runs away on Dia de los Muertos, the one day of the year where the worlds of the living and the dead are connected. When he tries to “borrow” the famous guitar from de la Cruz’s grave, Miguel is whisked away to the Land of the Dead. Soon, he realizes if he does not get blessed by one of his dead relatives by sunrise, he will be stuck there forever.
A key ingredient in Pixar’s recipe has always been creating nuanced, interesting characters rendered in such a way that they feel like real people. Coco continues this wonderfully. In lesser movies, for instance, Miguel’s strict Abuelita would be reduced to a one-dimensional foil, but here turns out to be one of the most well-rendered and sympathetic figures in the entire film. Miguel’s sensitivity and genuine affectation are easily relatable. He’s a good, kind, kid who makes mistakes mostly because he’s led by passions he does not yet understand.
As it takes place within Dios de las Muerta and the spirit world, Coco must reference death quite often. And it does so with a trademark honesty and tenderness. Death is shown to be a tragic, natural part of life. But Miguel’s time in the Land of the Dead shows that even those who are gone can live on through our memories. Are some parts heavy? Without a doubt. But it’s all handled with a fine touch.
The visuals are so impressive you could easily love the movie by simply focusing on what’s going on in the background.
Plus, this being Pixar, the weight of any mature themes is counterbalanced by humor. The film features some of the most effective visual gags in recent memory and includes what may be the funniest onscreen death in movie history. Coco is especially strong in its surprising use of the skeletons of the dead, from a well-timed (and literal) jaw drop to a character lamenting the loss of their nose.
The movie’s greatest strength it’s the animation. If there is an animated film that looks better than Coco, I haven’t seen it. From the opening scene, Coco establishes an aesthetic that subtly builds to a peak when Miguel arrives at the Land of the Dead, the sprawling, colorful city where the dead spend the afterlife waiting for the next Día de Muertos. The visuals are so impressive you could easily love the movie by simply focusing on what’s going on in the background. See it on the biggest screen you can.
Coco is not without its problems, most of which can be traced back to its nearly two-hour runtime. Thanks to the slightly excessive length, the movie has some pacing problems and ends up dragging in the middle. It also features a few too many misdirects that eventually reach a point of diminishing return. But these are minor flaws. Coco is an incredible film.