Plot: Miguel loves music and can’t get enough of Ernesto de la Cruz, a legend of music that is admired by everyone in Migeul’s town. Almost everyone anyway, as Miguel’s family has outlawed music from their lives, after Miguel’s great great grandfather left his family behind to pursue his music. But Miguel still tries to sneak off and listen to music, even playing his own on his broken down guitar. After he learns that his great great grandfather was likely de la Cruz, he sets off to perform in a talent show and since he needs a new guitar, he sneaks in to borrow the legendary guitar of de la Cruz. But then things take an unexpected turn, as his actions have conjured some special Dia de los Muertos magic and he is transported to the Land of the Dead. He needs to be given a blessing from a family member in order to return home, but his relatives there refuse to bless him if he won’t abandon his music. So Miguel sets off to get a blessing from de la Cruz himself. But with a lot of wrong turns, mishaps, and colorful characters along the way, can he return home before sunrise or will Miguel be trapped in the Land of the Dead forever?
Entertainment Value: Coco is a return to form for Pixar, who had leaned too much on sequels in the years before this movie’s release. The narrative has a lot of work to do, as it needs to not only introduce characters and set the plot into motion, but it has to make sure the audience understands the culture and customs involved, so that is a lot of ground to cover. The writing is skilled and navigates all this well, getting all the right parts in motion, but never feeling slow or overly expositional, even as large doses of exposition are unreeled. Of course, the beautiful and entrancing visuals help keep things interesting, which never hurts. While there is a good amount of story involved, this feels less substantial than some of Pixar’s best movies, leaving us with a predictable, but still fun narrative. I was impressed by how well the Day of the Dead mythos was brought to life here, both in tradition and in literal presentation. The Land of the Dead is a stunning place and even if the storyline is a little by the numbers, the atmosphere is excellent and elevates the entire movie. A lot of effective humor, fun performances, and gorgeous visuals help ensure that Coco is a step back in the right direction for Pixar, even if it isn’t one of their best.
As I mentioned, the movie has incredible visuals and even by Pixar’s high standards, is a visual masterpiece. The Land of the Dead steals the show, with rich, deep locales that feature so many details and lights, it is hard to imagine how much work went into bringing all that to life. Just the distant shots of the area, with thousands upon thousands of lights, structures, and characters are beyond gorgeous, with little repetition and such a grand scope of location. The character designs are great as well, both the living and the skeletal residents. I was impressed by how unique and distinct all of the Land of the Dead residents were, as you might think so many skeletons would blend together, but that isn’t the case. I also loved the spirit guides, who were beautiful in motion and one of the visual highlights, at least for me. To see this world come alive was a pleasure and by visuals alone, Coco is highly recommended. The voice cast is terrific as well, with such folks as Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Edward James Olmos, Alanna Ubach, and others in fun roles. In the end, I had a lot of fun with Coco and it offers a solid story and some incredible visuals.