Along with Adrian Molina, director Lee Unkrich follows his directorial debut Toy Story 3 (2010) with Coco, the much-lauded film centered around the Mexican holiday Día de Muertos.
Miguel is a young boy who wants to break from his family’s tradition of making shoes to become a musician. The only problem is that music was banned by his great-great-grandmother, whose husband left her and her daughter Coco to be a traveling guitarist. As luck would have it, Miguel decides on Day of the Dead to enter a music contest. Except he doesn’t have a guitar. So as he’s already breaking cardinal rules, Miguel steals a guitar from the mausoleum of legendary musician Ernesto de la Cruz. Well, wouldn’t you know it, stealing a guitar from the dead on Day of the Dead transports you to the Land of the Dead. Miguel must find his way home to the living before sunrise.
There are many things to love about this film. Its visuals are the best of any Pixar film and worth seeing on the big screen. The Mexican town is authentic; Pixar clearly did its homework. And parents need not worry that children will be scared by the skeletons or all that death talk.
But Coco is short on the humor and memorable characters usually found in Pixar films. Miguel is boring as the hero as are much of his relatives, both living and dead. The only really lovable character is his great-grandmother Coco who, film title aside, is only a tangential character.
There are also some questionable choices in the story. For one, there’s a strict border patrol between the two worlds. It would be nice if there were no TSA in the afterworld. Second, the dead can visit the living only if their picture is put on an ofrenda; simply remembering someone isn’t enough. Who knew the land of the dead was so bureaucratic? And, at times, the afterlife seems merely a nighttime version of the living world, both in appearance and in values. The afterlife has much of the same infrastructure as any city, and its residents still engage in idolatry and attempted murder. What’s the point in having an afterlife if it’s just more of the same BS?
As with Inside Out (2015), Pixar fell short of creating a new world. However, it successfully honors more earthly matters and cultures.