Take in lush detail of ‘Coco’

December 2, 2017

As someone raised in a house where music was a constant, and as someone who revels in creating playlists for all my familial activities (only reggae is permitted on the boat!), it's hard to imagine growing up in a household like the protagonist of "Coco."

Young Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) lives in a small Mexican town with his family which, for generations, has banned music from being played, performed or even discussed in the household. Generations ago, a talented musician had abandoned his wife and child daughter Coco to pursue the spotlight, leaving the family tree fractured and pining over his loss. To fill the void, the family immerses themselves in the trade of shoemaking, trusting that Miguel will eventually follow in their footsteps.

Unfortunately, Miguel has a yearning to pursue the stage like his hero Ernesto de la Cruz (voiced by Benjamin Bratt), whose songs and films have a lasting cultural legacy in his hometown. He sees an opportunity at the local Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) talent competition to express his passion, but he winds up passing over into the Land of the Dead through a series of accidents.

Miguel is informed that he only has 24 hours in which to receive blessings from his deceased relatives to get back or he will be stuck there in limbo forever. While there, he reluctantly teams with Hector (voiced by Gael Garcia Bernal), who promises to help him if he carries back a picture to his own relatives so he will not be forgotten. You see, the dead suffer the ultimate blow of being completely forgotten and vanish into the ether once their ancestors no longer have memories of them. Hector realizes he is in jeopardy of being forgotten by his now-aged daughter.

This all may sound like heavy lifting for what could be classified as a kids' film, but we have to remember that we are in the hands of Pixar, the same company that made a hero out of a septuagenarian in "Up" and in the same film provided us with one of the medium's most enduring encapsulations of a relationship in a mere four-minute montage.

And, unlike many animated films, "Coco" does not rely on headliner names to lead the cast, but fills the roles with talented actors most viewers may not even recognize, but who add measured grace and authenticity to the story. It's a cultural milestone, really, with the studio not only featuring a Mexican protagonist, but saturating the film with the customs and traditions of the culture without once seeming craven or pandering. It's not a perfect film, as there are many unexplained elements, and the third-act "reveals" seem to come rapidly and rather unexpectedly, but many audience members will be too busy soaking in the neon glow of the set design (or soaking up their tears) and taking in the lush detail of the interiors and characters, that they will not notice these minor flaws.

A major flaw, unrelated to the film itself, is the decision to tack on the painfully long "short" "Olaf's Frozen Adventure." Apparently, Disney thought it would be a great idea to feature this endless, lifeless tale focusing on an affluent Norwegian family in front of "Coco." You will no doubt be more than happy to "let it go" so you can appreciate the beauty of "Coco."