What doesn’t Coco do well? Seriously! I watched it, really enjoyed it, and came out of it without a whole lot to criticize. The worst parts of Coco happen before the feature film even begins. Attached to it in many parts of the world (but not in Mexico, anymore, after audiences complained) is a Frozen short. It’s “short” in designation alone; it’s 21 minutes long and was initially developed to appear on television. It should have stayed there. It’s thin, repetitive, and overstays its welcome. It plays before Coco. You go into the feature on a down note.
It doesn’t take long for Coco to pick you back up, and I’m not using the Frozen short as a criticism of Coco. But it is a poor decision on Disney‘s part to do this, hoping the allure of more Frozen will drive more people to see this movie. Coco is a home run nearly from start to finish. It also might be the first Pixar movie to openly talk about murder—even using that specific word. If it happened before, I can’t remember it, and it certainly surprised me when it happened here.
The film follows Miguel (voice of Anthony Gonzalez), a 12-year-old who lives in a small Mexican village. His family makes shoes and has done so for a few generations. They also hate music, as Miguel’s several-greats grandfather deserted his wife to go play music. That’s placing the blame in the wrong area, but whatever. Miguel believes he was born to play music. He steals (“borrows”) the guitar of a famous musician from his town, Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), to play in a talent show and winds up being transported to the Land of the Dead. He has to go on an adventure and find his way back before sunrise, lest he remain there forever.
The Land of the Dead is a magical place. Miguel gets to meet his family dating back several generations. He gets to encounter Ernesto de la Cruz. He teams up with a trickster named Hector (Gael García Bernal) who promises to help him out in exchange for putting up Hector’s photo. See, those in the Land of the Dead wait all year for Día de Muertos, which is when they’re allowed to cross over to our world, for one day. But they can only do it if someone puts their photo up. And if everyone who’s alive forgets about them, they disappear from the Land of the Dead forever.
Coco‘s a joy from start to finish.
Movies like Coco are perfect examples of why everyone should be championing diversity in film. We’ve seen “kid inadvertently goes somewhere and needs to return home before [time]” stories before. We haven’t seen it done with this culture and with these characters before. It’s a fresh coat of paint on a story we’ve seen a dozen times. That’s enough to keep the plot fresh in our eyes and one of the ways it keeps us from getting bored.
That isn’t the only thing working in its favor, but it is one of them. Of course, it also throws in gorgeous animation—the Land of the Dead is incredibly beautiful, in particular—solid voice acting, a couple of strong songs, and a more touching theme about the importance of music and family, the latter of which would make Vin Diesel shed a tear—both because it’s emotionally involving and because it does it far better than Diesel’s own family-centric franchise has been able to pull off.
This all leaves me looking for problems, and I’m largely coming up empty. The story is still a little bit generic, even with the fresh paint over it, and it tries to surprise us with a twist that isn’t going to fake out many people over the age of six. Apart from that? Sorry, folks, but I’ve got nothing. Coco‘s a joy from start to finish. And I mean when it actually starts, not when the cinema lights dim and you’re subjected to a Frozen short.
Conclusion: Coco is a delight.
Recommendation: Watch Coco.