After a seemingly interminable Frozen short (“Olaf’s Frozen Adventure”), complete with pointless songs and a vapid story, the curtain finally rises on Pixar’s nineteenth feature film, the lavish and intoxicating Coco. Centered around Día de Muertos, the Mexican celebration that remembers the passing of loved ones, Coco is as beautiful as any Pixar film that has preceded it, and it lands near the tip-top of the Pixar pantheon; only Toy Story 3 and Wall∙E remain higher, for my money.
Directed by Lee Unkrich, who has had a hand in ten prior Pixar films (including Finding Nemo, which he directed), Coco is unquestionably the most “adult” of the bunch—tackling some pretty weighty issues, including murder, betrayal, and, well, the whole Day of the Dead thing, but that doesn’t mean there still isn’t enough kid-friendly fare to go around.
Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) is a small boy in Mexico, whose family works as shoemakers. His late great-great grandmother Imelda (Alanna Ubach), was once married to a famous Mexican folk singer, but he abandoned her and their daughter Coco to pursue his career, prompting Imelda to ban all music in the family. Several generations later, Miguel has secretly taken up the guitar, but when his grandmother (Renée Victor) finds out, she smashes it.
On the Day of the Dead, Miguel runs off to the tomb of Mexico’s most famous singer, Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt) and steals his guitar, which magically transports him to the Land of the Dead. There’s much, much more more to the story, including no shortage of red herrings, mistaken identities, and more than a few plot holes and fantastic coincidences.
To be honest it gets far more convoluted than it needs to be, and I pity any of children in the audience who made even a half-hearted attempt to sort out who’s who and what’s going on, but the foundation of Coco is a solid story, even if it requires the occasional explanatory whisper from mom or dad in the theater.
Fortunately there’s enough visual goings-on to keep even the smallest children glued to their seat in wide-eyed wonder. What Nemo offered in the way of colorful aquatic life and expertly rendered water, Coco does with candles and an the always-pleasing blue-orange palette. Unkrich famously spent seven years putting it together, from initial pitch to finished product, and his efforts paid off; virtually every frame is a wondrous piece of art that could be hung on a wall.
And though the story sputters occasionally, it has its heart in the right place, focusing on family and remembrance just enough without getting all sappy and gooey. Even the most cold-hearted cynic won’t be able to resist getting a little misty-eyed as Miguel figures out his past and races against the clock to save the memory of his loved ones.
As for those murder and betrayal bits, they’re handled with enough of a gentle hand that the youngest eyes in the audience (I would suggest that ages ten and up would be safe) can make it through largely unscathed.
The same, though, can’t be said of anyone (young or old) who has to sit through the twenty (yes, twenty!) minutes of Frozen-based dreck that precedes the film; if anything deserves to spend eternity in the Land of the Dead, it’s that.
Worth the 3D glasses?
Honestly, flip a coin. Sure, there’s plenty of 3D-ness to justify dropping the extra cash, but there’s also more than enough going on that doesn’t require 3D glasses. It’s a beautiful film, and whether or not your watching it though plastic novelty glasses doesn’t affect that.