COCO (2017) opens ins a small Mexican village on the eve of Día de Muertos. The Rivera Family makes shoes and cobbling it has been a family business for generations. Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) spends his days shining shoes, because idle hands, etc., but deep down believes music lives in his soul and he wants desperately to be a famous musician like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). The problem, of course, is music is a forbidden activity in the Rivera Compound. Matriarch Imelda (Alanna Ubach) built the family shoe business from nothing after her husband (whose name isn’t even spoken) left their family to become a world-famous singer. As his family prepares for Día de Muertos celebrations, he finds a clue in the old movies of Ernest de la Cruz linking his family to his idol, and he breaks into the dead man’s crypt. This magical act of vandalism and larceny send him through the Vale of the Dead, in search of a blessing from a direct kin to not only give him permission to play but send him home to the Living. With his street dog, Dante and hapless and completely unwilling guide, Hector (Gael García Bernal), Miguel discovers why oral family history is often full of holes and why the dead are never to be forgotten.
Hector has a patchwork story of his own and is desperate to get back to see his own family again. The problem is he can’t just walk that golden bridge connecting the living and the dead because his picture is missing from his own family’s ofrenda, which is an ancestral altar full of things the deceased once loved. To the dead, being remembered is everything, it has its own life, and Hector is in danger of being forgotten and disappearing forever. Miguel only has until sunrise to get out before he’s trapped forever. They have to work together so neither will become lost to time.
You cannot come away from this film without a complete understanding of why Día de Muertos is more than an excuse to paint your face like bright sugar skulls and drink a lot (the way most Americans have co-opted other cultural holidays and watered them down to bad cosplay and booze). It’s a holiday of family and heritage and reflecting on how you came to be. Pixar took this cultural education one step further and hired Mexican actors to voice all of the characters (I’m looking at you KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS ) and musicians to give the soundtrack an authentic feel. This story is bright and extensive and while based on a Latino-holiday, has themes that resonate regardless of your background.
If you’re looking for a movie to take the family to over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday, and want to skip the vulgar “comedies” and loud action movies, I’m giving you my word that there is no better movie to see than COCO. It’s nearly 2 hours long, but there are no soft points in the movie that make it feel like 109 minutes. Use discretion with littles under 5 if they can’t sit still that long, but it’s so colorful and bright, even the most fidgety urchin can’t help but be captivated.
COCO (2017) is Rated PG for colorful skeletons that may frighten wee ones, the “death” of skeletons, Abuelita Elena’s indiscriminate use of her shoe, and adults behaving badly.