‘Coco’ gets it right

New Pixar movie explores different cultures


Photo courtesy of Pixar.com

Story by April Alvarado, staff writer

The Day of the Dead is meant to be a time for families to come together and honor their deceased ancestors while vibrant Latin music blends with the brilliant colors and dazzling designs. Directors Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina do a fantastic job in doing so in directing Pixar’s newest movie. “Coco” is a story of family and culture, of death and purity that will resonate with a wide range of audiences.

“Coco” follows the life of Miguel Rivera (Anthony Gonzalez), a 12-year-old Mexican boy from the small village of Santa Cecilia, Castile and León, who wants to follow his dream of pursuing music, despite his family not allowing him to do so. “Coco” is themed around the annual Mexican holiday, Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).

The movie begins with Miguel’s great-great-grandmother, Imelda (Alanna Ubach), founding the family shoe business to support her daughter, Coco, after her husband abandoned them to pursue a music career. After that incident, the Riveras choose not to tolerate musicians or music itself.

The movie soon jumps to present-day, where all the Rivera family members are involved in the shoe business, including Miguel as a shoe shiner, but his dream is to follow the footsteps of Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), a famous musician that passed away. Miguel secretly plays the guitar in his attic, watches movies of de la Cruz and plays his songs.

One day, Miguel sees a flyer about a talent show that the town will be hosting and it catches his interest. Through a series of strange circumstances, Miguel finds himself crossing over to the Land of the Dead, where he is pursued relentlessly by his deceased relatives who want to send him back.

Followed by his adorable street pup, Dante, over a bridge made of cempasúchil (Marigold), Miguel then finds himself in a glowing, multi-layered city where ghosts who look exactly like Dia de los Muertos skeletons are everywhere; their bony faces are vivid and emotionally expressionless.  

‘Coco’ is themed around the annual Mexican holiday, Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)

— Alvarado

There are a couple of present-day references in the film as well. For instance, the dead line up at Disneyland-like gates to get in and out of the Land of the Dead and the dead can return to the land of the living to see their loved ones only if their loved ones have remembered to put out their photographs in their ofrendas, Dia de los Muertos shrines filled with food and other offerings. A down-on-his-luck ghost, Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal), offers to help Miguel find de la Cruz so he can go back home if only Miguel will put his photograph in his ofrenda.

Miguel and Hector go on an adventure that includes a wonderful musical show with Gonzalez singing his heart out as Miguel. This movie will take you in directions you never expected. It contains betrayal, shocking revelations and tearful romantic reunions.

The climax is by far my favorite moment in the movie, and it’s also emotional. There’s nothing more moving than a child getting in touch with the ancestors he’s lost and creating a bond that can last for a lifetime. However, Hector’s backstory gives a glimpse of his past life with his daughter and his music to Miguel.

With “Coco” being Pixar’s latest animated movie, the company really expanded its wings and pushed into new territory, including betrayal and murder, without neglecting its family franchise responsibilities.

The Latino audience is getting bigger and bigger, and Disney acknowledges that. “Coco” comes across as a celebration of the ways culture can unite us across borders, even when those borders are between the dead and the living. “Coco” will definitely play on our heartstrings as much as the plot itself.