"Coco" is magnificent storytelling! It honors families everywhere and the importance of being remembered by them. I recently lost one of my dearest friends and her family celebrated her life by having those closest to her share their favorite stories and thoughts of her. And like the traditions highlighted in "Coco", it's a wonderful way to keep those memories alive.
Miguel Rivera (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) is a 12-year-old boy with big dreams. He has taught himself to play the guitar by hiding out in his family's attic, and aspires to become a famous musician like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz (voiced by Benjamin Bratt). Unfortunately for Miguel, his entire family strictly forbids music of any kind.
His great-great-grandparents had a daughter named Coco and lived in the small town of Saint Cecilia in Mexico, where Miguel still lives today with his extended relatives. But Miguel's great-great-grandfather left behind his wife and child to pursue his dream of becoming a well-known musical artist. When he failed to return, his great-great-grandmother, Mama Imelda, banned music in their home forever.
Now poor Miguel must hide his musical prowess from those he loves. He plans on competing in a talent show held in the lovely square in Saint Cecelia each year on the Day of the Dead. His grandmother or "abuelita" (voiced by Renee Victor) learns of his intent and smashes his guitar to pieces.
To salvage his place in the contest, Miguel must find another guitar, an act which magically transports him and a street dog named Dante, a Xolo dog, the national canine of Mexico, to the Land of the Dead. Miguel is immediately seized upon by Hector (voiced by Gael Garcia Bernal), a gangly skeleton or "calaca", who vows to help Miguel find Ernesto de la Cruz if Miguel will carry his photo back to the Land of the Living. A harrowing chase ensues when the Rivera ancestors try to prevent Miguel from reaching de la Cruz. And in the end, it is only Mama Coco (voiced by Ana Ofelia Murguia) who can save both Miguel and Hector.
There is an awful lot going on in "Coco". You've got the Land of the Living, the Land of the Dead and the Marigold Bridge --- a stunning connection between these two worlds. Covered in mystical marigold petals, a technological wonder utilizing a new technique called a particle light, this bridge can only be traveled by residents of the Land of the Dead who are still remembered by those in the Land of the Living.
Because "Coco" takes place in Mexico, the Pixar filmmakers spent years studying the splendid culture, traditions --- and especially the music of our southern neighbor. They were driven to create all facets of "Coco" as genuine and their success is evident in every aspect of this movie. "Coco" is a visual feast --- in both worlds. The animation is superb.
Many times I was struck by the genius of the animators --- not just the magical petals on the bridge, but also by something so simple as Miguel swimming. The artists' work is so smooth and unfettered that we can easily forget that "Coco" is animated.
Gonzalez, who was also 12 when "Coco" was filmed, is amazing as the voice of Miguel. Co-directors Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina were thrilled to find a boy who could relate to Miguel's love of family and music. Gonzalez was four years old when he began playing mariachi tunes, so he easily personifies the character of Miguel.
Disney-Pixar has created many wonderful films, and "Coco" ranks up there with the best. It should easily win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, but in reality, it should be a contender for Best Picture, period.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!
Pixar/Disney exec John Lasseter is often involved in animated feature films that generate deep emotional responses from its viewers. "Toy Story 3" was such a movie, and now we have "Coco".
According to Lasseter, it was Walt Disney who said "For every laugh there should be a tear." And in Lasseter's own words, "I love movies that make me cry, because they're tapping into a real emotion". I completely agree with Lasseter. That's why "It's A Wonderful Life" continues to be my all-time favorite film.
"Coco" is the tale of a 12-year-old Mexican boy who loves music, and plays a "mean" guitar to prove it. Problem is his family has put a ban on music for what they consider an iron-clad reason.
When I accompanied Jeanne to our Saturday morning screening, I didn't know what to expect. What I really didn't anticipate was to have tears running down my cheeks at the end of the picture. What a wonderful thing --- to have an animated story so powerful that it reduces an adult man to tears.
"Coco" has everything a film lover could want --- splendid animation, great score, and an intriguing story that unfolds in the most unexpected ways. Veterans Benjamin Bratt and Gael Garcia Bernal lend their voice talents to two of the main characters, and young Anthony Gonzalez is fabulous as the voice of 12-year-old Miguel, the absolute star of "Coco".
One small example of the awesome animation: when Miguel's grandmother chastises him for daring to like music, her flabby underarm skin quivers like jelly. "Coco" has supplanted my most recent choice for best film of the year, "Last Flag Flying". And it's not a stretch to speculate that this movie --- while a lock for a Best Animated Feature nomination --- is a legitimate contender for Best Picture.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!