Pixar’s latest animated film, “Coco”, is about the traditional Mexican holiday The Day of the Dead. Three years ago there was another animated film about this holiday – “The Book of Life”. So the challenge for Pixar was to take a different perspective on it, but stay true to the culture and live-up to the studio’s very high standards.
In some ways, “Coco” holds Pixar back from achieving greatness because director Lee Unkrich (“Toy Story 3”) and the writers take very few risks – likely in fear of tampering with the spiritual themes of the holiday. And so, this story about the dead doesn’t have much life to it.
Miguel is a young boy who dreams of being a famous singer – like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz (voiced by Benjamin Bratt). He’s essentially the Mexican version of Elvis – a singing sensation who also went into the movies before his untimely death. However, he’s still a big star – in the afterlife.
But Miguel’s family is completely anti-music. On the evening of the Day of the Dead, Miguel goes to Ernesto’s elaborate memorial tomb to borrow his guitar. When he takes the instrument, Miguel is suddenly transformed. He’s now able to see and talk to his deceased family members, who take him to the Land of the Dead. New friend Hector (voiced by Gael Garcia Bernal) helps Miguel find Ernesto. But will the boy discover what he’s looking for?
“Coco” is a spectacular-looking film. There are numerous colorful scenes, many in the Land of the Dead, where there are seemingly hundreds of characters doing hundreds of things, independently, each with their own distinct look and personality. And the landscapes are at times breathtaking. For once Pixar seemed to focus their attention more on visuals than on story.
This adventure is just too simple, and there’s hardly any humor in the script. There are several flat scenes – sometimes back-to-back. One mild twist does work, though it’s not amazing by any means. The Miguel character does keep us somewhat engaged. The creators are able to capture the essence of the ups and downs of this young boy.
There’s plenty of music, though because the main song, “Remember Me” is performed at least a half dozen times, it quickly becomes too catchy.
The most successful element of “Coco” is its emotional tug, a Pixar staple. The themes of remembering those from your past and the fear of being forgotten and rejected, will hit home.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Coco” gets a C+, putting it towards the bottom on the list of Pixar’s 19 animated features.
Running Time: 109 min.