2017/Blu-Ray 2/ Digital HD/Mul
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In Disney/Pixar's vibrant tale of family, fun and adventure, an aspiring young musician named Miguel (voice of newcomer Anthony Gonzalez) embarks on an extraordinary journey to the magical land of his ancestors. There, the charming trickster Héctor (voice of Gael Garci a Bernal) becomes an unexpected friend who helps Miguel uncover the mysteries behind his family s stories and traditions.
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Unlike past Disney/Pixar movies I've seen, there are three layers of meaning integrated into this movie. The first layer is what every Disney story requires which are the characters, plot, visuals, settings etc. The second layer are the morals that Coco teaches, which any person watching the movie can learn from. These two alone are enough to call Coco a great Pixar movie in my opinion. However the third layer, which involves the integration of hispanic traditions and culture, is what makes this movie standout as special, memorable, and unique. As a Mexican-American, this movie holds a special place in my heart because so much of this movie feels real and familiar. From the family dynamic that Miguel shares with the family, to the chancla (sandal) smacking grandma, and especially because of the music, this movie feels saturated with Hispanic customs and way of life. It is obvious from the first scene to the last that Disney listened very well to their cultural advisors for this movie.
Being a Mexican-American, I've learned that various aspects of Life, Death, and Family are handled and understood differently between all ethnicities, backgrounds, and cultures. Coco involves several scenes in a graveyard, shows relatives returning from the afterlife as skeletal versions of who they once were, and has Miguel racing against the clock to return to his family before dying. These are cinematic occurences which some may not want to watch or explain to their children. My suggestion for anyone who hasn't watched this movie and is not of a Central/South American background is to be prepared and be open minded. Though some parts of the movie could seem farfetched, myself along with all the Hispanic adults and children watching the movie in theatres were mesmerized to watch something you can identify with as a person and as a community. For many, this movie is all about seeing the world through another's eyes, and that's wonderful in itself.
Ultimately, Coco is a fantastic movie worthy of the Pixar/Disney brand which every family should enjoy. Prior to release, my two concerns with the movie was that it would be a heartless Pixar version of the Book of Life, and that Disney would take advantage and exploit the Hispanic culture in a distasteful way. I'm glad to say that besides focusing on music and honoring the Day of the Dead , similarities ended between the two movies. I enjoyed The Book of Life, and had low expectations for Coco in comparison. The truth is (no disrespect to the movie or the people who made it) The Book of Life is enjoyable and relatable, not a cultural staple. Although both movies treated one of the most important Mexican traditions with dignity and respect, Coco's heartwarming interpretation will become an unforgettable treasure in the Hispanic community for generations to come.
Coco takes place in Mexico on Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) an important holiday in Mexican culture that is celebrated every year from October 31st to November 2nd (All Hallows' Eve, All Saints' Day, and All Souls' Day). Traditions connected with the holiday include building private altars called ofrendas where families display photos of those in the family who have passed on, often going back for generations, then honoring the deceased using calaveras (decorated skulls made of sugar), Aztec marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed, and also visiting their graves with these as gifts. Visitors also leave possessions of the deceased at their graves. It helps to know this as background for the story, though the film does a good job of showing all of this as it goes on. It's all centered around the importance of family and of remembering those who have gone before you.
Miguel Rivera (Anthony Gonzalez) is a 12-year-old boy who lives in a small rural village of Santa Cecilia with his elderly great-grandmother Coco (Ana Ofelia Murguía) and three generations of her descendants. Miguel's dream is to play the guitar someday, much like his hero, the famous Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), a nationally celebrated musician and actor who came from his village and whose mausoleum is a major attraction there. However, there is a problem. Many years ago, Miguel's great-great-grandmother, the formidable matriarch Imelda (Alanna Ubach) was married to a musician who left her and their young daughter Coco to seek his fortune writing songs and playing music... and never returned. Imelda turned to shoe-making to support herself and her daughter, and eventually shoe-making became the family business. She also began a ban on any and all music in the family - no singing, no guitar-playing, no musicians! - which has continued to this day, rigidly enforced by Miguel's take-no-prisoners grandmother (Renee Victor). All of this serves as a major obstacle to Miguel and his dreams. Miguel does practice in secret though, watching old movies of the great Ernesto and teaching himself how to play, and decides in spite of everything to enter a talent show for the Day of the Dead. A sequence of events however result in Miguel stealing Ernesto's guitar from the mausoleum, and the next thing he knows is that he's suddenly an invisible ghost to the living - but the returning dead can see him and he can now see them. Which in turn sets him on a journey across a mystical bridge from the land of the living to the land of the dead, a wondrously beautiful place but one from which he must quickly find a way to return before he ends up becoming one of the dead himself and having to stay there forever. He's helped along the way by a down-on-his-luck denizen named Hector (Gael García Bernal), who's in danger of being forgotten, and a number of other characters he encounters. His quest ultimately requires him solving a generations-old mystery and setting right a wrong that occurred long before he was born.
The musical score by Michael Giacchino (Up, Ratatouille) is as beautiful as the animation, shifting from lively to wistful as the scenes require, and young Anthony Gonzalez's singing voice gives heartfelt depth to Miguel's dreams of becoming a musician.
Highly, highly recommended for anyone who loves animation, great story-telling and characters that grab you by the heart and never let go.