Pixar mostly succeeds with the gorgeous ‘Coco’

Miguel explores afterlife bureaucracy in Coco.
Photo: Disney / Courtesy

Three and a half stars

Coco Voices of Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt. Directed by Lee Unkrich. Rated PG. Now playing citywide.

The best Pixar movies give viewers a childlike sense of wonder and discovery, even if those viewers are cynical adults who can’t stand children. The animation studio’s new Coco doesn’t quite achieve that level of astonishment for its entire running time, but it does have plenty of moments that will bring a smile to the face of even the most hardened moviegoer. It’s also a welcome original story from a studio that has been a little too focused on mediocre (yet lucrative) sequels in recent years.

Set in a small Mexican town, Coco is inspired by the Mexican Dia de los Muertos holiday, in which families display photos of dead loved ones and leave food and other offerings for their spirits. It’s on that day that young Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) decides to defy his family’s edict against music and perform in a local talent competition, inspired by his idol, the legendary musician Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). Because Miguel’s great-great-grandfather abandoned his family to become a musician, leaving behind a wife and daughter (the Coco of the movie’s title), the family has considered music a curse for generations. It turns out to be a literal curse for Miguel, who’s magically transported to the land of the dead after stealing de la Cruz’s guitar, and can’t return home until he tracks down the spirit of the late musician.

Along the way, Miguel interacts with the spirits of his ancestors and enlists the dubious help of fast-talking spirit Héctor (Gael García Bernal), offered in exchange for Miguel helping Héctor be remembered in the world of the living. Miguel’s quest is a mostly simple story about family bonds, and once the movie throws in a fairly obvious third-act twist, it takes a bit too long for everything to wrap up. But the journey is still well worth taking, thanks to the gorgeously realized world, a colorful, intricate land of the dead that shows why Pixar still has no equal in American animation.

Miguel is a likable character whose musical dreams are easy to root for, and it helps that Frozen songwriters Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez have been brought in to write the movie’s signature song, the lovely “Remember Me,” performed multiple times by multiple characters. Thanks to the help of a number of cultural consultants, Coco has a kind of real-world authenticity that most animated films don’t bother with, and it uses the Dia de los Muertos traditions as a springboard for a bright, family-friendly story that’s both respectful and inventive. It’s the kind of story Pixar has told before, but there’s enough variation to make it feel fresh.

Tags: Film

Josh Bell

Josh Bell is the film editor for Las Vegas Weekly, where he's been writing movie and TV reviews since 2002. ...

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