Favorite Movies A-Z: Coco

Pixar had a long run where it seemed like they could do no wrong, make no mistake, produce no flop. For more than a decade it was hit-after-hit. But then, with Cars in 2006, it became clear that even Homer nods. They seemed to recover fairly well, but with the benefit of hindsight it’s clear the bloom was off the rose. While their zenith still came later in 2010 with Toy Story 3, the empire was now managing the decline.

In 2017 Coco became their final great film before an unrelieved string of mediocrities down to the present day. I’ll leave it to others to debate the cause(s) and whether Pixar may rise again phoenix-like. Instead let’s look at how Coco managed to remind one of the glory days.

Coco is the story of a young boy pursuing his dreams of music over the objections of his family. Set in Mexico, the plot becomes a ghost story that takes place during Dia de los Muertos: The Day of the Dead. His great-grandfather chased dreams of a musical career and never returned, so the family since his great-grandmother have banished all music from the family. The boy, Miguel, goes to the length of stealing the famous guitar of hometown hero and legendary musician Ernesto de la Cruz from his mausoleum. Miguel is desperate after a falling out with his family to enter a local music competition during the holiday festival and prove his talent.

Instead, even though he has discovered de la Cruz is his long-lost great-grandfather, Miguel is cursed for stealing from the dead on their holiday. The curse transports Miguel into the land of the dead. He works out quickly that though he is trapped, his return is simple enough, obtain the blessing of his dead relatives to counteract the curse. There is, however, a catch: his relatives can make their blessing conditional. The condition insisted upon by his great-grandmother and enforced on the rest of his relatives who live(?) in fear of her domineering personality is that Miguel abjure all musical endeavors evermore.

So now, Miguel is off to connect with his great-grandfather before the end of the holiday which will trap him in the afterlife forever. He makes a friend of a forgotten soul named Hector who makes a deal to help him reach de la Cruz in time if Miguel will put Hector’s photo up on his family’s offrenda. The dead only persist in the afterlife in this conception of the cosmos so long as their stories and memories are handed down by the display of photos.

The movie has excellent music, genuine moments of emotion, some decent humor, and stunningly beautiful animation. Granted, the story is a bit muddled in the message it’s delivering. Is it more important to adhere to your family traditions or pursue your dreams? The cosmology is similarly confused, but that’s unsurprising, really, for a movie based on superstition and folklore. But it would be a mistake to expect overmuch from the last gasp of Pixar’s greatness. Frankly, it’s a stretch to expect too much from any animated children’s film. Instead, as the story rolls along, we’re better off reveling in the riot of color, tapping our toes with the music, and laughing at the antics. That’s more than enough for any film.

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