The Bock’s Office: ‘Coco’ is Pixar’s first true musical masterpiece
The transformative power of music is one that can span generations and change lives. And, while a memorable song can’t literally grant immortality, a movie like “Coco” shows it can do the next best thing.
The Rivera family has a long history in making shoes for the people of Mexico. It’s a business that has provided well for them and brought them together with a shared craft.
But, 12-year-old Miguel (voice of Anthony Gonzalez) is different. Rather than go into the family trade, he has dreams of becoming a world-famous musician like his hometown hero Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), a mariachi who made his name with his renowned guitar and voice.
Miguel’s talent on the instrument is one he’s had to develop in secret due to his grandmother’s (Renée Victor) absolute hatred of music, which she further bans when she learns of his plans to perform for the town’s Dia de Muertos festivities, which honor the lives of those who have passed.
Certain he can sway his family if they only hear him play, Miguel’s desperation leads him to make a poor choice by stealing his idol’s instrument, but that’s only half his problem when he suddenly finds himself transported to the Land of the Dead.
Miguel again finds himself at odds with his family as he meets his departed ancestors who are no less discouraging of his musical ambitions, deciding he’ll do anything to prove to them that he should follow his chosen path.
But, he only has until sunrise, lest he be stuck in the Land of the Dead for good.
Gonzalez does a pitch-perfect job as the young protagonist, a typical kid who would far rather listen to a stirring ballad than the whir of the machinery in his family’s shop, having heard for far too long that music is evil, a position his kin takes due to his great-great-grandfather absconding for a life as a singer.
Mexican superstar Gael García Bernal is a welcome addition as Héctor, a ne’er-do-well spirit languishing in the Land of the Dead who sees an opportunity when he runs across the living kid to get him on his way and send him back with a photo of when he was alive due to the rule that the deceased can only remain in this afterlife as long as they are remembered by mortals.
And, though he looks scruffier than most, this bag of bones still has a good heart.
Bratt is likewise strong casting as the serenader and movie star Miguel feels so connected to, retaining his living fame in the netherworld despite having died in the stupidest possible way at the height of his prowess.
Alanna Ubach stays on point as Miguel’s late great-great-grandmother, who remains the unquestioned matriarch even in death and is unwilling to let her grandson carry on in music, even if it means she has to hunt him down with the help of an alebrije, a winged neon animal spirit guide, in her case a massive jaguar.
It’s no mistake that Miguel’s own animal companion — a grotesque stray dog dumb enough to try and eat his own foot — is named Dante in this exquisite look at life in the great hereafter.
No, it’s not quite “The Divine Comedy,” but Pixar crafts their own allegory based on Mexican customs and the universal language of music in their first real attempt to make a Disney-style show with characters who actually sing and do so for a purpose.
The visual display is spectacular, building on what we already saw from the far less polished “The Book of Life,” but as wondrous as the sights are, there’s simply no comparing to the sounds.
The tune “Remember Me,” written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, will not be forgotten for decades to come, not only due to its sweet simplicity but its use in one of the most heartwarming scenes ever animated.
Did you expect anything less from Pixar?
Though it’s weighed down by the lengthy preshow holiday short “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure,” the inescapable charm of “Coco” shines through nonetheless as one of the most daring releases yet from a studio that continues to take chances.
By the way, it’s just nice to know Frida Kahlo’s unibrow has such a cult following for all of eternity.
Imagine that there’s a town next to a raging river, with a waterfall just five minutes downstream. One day, the residents of this town notice people caught in the river and many are going right over the waterfall’s edge. What can the townspeople do to save these people?