Pixar movies at their best, and they’re very often at their best, blend sentiment with humor. They balance emotion with wit in just-right doses. They’re usually smart, funny, and insightful.
“Coco,” Pixar’s latest, maintains the animation studio’s high standards. It may be lighter on the humor and heavier on the emotion, but it’s a Pixar film through and through. And visually, it’s more gorgeous than most.
“Coco” is about a 10-year-old boy named Miguel who lives in a little Mexican town. He wants nothing more than to be a musician. Unfortunately, his family has other plans for him.
“I think we’re the only family in Mexico who hates music. But me? I’m not like the rest of my family.”
Miguel’s family believes music has cursed them. Ever since Miguel’s great-great-grandfather walked out on his great-great-grandmother for life on the road as a musician, the family has banished all music from their home.
Bored with his family’s Day of the Dead celebration of his long-dead ancestors, Miguel sneaks out of the house to perform at the town’s Talent Show.
Something mystical happens that night when he strums a stolen guitar and suddenly finds himself transported to the Afterworld, the land of the Dead. The inhabitants there may all be skeletons but their world is even livelier than ours. And of course, he meets all those ancestors he didn’t much care for back on earth.
“This is true then? You’re all really out there.”
“You thought we weren’t?”
“Well, I don’t know. I thought it might have been one of those made-up things that adults tell kids, like vitamins.”
“Miguel, vitamins are a real thing.”
“Well, now I’m thinking they might be.”
Miguel even gets to sing to his heart’s content in this Afterworld.
But the afterlife proves every bit as complicated as life itself, and over the course of one long night, Miguel learns much about clashing family values.
Coco, by the way, is Miguel’s frail but still-living great-grandmother who proves, in the end, to be the linchpin between the living and the dead. I can just about guarantee that you’ll be tearing up by the finale.
Yes, I realize Pixar is a master manipulator of our emotions, but the reason I don’t object is that, for the most part, those emotions are hard-earned. The characters may be computer-generated animations, with exaggeratedly big eyes, but they also represent recognizable human feelings and conditions that ring true to life itself.
And don’t be surprised if you suddenly want to go hug your nearest parent, grandparent, or great-grandparent. In that way, it’s the ideal Thanksgiving family film.