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Movie Night – ‘Coco’ takes look at Mexican tradition

By Bradley Griffith

The new Disney and Pixar movie “Coco” asks the question of what would happen if the stories behind the Mexican tradition of the Day of the Dead was real. “Coco” provides that answer in an interesting, entertaining, and heartwarming manner.

Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) is only 12, but he knows what he wants to be for the rest of his life: a musician. He dreams of playing the guitar and singing for thousands of people.  Miguel’s only problem is his family. Music of any kind is one hundred percent absolutely forbidden not only in their household, but in their lives. 

Many years before, Miguel’s great-great grandfather left his wife, Imelda (Alanna Ubach), and young daughter, Coco (Ana Ofelia Murguia), to pursue a singing career. He never returned.  Imelda banished music from the family forever. Imelda began a shoe making business that has been passed down the generations, and will one day be passed to Miguel. But Miguel doesn’t want to be a shoemaker.

On the Day of the Dead the family discovers Miguel’s hidden room devoted to music. Miguel’s grandmother, Abuelita (Renee Victor), insists that Miguel give up his dream to be a musician and she destroys his guitar.  He angrily storms out of house and to Mariachi Square. Miguel wants to compete in a singing contest but has no guitar.

The only guitar he can get is one in the tomb of Mexico’s greatest musician, Ernesto de la Cruz. Miguel takes the guitar and makes the mistake of strumming it one time. He is instantly rendered invisible to everyone. He then begins seeing dead people. He runs into some of his dead relatives in the cemetery and realizes that he has been transported to the land of the dead.

Miguel must find a way to return to the land of the living before sunrise or he will forever be stuck in the land of the dead. He needs help. Miguel turns to Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal), a permanent resident of the land of the dead who has never managed to make it back to the land of the living on the Day of the Dead. Only together can they both achieve their goals.

It’s extremely rare for an animated family movie to be successful and not be incredibly funny.  Virtually all the films in this genre rely on laughs for their entertainment. “Coco” is the rare exception. It has some funny moments, but what makes the movie so captivating is the story.  The writing is fantastic and keeps you glued to the screen, with a couple of twists and turns along the way.

To be sure, a family movie about death is unusual. Most of the characters are skeletons dressed in various clothes with designs on their skulls. Still, there’s nothing even remotely frightening about the movie. In fact, most of the skeletons are goofy and lovable and want nothing more than to help Miguel make his way back to the land of the living.

While kids will appreciate the adventures of Miguel and Hector as they bumble their way around the land of the dead, to fully appreciate the movie you may need a little more life experience.  Miguel’s relationship with Coco, how your ancestors helped to make your life what it is today, and how they can still help guide you are themes that really speak to adults. Teenagers may not love the movie, but younger kids and adults will enjoy the movie because it speaks to them on different levels.

“Coco” does provide an answer to what could happen if the day of the dead was true.  But it’s more than that. It is a movie about the importance of family told through a great story and amazing visuals. I was skeptical going into the theater, but I was won over by the end of the movie.  It’s inventive and imaginative and, possibly, the best animated film of the year.

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Grade: A-

Rated PG for thematic elements