If it struck you as strange that Disney would make not one, but two, animated features set in the Pacific region, then you are probably not alone. While both 2002’s “Lilo & Stitch” and 2016’s “Moana” were Academy Award-nominees, neither took home the trophy. Disney has had a decent run in the 2010s, taking home Oscars in every year but 2011, when Paramount’s “Rango” won.
You are probably wondering what are the chances of “Coco” (Disney/Pixar) getting some Oscar love. Let’s say they are pretty good. What “Frozen” did for ice, “Coco” does for marigolds, the radiant carpeting on the bridge separating the bridge between the lands of the living and the dead.
Narrated by Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez), who lives with his pregnant mother (Sofia Espinosa), father (Jaime Camil), Abuelita (Renee Victor) and great grandmother Mama Coco (Ana Ofelia Murguía), “Coco” is first and foremost a story about family; the Rivera family, in particular. The Rivera’s have been shoemakers for many years and their business is thriving.
Matriarch Abuelita rules the family with an iron fist wrapped in velvet. She loves her grandson Miguel, but she doesn’t approve of his fascination with music. As forms of expression go, music is not respected and has been banned from the family home since Mama Coco was a little girl. The family mythology has it that her father, Miguel’s great-great grandfather, abandoned the family when she was a little girl, leaving her poor single mother Mamá Imelda (Alanna Ubach) to raise her young daughter alone.
The conflict at the heart of “Coco” is that Miguel loves music, a fact that must remain in the closet, or else he will be in deep trouble with his family. Meanwhile, Day of the Dead celebrations are underway. Families, including the Rivera’s have constructed and decorated ofrendas, altars honoring the deceased featuring photos and various offerings. There is to be a concert in the town plaza, and Miguel, who it turns out is a talented musician, has his heart set on performing.
With his long-lost great-great grandfather’s identity a mystery due to his face having been removed from the portrait on the ofrenda, Miguel is convinced that he is the great-great grandson of beloved singing movie star Ernesto de la Cruz (voiced by Benjamin Bratt). An attempted theft of de la Cruz’s guitar from his crypt at the cemetery leads to a magical transformational moment when Miguel comes face to face with various dead folks inhabiting the cemetery. When he tells them of his mission to contact the late de la Cruz in order bring closure for his family and restore music to their lives, the living Miguel is granted access to the land of the dead. While there he has series of, shall we say, life-changing experiences, eventually coming into contact with a very important relative.
“Coco” is more than just a feast for the eyes (the animation of the skeleton is remarkable) and ears (the music is wonderful). The cultural lessons it imparts, especially in these days of increasing racial division, are valuable to audiences of all ages and all stripes. Although it was long time coming, “Coco” was worth the wait. Rating: A-