Take a little boy’s dream of being a great musician like his idol Ernesto de la Cruz.
Throw in the traditional Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration, complete with altares de ofrendas (altars to the dearly departed).
Add a few dashes of Mexican slang, humor and music.
The result is ‘Coco,’ a delightful Disney/Pixar adventure into the meaning of family, the love/hate battle over music, and, how 12-year-old Miguel Rivera meshed both worlds – the one for the living, and the one for the dead – while on his quest to solve a family mystery and to become a musician.
The viewer realizes this is not a typical Disney movie when Mexican fireworks and mariachi-inspired music bathe the Disney castle in the film’s opening seconds, and papel picado images lay the storyline of how Coco, Miguel’s great-grandmother, ended up as the matriarch of “the only family in México who hates music.”
Poor Miguel, who has learned how to play the guitar in secret while watching old VHS tapes of his idol’s movies, doesn’t want to follow in the family tradition of making shoes.
“I am not like the rest of my family,” explains Miguel (voiced by Anthony González in the English-language version, and by Luis Ángel Gómez in the Spanish-language version). “There’s something that makes me different!”
Miguel walks across wondrous bridges of cempasuchil (marigolds) into the Land of the Ancestors, well those who are still being remembered by the living, and finds himself with two missions: Get back to the living before sun-up the next day before his body converts to a calavera and its huesos (skull and human bones); and, pry into the secret behind his family’s past.
Miguel’s living family come across as loving and caring, as long as he stays away from even playing one musical note. His dead uncles, aunts, great-great-grandmother and others (whom Miguel remembers from their photos on the altar de ofrendas) have their own personalities and add a special dimension to the movie.
‘Coco’ is the best film ever produced that truly represents our Latino values, our culture and love of song, dance, and family. You will laugh, you will cry, and applaud loudly on seeing this wonderful film where Latinos play important roles both in front and back of camera.
Alex Nogales, National Hispanic Media Coalition
A charming trickster named Héctor (voiced by Gael García Bernal) helps Miguel and his dog Dante maneuver through the perils and dangers in the Land of the Dead. After all, a boy with meat and skin on his bones is a persona non grata there.
His ancestors are interrupted in their once-a-year journey to the living (they must pass a guard who checks to make sure the living haven’t forgotten them before they can continue their trek) to track down Miguel.
Miguel deduces the headless man photographed standing next to his great-great-grandmother in a charro outfit and guitar at his side (the family tore the man’s face from the photo) is none other than Ernesto de la Cruz, whose music continues to thrill the living and the dead.
In the end, Miguel discovers that “we may have our differences, but nothing’s more important than family.”
‘Coco’ works because it remained true to the Mexican culture of Día de los Muertos, thanks to Disney’s wisdom in hiring cartoonist Lalo Alcáraz and others.
Alcáraz, who lashed out at the studio’s 2013 attempt to trademark Día de los Muertos, convinced director Lee Unkrich and others to drop its efforts to make ‘Coco’ a musical.
There are enough small hints that make this an authentic movie about a Mexican tradition. Miguel’s mythical hometown of Santa Cecilia is also the name of the patron saint of musicians. Dante, Miguel’s dog, is a Xoloitzcuintli (or, Xolo for short), a hairless Mexican dog known as “the first dog of the Américas.”
The voices of Benjamín Bratt, Jaime Camil, Alfonso Arau, Gabriel Iglesias, Edward James Olmos, Cheech Marín and Luis Valdez add authentic flavor.
The music and songs, though some are sung in English, blend in well.
The animation is awesome (we didn’t see the 3D version).
Take the words of Alex Nogales, president/CEO of the National Hispanic Media Coalition: “‘Coco’ is the best film ever produced that truly represents our Latino values, our culture and love of song, dance, and family. You will laugh, you will cry, and applaud loudly on seeing this wonderful film where Latinos play important roles both in front and back of camera. See it and lets make this great film a success so that studios produce more Latino themed films and television shows.”
The Spanish-language version of ‘Coco’ is being shown in Visalia, Stockton, Bakersfield and other cities, but not in Fresno.