REVIEW: ‘Coco’ Works Thanks To Heartfelt Story About Family, Memorable Music

When it comes to musicals, Pixar has usually left the genre to its counterpart Disney Animation Studios. With its latest endeavor, though, Pixar has taken a page out of the Mouse House’s playbook, creating a musical experience with “Coco.”

Keep in mind, “Coco” isn’t a traditional animated musical. However, it’s a movie very much about music and includes numerous songs.

The movie’s protagonist is Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), a boy who dreams of becoming a singer and guitarist like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). His family, though, is completely against music and musicians of any sort, finding it to be a curse on their family that began generations ago.

However, because of Miguel’s persistence to fulfill his dream, the boy ends up “borrowing” Cruz’s guitar which in turn, sends him to the Land of the Dead on the Day of the Dead. There, he runs into members of his own family as well as Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal), who wants to visit the Land of the Living so he can see his own loved ones again. As things unfold, Miguel learns much more about his own family and heritage.

Since 2010, Pixar, which was once considered always reliable, has had its ups and downs. The studio released some less than average films in “Cars 2,” “Brave” and “The Good Dinosaur” as well as mediocre pictures including “Cars 3” and “Finding Dory.” At the same time, it’s also made fantastic features such as “Toy Story 3,” “Monsters University” and “Inside Out.”

Thankfully, “Coco” falls in line with the latter. The film is wonderfully crafted and is brimming with heart and energy. This is noticeable in the film’s animation, writing and its story.

The tale of “Coco,” for example, hooks an audience quickly with Miguel’s dream of being a musician and it becomes even more endearing as the story increasingly focuses on his family history. The film is kept lively, too, with a relatively quick paced adventure that uses a sort of ‘buddy movie’ model, created thanks to the banter and friendship between Hector and Miguel.

The story and plotting leads to an exciting third act with some great twists and turns to keep things interesting along with a wonderful feel good ending. Plus, some of the musical sequences that connect scenes together keep the picture feeling fresh and upbeat.

The story elements and musical sequences are aided by some wonderful writing, featuring humorous and emotional sequences that are up there with other Pixar classics. Additionally, the two lead protagonists are made to be likable, while still having some flaws, making for engaging character arcs.

In a film with so much emphasis on music, it’s fantastic that the songs featured here are also great. There’s a solid balance with the ballads, too, some being lively and energetic while others are more emotional and somber. Regardless of the genre, though, the music is consistently charming.

One thing that’s expected with Pixar is superb animation, and “Coco” delivers on that tradition with absolutely gorgeous visuals. There’s a moment where Miguel arrives in the Land of the Dead and there are so many vibrant colors and intensely detailed backgrounds. Every bit of the world created here is rich and vivid.

If there are any drawbacks with “Coco,” it’s that this doesn’t particularly break any new ground. The film’s structure is familiar and there are some predictable story elements. With that said, the movie is still executed well and overall is a touching family drama. 4.7 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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