Review: ‘Coco’ (death is only the beginning)

What you do in life matters — even the misunderstandings.

Born into a family where music is unwelcome, Miguel (voice of Anthony Gonzalez) dreams of becoming a musician like his idol, the late and much-loved Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). Needing a guitar to prove himself in a local Day of the Dead contest, Miguel sneaks into the mausoleum of de la Cruz to borrow the singer’s famous skull-necked guitar… only to find himself transported to the Land of the Dead. With the clock ticking until sunrise, Miguel takes a chance to fulfill his musical destiny, but he’ll need the help of a local trickster named Hector (Gael García Bernal) who has problems of his own.

With the exception of sequels, Pixar has become experts at giving audiences no clue to what their newer films are about until they’re experienced; if you’ve seen Up, you know what that’s about. Coco is an amazingly complex and layered film, expecting that audiences can keep up with the nuances for a family friendly story with dark undertones and far-reaching consequences for one’s actions. While similar conceptually to The Book of Life, are audiences ready for a far more mortal and personal tale about the choices we make and how people relate to one another?

There are secrets in Coco, ones that can ruin the film (which will not be addressed in this review). Suffice to say that Pixar has again created a new and wonderful world just behind the veil of the afterlife, infused with passion and the paranormal. The rules are easy if a bit tough, and the story takes Shakespearean drama a step farther by keeping secrets no one remembers they made. There’s even a good twist or two and of course the standard comeuppance for the heavies, but when it comes to exploring dreams and regrets in a lifetime, this might be Pixar’s most emotional and personal film to date.

It isn’t only the animation that’s three-dimensional. Every character appears to have some motivation or other complexity, even in the background. One particular shot of the Land of the Dead has so many layers that it looks alive, with more things going on than any viewer could possibly see at once; if the afterlife looks like that, no one should mind being dead. If you’re not dead, however, it really isn’t any place for the living… unless you’re in a dire hurry (read: the Grim Reaper doesn’t like making unscheduled personal appearances).

All you really need to know is this: Pixar knocks another one out of the graveyard and into the afterlife. Coco is rated PG for thematic elements and daring to celebrate the dead being dead.

Four skull recommendation out of four

Speak up, Mortal -- and beware of Spoilers!

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