There is much to admire in this latest children’s movie from Pixar.
Its young hero, Miguel, wants to be a musician. In the style of all heroic stories, he must prevail against one barrier after another to achieve this goal.
One big hurdle is Miguel’s family. His older relatives love him dearly, but they hate — really hate — music, and they expect him to join the family shoemaking business. His tough-minded abuelita (grandmother) even smashes Miguel’s home-made guitar, which causes him to search for a replacement.
By some magical sleight of hand, this search transports Miguel to the land of the dead just before the Día de los Muertos, the day when Mexicans celebrate symbolic reunions with friends and family members who have died.
It takes a brave children’s movie to tackle the topic of death, a matter of great concern to the very young. Here the dread is ameliorated by an afterworld where the dead live a parallel existence for as long as their relatives remember them.
In the land of the dead, Miguel meets lost relatives and spirit animals, and he faces a deadline to get back to his home and family. New, disturbing information is revealed, and battles are fought. It’s a children’s movie, however, and so things work out in the end.
Personally, I thought the “Coco” plot was too complicated and pulled too many figurative rabbits out of hats. Still, the family love theme connected the story, and the children in the theater audience seemed untroubled by its awkwardness. So what do I know?
On the plus side, it’s nice to have a children’s movie with a Mexican setting, Mexican characters and Mexican cultural references. There’s a big world out there, and kids deserve more than stories about suburban families, Lego superheroes and cute animals.
As we have come to expect from Pixar, “Coco” is sincere, rich with creative detail and not stuffed with silly pop references to appeal to the cheap seats. The colorful CGI imagery is particularly well done. There also is nice Mexican music and a particular song, “Remember Me,” that is sweet, but not cloyingly so, and is central to the plot resolution.
If you go to a theater to see “Coco,” consider arriving a half hour late. In addition to previews of other films, the movie is preceded by a lame 20-minute Disney cartoon, “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure,” which apparently aims to keep interest alive for a sequel to “Frozen.”
Together, these make the “Coco” experience a longer one than fidgety children will appreciate.