Cocoestablishes early on that your dead relatives can only visit once a year, on Dia de los Muertos, and only if youve put their picture on the ofrenda, a special shrine Mexican families erect for the holiday. No picture, no visit–youre stuck in the Land of the Dead while everyone else gets to cross the marigold bridges and check in with their descendants. Later in the movie, it adds another wrinkle: If too many years go by like that, your life and deeds forgotten by the living, you disappear even from the afterlife.
Cocofollows Miguel, a young boy whose dream is to go against his familys wishes and become a famous musician. The Rivera family has hated all music and musicians ever since Miguels nameless, faceless great-great-grandfather abandoned his wife and daughter–Miguels great-grandmother, Mama Coco–for a life on the road with his guitar. Miguel plays in secret, but a discovery about his ancestors identity spurs him to profess his love of music, to his familys horror. He eventually makes his way to the Land of the Dead,Cocos unique vision of the afterlife, and seeks his great-great-grandfathers blessing.
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Cocois beautiful, hilarious, deeply touching, and emotional in a raw, powerful way that few movies–even Pixar movies–are able to capture. Its all wrapped in the comforting confection of a memorable score, stunning animation and art direction, and a legitimately compelling story. But at its heart,Cocotaps into some real primal stuff. Just be prepared for the strong urge youll feel to call your closest living family members when its over.
ButCocos core is filled with real fears and raw emotions. The film poses questions that can elicit a sort of primal response, uncertainties about death and legacy welling up deep in your chest as you watch. It all ties into the Dia de los Muertos–the Day of the Dead–a Mexican holiday during which dead loved ones are said to visit their living families.Cocodeftly bakes it all together, the visuals, music, characters, surprisingly twisty story, and themes forming a near-perfect meal–one that makes you weep or laugh with every bite.
Cocos Land of the Dead is breathtaking to see, and the film does an impressive job establishing all its rules without getting bogged down in its own mythology. When you die, you wind up with pretty much the same job in the afterlife. So Miguels musical idol is an even bigger star, his family all make shoes still, and Frida Kahlo–who plays a surprisingly large and funny role–is an esoteric but iconic artist.
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On paper,Cocosounds destined for mediocrity. Its another Disney/Pixar jam that tells the tired story of a young boy going on a (heros) journey to discover the importance of family. As a theme, family is about as vanilla as it gets. ButCocos unique, culturally specific version of what that means–what family is, the realistic and complex issues any family has, and a heavy emphasis on death and what it means to be remembered once youre gone–go way past what youd expect.
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Dont letCocos sugary exterior fool you. Yes, its a visual feast, Pixars aesthetic at its absolute best. Youll be mesmerized by the way the dog Dantes tongue flops around, Abuelitas arm fat jiggles as she smacks mariachis with her sandals, and millions of gleaming marigold petals swirl and drift through the air.Cocos picturesque image of Mexican culture is alluring and fantastical, while still feeling true to life. And the same goes for its original songs, catchy, memorable riffs on familiar Mexican musical styles that youre likely to find yourself whistling days after you leave the theater.
That gives concrete meaning to the importance of being remembered when youre gone. It makes Miguels struggles with his family–living and dead–into more than a story about a young boy rebelling. It creates stakes that viewers of any age can relate to. Young kids might find it hard to wrap their heads around, but nobody wants to be forgotten. And the wayCocoweaves this all together, never getting too heady, but always keeping these stakes in the forefront while Miguel goes on his adventure, is actually awe-inspiring.
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The voice talent, an all-Latino cast, is exceptional, particularly Miguels Anthony Gonzalez, a newcomer who completely steals the show every time he opens his mouth to speak or sing. The songs really are fantastic, ranging from the playful, like Un Poco Loco, to the gut-wrenching Remember Me, which plays creatively into allCocos big themes.
Mike Rougeau is GameSpots Senior Entertainment Editor. He loves Game of Thrones and dogs.
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