Nineteen movies in, the word “Pixar” may as well be a genre identifier in and of itself — and while I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself a card-carrying member of the Pixar fan club, I’ve always had a begrudging respect for the technical accomplishments these films represent. Coco is no exception, representing the pinnacle of Pixar’s visual accomplishment as well as the perpetuation of the studio’s reputation for crafting highly polished stories palatable to their young target audience as well as the adults buying their tickets.
Coco also continues efforts to expand ethnic inclusivity on the part of Pixar’s parent company, Disney. Like last year’s Moana, Coco makes great strides toward disrupting the traditionally WASPy tendencies that have historically characterized so much of the Mouse House’s output, and as was the case with that film, it does so without feeling contrived. With a cast consisting almost entirely of Latino voice talent, the film makes a strong argument for a new era of Pixar parity.
The story revolves around a young Mexican boy (Miguel, voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) descended from a long line of shoemakers, a family business he has no interest in joining. Miguel would rather play the guitar like his hero Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), but his family has an antipathy toward musicians dating back generations to his great-great-grandfather’s abandonment of the clan to pursue the life of a traveling musician. The conflict may seem obvious, but the form it takes is not — when he steals his idol’s guitar to compete in a Dia de Muertos talent show, Miguel finds himself cursed and stranded in the afterlife, with only a Xolo street dog named Dante to guide him.
If Dante’s name is a bit too on-the-nose, so is much of the script — a third act twist involving Hector (Gael García Bernal), a friendly con artist Miguel meets in his quest to track down the ghost of de la Cruz, is so heavily telegraphed you can probably figure it out from the details I just provided. But the broad-strokes storytelling won’t offend the less sophisticated viewers in the film’s target demographic and, like most Pixar pictures, the script’s pacing and structure function like a finely tuned Swiss watch.
At its core, Coco is effectively a film trying to help kids make sense of death and the meaning of family — and as such, it’s a resounding success. Visually enthralling, narratively proficient and culturally aware, it’s hard to find much of anything negative to say about this movie. Yes, it’s hamstrung by the primary shortcoming typical of most kids’ films — namely, that it’s engineered to entertain kids. But Coco does so with a level of style and inventiveness that puts it ahead of most films of its ilk. It may not reinvent the cinematic wheel when it comes to children’s programming, but it does function flawlessly as another cog in the well-oiled money-printing machine that is Disney/Pixar. It does what it sets out to do, and if its financial success leads to further color being added to the lily-white world of Disney, then I’m all for it. Rated PG for thematic elements. Now Playing at AMC Classic River Hills 10, Carolina Cinemark, Regal Biltmore Grande, Epic of Hendersonville, Strand of Waynesville.