By: Lana K. Wilson-Combs
There are glaring similarities to Disney/Pixar’s new animated movie, “Coco”
and 20th Century Fox’s 2014 movie, “The Book of Life.” Both are steeped in Mexican culture and folklore particularly the Mexican-originated holiday, Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).
However, in terms of sheer visuals and creativity, “Coco” wins hands down. Directed by Lee Unkrich (“Finding Nemo”) and Adrian Molina (“The Good Dinosaur”), “Coco” tells the story of 12-year-old Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez, “Dante’s Lunch”).
Miguel is a good, little boy from the town of Santa Cecilia. More than anything, Miguel, doesn’t want to work in the family’s shoemaking business. He longs to follow in the footsteps of his favorite singer, Ernesto de la Cruz (played wonderfully by Benjamin Bratt, TV’s “Star” and “Modern Family”), a real superstar of the movies and concert stage.
If only it were that simple for Miguel. It’s not that the kid doesn’t have the talent. He does. But, Miguel’s family-- particularly his great-great-grandmother Mama Imelda (Alanna Ubach, “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce”) --is completely against all music and singers. That’s because Miguel’s great-great-grandfather left Imelda and the family--which included little daughter Coco—to pursue a music career.
Miguel’s grandmother Abuelita (Renee Victor, TV’s “Major Crimes”) is standing her ground about the music thing and so Miguel is forced to decide between following his dream of musical stardom or turning his back on his family.
Well, boys will be boys. The inquisitive Miguel chooses the latter, well sort of.
Miguel and his trusty, sidekick Dante, a hairless and energetic, neighborhood Xolo dog take to the streets. Miguel learns about a long, lost family secret and an event known as Dia de los Muertos. It’s a night when ancestors can leave the “Land of the Dead” and secretly visit among those living but only if they have a photograph that’s placed among the honorable, family offering.
Miguel is soon part of this otherworldly realm. It’s literally a trip that results in him only being visible to the skeletons who have crossed over from the Land of the Dead and are taking part in the Dia de los Muertos celebrations.
To get back to his former self and other life, Miguel must get a blessing from Mama Imelda (Ubach). She will only grant it if he promises to put this musical foolishness behind him. If he doesn’t he’ll become a permanent, skeleton fixture.
Miguel still won’t give up his music and is bent on trying to find his great-great-grandfather who is surely out among the Land of the Dead. With the help of a stranger he meets named Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal, TV’s “Mozart in the Jungle”) it’s a race against time as they attempt to find the answers to break the spell.
In the process, Miguel discovers that there’s more to Hector than meets the eye.
“Coco” is a multi-layered, yet simplistic story that gets better as it rolls along. Little Miguel is the center attraction, but the film’s host of characters, particularly Mama Coco (Ana Ofelia Murguia, TV’s "Mozart in the Jungle”) and her startling revelation are equally fascinating.
The movie shifts from downright charming and funny to suspenseful at times, but rarely strays into dark territory.
“Coco” is filled with sweet and nifty little touches throughout that add to the film’s uniqueness and imaginative spirit.
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Check Out This Trailer For "COCO."
Lana K. Wilson-Combs is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics’ Association (BFCA), the Black Reel Awards Voting Academy and a Nominating Committee Voting Member for the NAACP Image Awards.