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Miguel's November Journey: Coco
A boy takes an unexpected trip into the spirit world in the Pixar feature Coco. Young Miguel Rivera (Anthony Gonzalez) comes from a long line of shoemakers, as well as an estranged musician. The Rivera family thinks so little of their long-dead performing relative, they forbid playing and singing in the house. He left the family and never returned several generations ago, when his great-grandmother, known affectionately as Coco (Ana Ofelia Murguia), was a little girl. Miguel, though, is determined to make his mark by playing and singing, and secretly admires the work of Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), a singer and actor from Miguel's Mexican village who died in an onstage accident. Like his musical idol, Miguel wants to seize the moment and make his mark. The boy's Abuelita (Renee Victor), however, finds his guitar and smashes it. Undeterred, Miguel goes to the town plaza to try and get a spot in the Dia De Muertos concert. When he's told he needs a guitar for a chance to perform, Miguel steals the guitar from de la Cruz's burial site.
When he strums the guitar, he is taken into the spirit world as the spirits prepare to make their annual visit to the loved ones who've placed their pictures on their ofrendas. His presence sets off a panic among the spirits, including his late relatives. Coco's mother, Mama Imelda (Alanna Ubach) tries to send him back to the living with a blessing, but Miguel immediately returns when he ignores Mama Imelda's order to give up music. The boy then sets out to get the blessing of de la Cruz, and gets help trying to meet the singer from Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal), a contemporary of Ernesto's looking for a way to sneak into the land of the living. Miguel has to get this blessing done before sunrise, when Ernesto does his annual sunrise concert, or else the boy will join the spirit world.
Coco is a charming and engaging story about a boy who gets over his head in trouble. Miguel refuses to relent on his aspirations, but still must exit the spirit world in order for him to not get stuck there. Only a dog named Dante can see the boy in both worlds, and does what he can to keep him safe. Miguel's determination is both a blessing and a curse as a result. Hector also has his motives for getting the boy to the man whose talent continues to loom large so many years after his passing. While directors Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina pay a fitting tribute to the Mexican culture, they stumble a bit in the story department, in which they both contributed. Without giving away a key plot twist, viewers might question why the spirits in the spirit world did not know everything there was to know about Ernesto and Hector, especially after 75 years. Also, I can't understand why Coco herself allowed the music ban to continue once Mama Imelda died. One of the best scenes in the movie comes when Miguel comforts Coco with song. The good intentions and nature of the boy help to carry Coco over its apparent inconsistencies.
Gonzalez, Bernal, and Bratt do well in the film's most prominent roles. Gonzalez, as Miguel, is a good kid who will never give up his love of music, even if it never takes him beyond the streets of Santa Cecilia, where Ernesto was born and lies at rest. The first person who showed interest in him as a musician was one of his town's mariachis, but Abuelita intervened when she caught the two talking. Even forcing the boy to make shoes doesn't dampen his passion for the work of the town's most famous native son. Bernal is funny as Hector, who gets to hear Miguel play, and believes in his potential. One of his best moments comes when he tries to join the Dia De Muertos festivities by disguising himself as famed artist Frida Kahlo. Bratt is the proud Ernesto, a man whose status has grown even more in death. He is the star of the realm he occupies, and plans to keep it that way. Other small contributions come from Edward James Olmos, Cheech Marin, Alfonso Arau, Gabriel Iglesias, and John Ratzenberger. The US theatrical release also includes the mini-musical Olaf's Frozen Adventure, where Olaf (Josh Gad) tries to help Queen Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Princess Anna (Kristen Bell) have a memorable holiday after their efforts to open the doors to their castle in Arendelle fall flat. Jonathan Groff also reprises his Frozen role as Kristoff in an entertaining seasonal-themed short.
Every generation of a family has that person who insists on doing things on their own terms. In Coco, Miguel Rivera knows he'd never be happy in the family business of making shoes or in a life where music played no part. In a way, Miguel lived in the land of the dead in Santa Cecelia. Even if he can't bring that part of life to his strictly no-music family, he hears a different part of his heritage calling. He answers that call with a talent worthy of notice and development.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Coco three stars. Find the proverbial shoe that fits, then wear it.