Basically: A boy must choose between his family and his dreams when he’s lost in the Afterlife on the Day of the Dead.
In COCO, the new Pixar movie out this Thanksgiving, Manuel (Anthony Gonzalez) is the youngest in a family of shoemakers. They make shoes because his great-great-grandmother Imelda (Alanna Ubach) was abandoned by her husband, a musician who wanted fame more than family. Ever since then each generation has shunned music but Manuel has songs in his heart.
The opportunity to play in a talent show provokes a showdown with his grandmother (Renee Victor), pushing Manuel to run away to the grave of his hero Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), a musician and actor. He takes de la Cruz’s guitar—and is thrust into the world of the dead for the crime of stealing. With the help of a ragged stranger named Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal), Manuel must find his family and get their blessing before sunrise or he’ll be trapped among the dead forever.
While this setup might sound familiar to 2014’s Book of Life, the outcome is completely different. Pixar’s stock-in-trade is strong emotion, and COCO fires on all cylinders. Manuel is an engaging kid, frustrated by his family’s bitter enmity to the one thing that makes him happiest, and he’s looking to find a way to please everyone. His struggle to live on his terms echoes the story of Ernesto, in classic Pixar mirror-style reflection. But the living and the dead are weighed down by the past, especially on el Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, when the ancestors who are remembered (by pictures in a family shrine) return to visit their living kin.
Gonzalez makes the most of Manuel’s amazing journey, accompanied by Bernal, whose Hector is a silly scarecrow of a friend with deep melancholy at his core. The two of them make for an odd couple, navigating the surreal day-glo splendors of the Afterlife. Ana Ofelia Murguía, the ancient matriarch of the Rivera family, delivers a delicate but oh-so-crucial performance as the titular Coco. She may have the fewest words of the voice cast, but everything she says contains a world of meaning. And Bratt is a true standout in the show as de la Cruz, a virtual superhero with legions of fans. He gives the character the perfect combination of bombast and solid grounding to make him unforgettable.
The soundtrack of COCO deserves attention as well. With songs by the Frozen team of Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, the music is more than an accompaniment, it’s a reason to live—especially in ballads like “Remember Me” and a crowd pleaser like “Poco Loco.” The score holds its own secrets and is a character in its own right.
With sun-drenched colors by day, and day-glo psychedelia by night the look of COCO is unlike anything Pixar has done before. A dusty Mexican town becomes a fantastic dreamscape where anything is possible—even bridging families more divided than the living and the dead.
In the end: With a look unlike anything Pixar has done before alongside their classic strong emotions, ‘COCO’ fires on all cylinders.