Coco has a lame message but it’ll get you in the feels

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

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Pixar’s most underrated skill is its ability to work difficult concepts into family movies. From managing emotions (Inside Out) to the value of criticism  (Ratatouille) to the dangers of overprotecting children (Finding Nemo), there’s usually something to think about.

Then there’s Coco. Coco’s message — “families are important and just want the best for us” — is banal at best and debatable under certain circumstances. When the Fast and Furious saga has driven  a theme into the ground, maybe it’s time to find a better one.

Coco is set during in Mexico on the Day of the Dead in Mexico, the one time of the year spirits can come home for a visit. But at the Rivera household, the fiesta is celebrated without music. A few generations ago, the patriarch left his wife and baby daughter to pursued a career in music, and never returned. It was decided then that the family would earn a living making shoes.

And no tunes will ever be played at home.

Years later, Miguel (Anthony González) — the youngest — is disgruntled. The kid is a self-taught guitar prodigy and wants to go professional, especially after discovering his great-grandfather wasn’t a deadbeat, but celebrated singer Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt).

Following a fierce argument with his family, Miguel becomes stuck in the Land of the Dead (it happens). He must convince his dead relatives —who also reject music — to give him their blessing or he’ll spend eternity as a skeleton.

These are just the basic story points. Coco is very plot heavy. It’s easy to follow, but there are a lot of rules to keep track of. The filmmakers’ respect for Mexican culture is admirable, if at expense of narrative economy. As in any good Pixar movie, the comedy is both gentle and effective. Miguel is very likeable, as is his traveling companion — an unruly mutt named Dante (this is a Disney movie, people. Pets are mandatory).

A couple of paragraphs ago I complained about the uninspired message. That said, the conclusion is one of the best tearjerkers Pixar’s ever concocted.

Besides, any movie that sticks it to a certain notorious anti-Mexican politician deserves our respect.