Review: Coco

Coco, oh, what can I say? Coco is simply wonderful!

Miguel, a kid with a big heart, wants nothing more than to be a musician. However, in his family music is forbidden. His great, great grandmother was married to a musician, who abandoned her and their daughter, Coco, to pursue his dreams of fame and never returned. On Dia de los Meurtos, Miguel’s frustration with the family edict overflows and he attempts to borrow a guitar from the grave of a famous musician in order to enter a local talent competition. The act of “stealing” from the dead on this particular night transports Miguel into the Land of the Dead, from which he can return only if he obtains the blessing of a deceased family member before sunrise.

The dead have their own celebration of Dia de los Muertos. They can cross the bridge into the living world to visit their families, but only if someone has put up their photograph. Miguel’s family has a veritable family tree of photos, starting from the abandoned matriarch with her feckless husband conspicuously cut out of the picture. But during the family row, Miguel had pocketed that photo, meaning that his great, great grandmother’s spirit can no longer cross over.

When the furious old (dead) lady meets Miguel and realises why she cannot cross, she initially agrees to give him her blessing so he can go home and put her photo back where it belongs. But her blessing comes with strings: she insists he give up his music. Miguel rejects her conditions and sets out to track down his musician great, great grandfather, who he reasons will support him and let him return home without sacrificing his music.

That’s the setup for a magical adventure with genuine heart and some very mature things to say about ageing and death, family and love. The world of the dead is beautifully brought to life: the neon-coloured animals that act as spirit guides to the dead, the hilarious reactions of the dead to having a living boy among them, the antics of Dante, the stray dog Miguel has adopted, the vibrant world and rollicking pace of Miguel’s adventure will please adults and children alike. But the heart of the story isn’t fun and frolics, but family, love and memory. The world of the dead looks like great fun, but it comes with a sting: when no one living remembers them, the dead fade away, effectively dying a second time. And Miguel has some hard truths to learn about his own family – the living and the dead – and the music unites all the themes and ties everything together in a climactic scene that will melt the most cynical hearts (it certainly brought tears to my eyes).

Quite simply wonderful.