The streets are paved with gold. Not along the Mexican border where they will soon be blocked by Trump’s “bigly” wall to deter “bad hombres” from entering “the land of the free”, but in the fictional town of Saint Cecilia (named after the patron saint of music) where once a year on The Day of the Dead gold petals rather than gold bars form a bridge between this world and the next. Those who remain alive in the memory of friends and family can cross ‒ so long as said friends and family place a photograph by their graves. No photograph, no entry. No memory, “the final death” where they are gone and forever forgotten.
Having inadvertently slipped into the after-world after breaking into the mausoleum of Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), the most beloved singer in Mexico’s history, 12-year-old aspiring musician Miguel (Anthony Gonzales) uncovers a few home truths about his family, his hero and himself as he attempts to return to the land of the living by receiving a musician’s blessing from the man who urges him to seize the moment and follow his dreams rather than follow the rules.
But why a “musician’s blessing” from an illusive star in an ivory tower whom he believes to be his father? All his other relatives, both those who have crossed and those with their feet on terra firma, banished all music from their lives (and deaths) after Miguel’s great, great-grandfather abandoned his family ‒ for pluck sake! Pluck referring to the guitar on his back and the songs in his heart which he wanted to share with the world and his wife rather than his own wife and kids.
Directed by Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3) and Adrian Molina, the latter of whom co-wrote the screenplay with Matthew Aldrich, Coco is a blast of colour and noise from beginning to end. The after-world painted as a sort of Las Vegas on steroids: psychedelic and rambunctious; populated with 24 hour party people and winged dragons which ferry high-spirited rag-and-bone men from one world to the next like Red Bull-fuelled Ubers. And the score by the Oscar-winning composer of Up, Michael Giacchino, is equally high-octane stuff. Though the film’s main number “Remember Me”, nominated for Best Original Song, plucks both guitar and heart-strings.
Billed as a PG, Coco is perhaps more suited to older children than kids and tots for the plot is fast-moving and far from simple. “A little less conversation, a little more non-action, please” wouldn’t have gone amiss. And there are enough veiled references to adult humour to keep mums and dads happy. The best example of which is a saucy exchange between Gael García Bernal’s Héctor and his friend Chicharrón who is on the cusp of “the final death”. “Her knuckles, they drag on the floor,” croons Héctor. “Those aren’t the words,” complains Chicharrón. To which the former replies, “There are children present.” Indeed there are. But so too are themes of family and friendship, dreams and determination, and unlike Trump’s America the building of bridges rather than walls.