Pixar has pretty much mastered water with Finding Nemo and Finding Dory. With Coco, the animation studio beautifully captures candlelight. Riffing on the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos, when families remember loved ones who have died by placing their photos and favorite foods on ofrendas, or candle-strewn altars, the movie is awash in delicate flickers, soft flames, and gentle shadows. Exquisitely rendered and full of familial feeling, Coco could be placed on an ofrenda as an offering of its own.
In terms of story, Coco follows a boy named Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) who longs to be a musician but is stymied by his family. On the night of his town’s Dia de Muertos festival, Miguel finds himself magically transported to the Land of the Dead, where he encounters family members who have died (and appear as skeletons) and learns the secrets behind his fraught heritage.
I’m simplifying things quite a bit, as Coco—co-directed by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina—piles on the surprise twists and dramatic turns. (One wonders if Mexican telenovelas were also an inspiration.) Yet the animation is consistently inspired: I loved how the stray dog who follows Miguel seems to be made of liquid, drooping across the screen, and how Hector, one of the skeletons Miguel meets, seems to have his bones held together by his pants and suspenders. And darn it if the final scenes don’t deliver an Up-worthy emotional punch involving the title character, Miguel’s great grandmother. No, I’m not crying. The candles are making my eyes watery.