Smart money says "Coco" is going to win Best Animated Film at next week's Oscars.
It has a touching story to tell, a fascinating tradition to share and a moment or two that will get you to realize what matters most.
Oddly, “Coco” is not the name of some Pixar princess or cute sidekick.
She's the great grandmother of the lead character, 12-year-old Miguel.
Overwhelmed by sadness, the old woman sits in her chair and stares, just as the family is preparing to celebrate Dia de los Muertos, the tribute to friends and relatives who have died.
Determined to be a musician – like Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), the most famous native of his Mexican town – Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) steals a guitar and finds himself caught in the afterworld, where he learns plenty about his idol and the folks around him.
Because family forbids the idea of becoming a musician (shades of “Footloose” and its dancing ban), Miguel has to find another way to fulfill his dream.
“Seize your moment,” we learn, was de la Cruz’s motto. Miguel takes it to heart but not until he has met Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal), a deceased prankster who’s in danger of being forgotten. If Hector can get someone to put his picture up, he’ll live on, too. Striking a deal, the two begin their journey to find de la Cruz and right a number of wrongs.
Directed by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina, “Coco” boasts one of the most detailed stories we’ve seen in recent animated films. Yes, it’s about family. But it’s also about betrayal, honor, fame and determination.
Bursting with color and music (including the Best Song nominee, “Remember Me”), “Coco” teaches plenty about Mexican culture and the less-than-Halloweeny purpose for the day of remembrance. It has some scary moments, too, and, in 3D, a “spirit animal” that will make you jump when it swoops around the screen.
Miguel, though, keeps much of this grounded, largely because he’s such a likable kid who doesn’t understand his family’s odd ban on music. There’s something to it but until he goes into the afterworld, it’s not clear who did what and why part of a family photo is missing.
When de la Cruz finally enters the picture (he’s seen in old films until the day of his big concert), it’s never clear why he was so beloved or who is left to carry his legacy. Bratt lives up to the billing, giving the singer every ounce of ego.
A dog becomes Miguel’s fast friend (even though he looks like one of the hyenas from “The Lion King”); Hector emerges as the kind of tour guide everyone would want in another life.
“Coco” has tears (particularly when Miguel sings to the old woman) and a reveal that’s as fun as the big production number that precedes de la Cruz’s performance.
"Coco" may not be ideal for little children, but it’s the perfect family film for those old enough to know what it's implying.
In this world -- or any other -- it's a keeper.