If someone said “Pixar movie based on Dia de Muertos / Dia de los Muertos”, the thing you’d imagine probably isn’t that far off from Coco.
Coco is a movie about a boy who doesn’t understand the importance of the Dia de Muertos tradition, and whose overly-restrictive family doesn’t want him to become a musician, or indeed to touch music at all. But when he runs out on Dia de Muertos, he accidentally gets transported to the spirit plane, and has to get help from his ancestors in the Land of the Dead in order to get home.
It’s definitely a kids’ movie, in the same way as Big Hero 6: the themes are never that complex, I saw the twist coming way early, and you know there’s going to be at least some manner of happy ending. But it’s also sweet and funny and musical, and so I enjoyed it anyway, and was even touched by how it all turned out.
I was a little worried in the early part of the movie by the presented conflict being “music vs. familial piety”. (White) American culture puts a lot of emphasis on children’s independence, coming-of-age, and of course following one’s dreams, and while I support all of those things it doesn’t seem like the place of a mainstream American movie to criticize a more family-centric set of traditions, even if they are building up to “family is the most important thing”. I think I’d say the movie stayed on this side of the line, but ultimately that’s not my call, since it’s not only not my culture but a culture I’m not even very familiar with.
(I’ve seen people on both sides of the discussion over whether it’s appropriative of or disrespectful to Mexican culture in general. I’ll stay out of that one as well, but I wonder how many non-Mexican kids are going to ask their parents to set up ofrendas now.)
The plot independent of the setting isn’t too unfamiliar. In fact, the central twist is extremely familiar but I can’t remember where I know it from. But that’s okay, “there are no original stories”, “everything is a remix”, and all that.
So, who should see this movie? Well, kids will probably enjoy it. Adults who don’t like kids’ movies probably won’t. Other adults? Be prepared for something simple but sweet, with fun and music and yes, bits of sadness throughout. I’m happy to see this in the Pixar canon.
…I’m not sure I would have named it Coco myself?