In their ceaseless quest to find unique alternate universes in which to set their stories, Pixar, after having explored the secret worlds of toys, fish, cars, and the human mind, have chosen the final frontier for Coco: the afterlife.
Inspired by Mexican Día de los Muertos traditions, in which families honor their deceased ancestors with marigolds and offerings every November 2nd, Coco concerns a young Mexican villager who, in attempt to break away from his dull shoemaking family through music, is transported into the Land of the Dead after he steals a guitar belonging to his hero, a legendary movie singer who passed decades earlier.
What follows is a Back to the Future-like plot, where the boy – whose name isn't Coco, but Miguel; that the film is named for his elderly great-grandmother hints not only at a key plot element but at the film's themes of legacy and memory – must get back to the real world before the sun rises, or, his flesh fading away like Marty McFly, he will become a skeleton like his ancestors, and remain forever in the afterlife.
If that seems dark, you ain't seen nothing yet. But, in accordance with Mexican beliefs, there's nothing scary or depressing about this Land of the Dead. In fact it pulses with color, humor, music, and life. Even Frida Kahlo makes a cameo! Nevertheless, Miguel would like to get back to his parents, dull as they are. He just has to tie up a few loose family ends, McFly-style, before he does so.
What more is there to say? Unkrich, co-director Adrian Molina, and cowriters Matthew Aldrich and Jason Katz do what Pixar does best: they blend complex characters, beautiful scenery, expertly-paced storylines, and genuine emotion into an irresistible crowd pleaser. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll have your faith in Pixar renewed.
Rumor has it that Disney was concerned about how white audiences might react to Pixar's first "ethnic" outing, so they paired it with an exhausting, 20 minute "short" starring Olaf from Frozen. That audiences adored Coco and rejected the Olaf short, to the degree that Disney eventually stripped it from screenings, warms my heart. Coco stands on its own merits, and is not to be missed.