More so than the rainbow-speckled visuals and serenading, Mexican melodies that compose it, “Coco” is a movie about the importance of family and honoring one’s roots. That helps explain why the Miguel, the melodiously-gifted star of the film, is so one-note. He is the least interesting Pixar protagonist ever, a boy who’s only personality trait is that he likes music. It’s a shame, because “Coco” is Pixar’s most visually-stunning cinematic world yet, but there’s not much more than meets the eye to its hero, or its story.
One could argue that this isn’t really Miguel’s story at all and is actually just the larger story of the Rivera family. Half of whom are shoemakers in Mexico with a seething distaste of all things music, the other half jubilant skeletons roaming about in the Land of the Dead with an equal hatred of music. Miguel wants nothing more than to be a great musician like the late Ernesto de la Cruz, a man whose six-string swagger made him a prosperous, beloved star in life and in death. In efforts to be like Ernesto, Miguel finds himself in the Land of the Dead with the bumbling Hector as his guide, a skeleton so untrustworthy he’d raise even Freida Pinto’s eyebrow.
Things look lush and vivid in the Land of the Dead, every brick and pillar looking as if it had been carefully painted by a CGI artist for months or even years. But it does not feel like a wholly-realized city or location in the sense of other Disney/Pixar locales like “Zootopia” or the McCrea spacecraft from “WALL-E.” It’s like an architectural mock-up, an undead pitch for what the Land of the Dead might be if it were brought to life on the big screen.
That isn’t to say “Coco” isn’t an enjoyable film with plenty of merits. Unlike his living and dead “Coco” counterparts, Hector is the most enduring Pixar character we’ve been given since Joy from “Inside Out,” and the film is a landmark in sensory-driven, CGI cinema that is massively satisfying and in no way overwhelming. It dives deep beneath your bones and hits your heart with emotion. But from a storytelling perspective, its one of Pixar’s lesser achievements. It feels like the story only exists on a “What if?” level, an introduction into a beautiful idea that was never given full flight.