Young Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) has quite the memory, or rather, he has other people's memories, people in his family as they are, like all Mexicans, proud of their heritage and like to pass on the stories of what their relatives from days and decades past got up to, so that they will never be forgotten. One problem with that is because of this tribute, Miguel's family of shoemakers detests music, a very un-Mexican trait that stems from a great-great-grandfather of his who left his wife and child behind to promote his musical career. Yet Miguel loves music, and has to hide his passion for it from the rest as they would be horrified if they knew he secretly played guitar...
By all accounts Pixar's Coco went down like free ice cream in Mexico, and you can understand why as it paid as respectful a tribute to the nation's culture as that nation did to its ancestors. It was a film warmly received elsewhere too, for many their favourite effort from this studio, if not surpassing the Toy Story series then at least equalling it, although there were grumbles from some quarters that they had taken inspiration from a contemporary cartoon, The Book of the Dead, which also featured a densely packed amount of references to the Mexican way of life and death, though this opinion did not take into account the amount of time it takes these toons to be created.
So it was more an Armageddon/Deep Impact sort of concurrency instead of Pixar lifting concepts from a smaller production, and besides, The Book of the Dead, while just as colourful and sharing selected visuals for its characters, was frankly a complete mess compared to the sleek, well-constructed plotting that this enjoyed. It was accurate to observe it owed something in its structure to past Pixars, so if you were well-versed in the studio's output perhaps the big surprises featured would not be as surprising as the directors and writers believed, yet you imagine those less inclined to close analysis would not be hugely bothered that this was the case with what had become a brand.
It was not simply a slice of life take on Mexico as the Day of the Dead approaches, it was a fantasy too, for an aggrieved Miguel who is infuriated his family have denied him his love of music and runs away, wishing to enter a talent competition that they want no part of for their youngest member. He has a hero, an old star of forties singing cowboy movies (or their Mexican equivalent), and he has been lionised by his community with his guitar placed in a shrine to the now-deceased celebrity, so Miguel decides on the spur of the moment to grab that instrument to replace his destroyed one, and magically finds himself in a limbo between the worlds of the living and the dead. All he needs is his family's blessing to be restored to his former state, and as luck would have it he has relatives in the land of the dead too.
However, they hate music as much as the alive ones do, so once he discovers the star is a star here too, and is his great-great-grandfather to boot, he sets out to track him down. Thus the scene was set for the Pixar formula, by now perfected so much so that there was a danger that their works were going to seem somewhat rote, as if they fed their concept into their supercomputers and it manufactured the requisite balance of laughs, tears and wonder. But when the results looked this good, as they always did, it was only a curmudgeon who would complain, with its theme of family gently questioning whether what they want is necessarily what will make you happy, and if you should accept the heart wants what it wants, leaving the lessons of whatever mistakes or benefits that arise from that to be learned by the protagonist alone, who will then, one hopes, make their peace with those who pointed them in the right or wrong direction. In the third millennium we heard so much about the bad of Mexico, so this was a welcome positive. Music by Michael Giacchino.