'Coco' offers death on a silver song
By Martha K. Baker
So what does your trusty film critic know? As I sat in the theater waiting for "Coco" to start, I observed the children around me. They were chattering, whining, mewling, and reporting. They were eating loudly, running rompingly, demanding attention. "What," I thought uncharitably, "are they doing here? What will they understand of 'Coco.'"
The latest Pixar film began. And a hush fell over the crowd. A hush unaltered for nearly two hours as mind-boggling history and myth were set forth in exposition, as great banners of sound swirled about, as colors insisted on being absorbed. And, still, the children sat dumbfounded, absorbed like those colors.
So what did they understand of the culture of Mexico and its celebration of the Day of the Dead, or All Souls' Day? Did they relate it to All Hallows' Eve or All Saints' Day or their own deaths? Did they, no matter their age, understand the story, written by Lee Unkrich and Jason Katz, among others, and convoluted as a morning glory vine? Did they identify with the protagonist, a boy named Miguel. His family of shoemakers has banned music even though this boy hears and plays it in this world and the next. In his search for his musical roots, Miguel encounters unscary skeletons, many dancing or plinking guitars. What child who barely gets what "tia" means, understood these ancestors? And yet, the audience did not even whisper into its own silence.
The children piped asked no questions, not even about Pixar's vaunted adherence to culture and history, well, except for leaving native-born Indians out of the Mexican mix. They listened to the voice work of Anthony Gonzalez as Miguel and of Gael Garcia Bernal and Benjamin Bratt. They followed the finely detailed animation, especially the amazing finger work of guitarists. They behaved, entertained by it all -- the story and the songs. Me? Not so much.