Día de Los Muertos is a rich enough tradition to provide material for a dozen family-friendly animated films, but so far there’ve only been two: Jorge R. Gutierrez’s The Book of Life, which was one of the best films of 2014, and Adrian Molina and Lee Unkrich’s Coco, a Pixar production that is not one of the best films of 2017. Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) is a young boy in Mexico whose family of shoemakers disapproves of his desire to be a mariachi, just like Manolo’s bullfighting family in the considerably more political Book of Life.
Also like Manolo, Miguel unexpectedly finds himself in the Land of the Dead on the Day of the Dead — hey, remember in 2013 when Disney tried to copyright “Día de Los Muertos” for this film? That was fun — and must team up with the trickster Héctor (Gael García Bernal) to find a way back to the living world. Coco shares thematic DNA with Pixar’s Up and Inside Out, and it yanks at the heartstrings no less strongly, but it also feels schematic in a way those films did not. Being Pixar, the picture looks wonderful — lighting cinematographer Danielle Fienberg has outshone herself — but in the end, the derivative Coco lacks the spark of life found in The Book of Life.