It’s possible that there’s a specificity to this Pixar story that makes it harder for a white guy to connect with it emotionally—and maybe that’s just fine. In contemporary Mexico, young Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) longs to be a musician like his idol, the late Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), but family tradition prohibits music due to the sins of an ancestor. But on Día de los Muertos, Miguel gets a magical opportunity to visit the Land of the Dead, and unwrap his mysterious family history. A sluggish opening act built around a too-familiar “parents just don’t understand” premise gives way to lively sequences in the Land of the Dead, a colorful metropolis where Miguel finds a guide in down-on-his luck skeleton Hector (Gael García Bernal). But while the details—neon-bright creatures called alebrijes; the sugar-skull character design—elevate material that could have seemed derivative, there’s also a sense that the emotional climax is built around a primacy of family ties that’s distinctive to its cultural setting. There’s no question about the moment I’m supposed to be crying; perhaps those who actually cry grasp something that escapes me.
Director: Lee Unkrich
Producer: Darla Anderson and John Lasseter
Cast: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Jaime Camil, Alfonso Arau, Sofía Espinosa, Selene Luna, Ana Ofelia Murguía, Renée Victor, Luis Valdez, Herbert Siguenza, Carla Medina, Edward Olmos, Lombardo Boyer, Gabriel Iglesias, Cheech Marin and Blanca Araceli