Sunday, February 4, 2018


I’ll admit I initially didn’t know what to make of Coco when it was announced, since it centers around a Mexican holiday I only knew about on a high school level, in addition to me not wanting to sit through a 20-minute Frozen short in order to get to the actual movie (plus I had already decided to skip Cars 3 because Cars 2 left a bad taste in my mouth). What changed my mind about this movie was the positive word of mouth, as well as it being in the running for a number of Annie Awards, including Best Animated Feature (it has since won in every category it was nominated for). After deciding to see what all the fuss was about (after the overly-long Olaf’s Frozen Adventure was finally cut from screenings), I found myself enjoying it to the point that I would put it up there with some of Pixar’s better movies.

The film centers on a boy named Miguel Rivera (Anthony González), who comes from a large Mexican family making Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) preparations. After his mysterious great-great grandfather left the family to pursue a music career, Miguel’s great-great grandmother Imelda placed a generations-long ban on music from the family, instead getting into shoemaking and starting a family business; Miguel, however, secretly idolizes the late musician Ernesto de la Cruz, wishing himself to start his own music career. On the night of Día de los Muertos, after circumstances lead Miguel to believe that de la Cruz may actually be his unspoken-of great-great grandfather, he tries to make his talent heard in spite of his grandmother Abuelita’s (Renée Victor) objections. Desperate, Miguel attempts to steal de la Cruz’s guitar from his mausoleum, causing him to cross over into the spirit world; upon being able to see them for the first time, the spirits of Miguel’s late family members bring Miguel to the Land of the Dead to try and get him back to the Land of the Living.

Though it hits the same notes as other contemporary Disney and Pixar movies, Coco uses them to tell an affective, heartfelt story that appeals beyond its core demographic and setting. Noted for its accuracy to the Day of the Dead and Mexican culture by Spanish audiences, Coco also provides interesting insight to those outside the culture, much like how Moana does the same with Pacific Island culture. It’s evident that a lot of work and research was put into this movie, as evidenced by its intricately-detailed interpretation of the Land of the Dead and how its residents interact with the Land of the Living once per year. It’s also because of its accuracy to the culture that I felt I was able to learn more about (and better appreciate) the subject matter in under 2 hours than I did from several years in school.

The art direction is simply spectacular, especially in the Land of the Dead, the setting for the majority of the movie. As shown in a short behind-the-scenes featurette attached to the screening I went to, a lot of work was put into making this setting as detailed and aesthetically pleasing as possible and it shows. The spirits of the dead, represented as skeletons with painted skulls, are also made to be very expressive, helped by placing eyes in the sockets in such a way as to not be (too) off-putting. The animation in general is some of Pixar’s best, striking a good balance between realism and signification that works in its favor. Special credit goes to the opening sequence, which is animated in the style of papel picado, a Mexican tissue paper decoration.

As the movie is somewhat of a musical (not one with random song breaks), the songs, of course, have to be good and Coco does it well. Each of the songs are used to good effect, aiding the story and showing off the voice actors’ singing abilities without overtaking the film. A stand-out song is “Remember Me”, a recurring original composition that ties into the main themes of the movie, though I will not divulge how for the sake of avoiding spoilers.

Coco is definitely one of Pixar’s better movies, showing that Pixar has learned from their missteps and serves as the return to form they’ve been heading towards since Inside Out in 2015. Going by reactions from Mexican audiences, the depiction of Mexican culture is spot-on and I felt like I learned a lot about the Day of the Dead holiday and what it represents. Coco is also a good movie in its own right, taking full advantage of its themes to drive home its messages in an effective manner. The animation is also some of Pixar’s best, which seems will only get better if the attached teaser for The Incredibles 2 is any indication. Even if you don’t celebrate Día de los Muertos, Coco provides something for everyone and is a must-see for Pixar and animation fans.

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