Pixar has an indelible knack for getting underneath our skins and bringing out the emotions in all of us. Their stories have such humanity to them and their characters, even when just simple robots that can only utter a single phrase over and over again, seem to poses the universal traits that are in all of us. Pixar is a rare gift of a filmmaking studio that at their worst, Cars 2, might be considered passable to other animation studios. But, as soon as the Pixar banner is placed upon the project, the passable project becomes an abomination.
Some have rightly pointed out that the quality in Pixar films has slipped a little bit in the post-Toy Story 3 world. Pixar was a near perfect studio pumping out masterpiece after masterpiece on a seemingly yearly basis, impossible to maintain. Still producing good films, outside of Inside Out, Pixar hasn’t quite reached the levels that most have grown accustomed too.
Coco is a Pixar movie from the early era of the studio where the simplest stories turn into a whirlwind of emotion and masterclass in character building. Coco is an absolutely beautiful story about family, tradition, and culture.
Taking from the perspective of Mexican culture, Coco is about a young boy named Miguel (wonderfully voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) who wants nothing more than to be a musician and live up to his hero Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). His family though, led by the matriarchy Abuelita (voiced by Renee Victor), refuses to have any music in their family after Miguel’s great-great-grandfather ran off and never came back to play his music. Wanting to leave his own family behind Miguel stumbles into the land of the dead where he searches for his great ancestor.
The movie builds from such a small place and transports us to a world full of wonder, discovery and colorful characters. Miguel is helped along the way by a con artist named Hector (voiced by Gael García Bernal who steals the show) and his trusted dog Dante. To go into greater details of the plot would risk breaching spoilers. Some reveals are a little predictable, but the execution of the storytelling never falters; the emotions are never lost so predictability never becomes a big factor in disappointment.
The world of the dead is beautifully brought to life by Pixar’s best animation efforts yet. With every passing film of Pixar, it never ceases to amaze me how they keep elevating their game. Coco is a film that looks massive. The movie is wide and it is amazing how much pours into every single frame. There is so much depth in each image and never once does it feel like Pixar is putting in random junk just to fill the screen. There is so much to look at that it is impossible to take it all in one viewing. The colors are so vibrant and pop off the screen so immaculately. The skeletons never feel bland or uninteresting to look at; each one is dripping with personality.
Pixar has also taken great lengths to pay respect and bring to life Mexican culture. As an outsider of Italian (and other European) descent, I won’t pretend to be an expert on Mexican culture. From my perspective, Coco seems to go out of its way to respect Mexican culture and takes the audience on a great journey through a culture that many might be unfamiliar with. From the people I’ve spoken to and read from, Coco seems to have nailed the culture. For myself, this has got me a lot more interested in exploring more lore and tradition from this area of the world.
Thematically Coco revolves around family, both the good and the frustrating aspects. Regardless of whether this movie takes place completely from a Mexican point of view, there are universal themes and values that cross over to us all. This is especially true for the recurring theme of family. Pixar has brought to life the complexities of a large extended family while being able to say things about the importance of family in an elegant and mature way.
Bringing the entire film together is the beautiful score and music written and composed by Pixar regular Michael Giacchino. Ginocchio does some of his best work here. The music never feels too flashy and the songs fit perfectly within the context of Coco. Some are describing this as a musical which feels inaccurate. This has people singing songs but in concert. Coco doesn’t have characters bursting into song and dance. This is a movie that involves singing and damn great singing at that but not in a musical style. Don’t go in expecting to see the next Moanna or Frozen.
Coco does what Pixar does best, creating dynamic memorable characters and telling a seemingly simple story of profound depth and emotion. The animation in Coco is gorgeous, the culture is rich, the music is memorable, and the topic of family is richly explored. There are a few plot points that seem to be a bit of a retread from past Pixar films but those are minor quibbles. Before you know it, Coco will have you in tears. Coco is a winner for us all.