Pixar’s “Coco” reminds us that we should celebrate during times of loss [spoiler-free review]
Editor’s note: This review of Pixar’s “Coco” comes from our contributor Sedonah Najera. May contain some minor spoilers.
Once again, Pixar demonstrates all of the magic they can create with animation. They’ve been able to bring many things to life over the years- from the toys in Toy Story, cars of Cars, even emotions in Inside Out. And now, they’ve brought the beauty of the Mexican holiday, Dia de los Muertos, to life in Coco.
Using the holiday as inspiration, co-directors and co-writers Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina spin a creative tale about a young boy who wants to become a musician. Coco opens with an illustrated series of papel picado banners – so innovative and colorful that you almost wish the whole movie was told in these two-dimensional cutouts. A young boy named Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez), crams five generations of family history into a dazzling prologue. For generations, the family has imposed a ban on playing or listening to music because Miguel’s great-great-grandfather left his great-great-grandmother Imelda (voiced Alanna Ubach) and their young daughter, Coco, to pursue his career as a musician. Since the family banned music in their lives, they became a family of zapateros (shoemakers).
Naturally, Miguel doesn’t want to follow his family’s path and chooses to pursue his own music career just like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz (voiced by Benjamin Bratt.) He secretly teaches himself to play the guitar, spending every possible moment studying the work of singing legend Ernesto de la Cruz from his collection of songs and films.
On the Day of the Dead, Miguel fights with his family because they won’t allow him to play at the festival. Determined to showcase his talent, he decides to steal de la Cruz’s guitar from the mausoleum and gets transported to the Land of the Dead due to a family curse. There, Miguel meets up with his deceased relatives and discovers he can only return to the world of the living from an ancestor’s blessing. Because Mama Imelda establishes a music ban clause into her blessing, Miguel escapes and searches for de la Cruz, the only relative he believes will understand. On his journey, Miguel teams up with Hector (voiced Gael García Bernal), a scheming skeleton who claims to know de la Cruz, to find the dead idol and receive his blessing.
Instead of using Mexico as the starring point, the movie dives deep into Mexican culture, customs and visual elements. Whether if you’re familiar with Hispanic culture or not, Coco helps describe the beauty and traditions in a well-told story rather than making it feel like a history lesson. Coco is filled with Meixcan cultural references, from papel picado, cartoon caricatures to Frida Kahlo, and Mexican wrestler Santo. From the altar-like ofrendas where family photos pay tribute to lost loved ones (whose spirits remain alive, so long as they are remembered by the living) to the brilliant-orange marigold petals that serve as a bridge between the two worlds, and colorful alebrijes – spirit animals inspired by the country’s colorful folk-art sculptures. Rather than try to co-opt Mexican culture, Coco shows that there’s a deep love for this culture and its history.
The film also touches on some tough family matters like resentment, abandonment and regret. It’s the kind of story that not many animated films have taken the chance to touch up on. However, Coco showcases these issues in such a raw, authentic manner that you almost forget it’s a movie suited towards children. Although these darker topics aren’t the main highlighted themes of the film, it’s important to introduce them because it brings a certain authenticity to family issues.
Throughout Coco, you get the sense that the writers and animators truly immersed themselves to not only be respectful, but to make Dia de los Muertos come alive for all audiences. Similar to Disney’s “Moana,” the movie adds some needed diversity to the genre. It gives audiences a film
that is a positive example of what the Mexican experience can look like on the big screen and has true representation. It’s not a film that only people who understand the Mexican culture can understand or appreciate; it’s a film with a universal theme about the appreciation of family, the acceptance of loss and forgiveness and unconditional love.
Coco is a definite triumph from some Pixar’s more recent efforts and reminds you of what the studio is capable of and the amazing work they can accomplish Of course, there’s going to be some debate on whether or not it qualifies as one of Pixar’s best, but there’s no doubt that Coco possesses all the elements of the studio’s classic movies from its astounding visuals. lovable characters and its heart-warming resolution. Although the plot can be fairly predictable at times, the emotional truths and the heart of Coco cut through any narrative shortcomings to create a powerful and moving tale that will definitely tug your heartstrings by the end.
Unkrich’s film is a great insight to family, music, and legacy. Miguel’s journey through the Land of the Dead is successful in transporting the audience to a place where we’re reminded of the irreplaceable value of our loved ones and the bonds that sustain long after we’re gone. As long as we continue to keep memories alive, it’s something to celebrate.
Details (from IMDB) –
- Runtime: 109 minutes
- Rating: PG for thematic elements.
All reviews are personal opinions and may not reflect the attitudes of other writers for DisneyExaminer.com unless stated otherwise.
These films have been screened prior to the release date for review purposes and therefore are viewed without charge courtesy of The Walt Disney Studios.