“Coco” Movie Review

This is just what I needed right before stuffing myself with with turkey at a table full of relatives who I only see a couple times a year. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family to death, but come on… it’s Pixar. This computer-animated fantasy musical premiered in Mexico on October 20th, 2017. Following its stateside release on November 22nd, it has grossed over $62 million, becoming the most successful film of all time in that country. Directed by Toy Story 3‘s Lee Unkrich, the story was supposedly developed over the course of several years of research. This included writers taking extensive field trips down to Mexico and taking notes from the entirely Hispanic cast. The PG-rated story follows a 12-year-old boy named Miguel, whose passion for music is marred by his family’s generations old ban on it. Following a chain of events, Miguel finds that he has accidentally placed himself in the Land of the Dead. After a very unconventional family reunion, Miguel must travel across the underworld with the assistance of a hermit named Hector to find his musical idol, Ernesto de la Cruz, and return to the Land of the Living before the end of Dia de Los Muertos. It should be no surprise at this point that I’m a huge fan of Pixar Animation Studios, having produced a string of classics within a span of 15 years. And while they did stumble with the Cars franchise, they have created too many masterpieces to simply walk into a cinema with low expectations. And so I was very curious to see how they would tackle a subject like the Day of the Dead, the first time they focused on an ethnic holiday. Having seen the movie, (And suffered through an overlong Frozen short for it) I left with a big smile on my face. It’s clear that Unkrich and his co-director Adrian Molina did a lot of meticulous research for the project. I’m familiar with only a little bit of Mexican culture, but I am aware of some of the practices for Dia de Los Muertos. But the only way that the screenwriters could have done justice is if they took extensive field trips and consulted heritage experts such as Octavio Solis, who ultimately received a writing credit. And I can also tell you this movie is a leap ahead of 2014’s The Book of Life, another animated film dealing with this subject. There were concerns that this film would be too similar to that one. Not only did Coco begin pre-production before The Book of Life, it also highlights everything that the latter was missing. The respect for the Mexican culture extends to its cast, comprised almost entirely of Latin-American actors. Anthony Gonzalez may be young, but he imbues Miguel with all the naivete and wonder a child could ever possess. He represents the youth that so stubbornly believes that some family traditions are not worth keeping, a sad thing reflected in reality. By his side, Gael Garcia Bernal is excellent as Hector. His rickety movement and adventurous tone make him fun to watch. But underneath the ragged clothes and charisma lies a layered spirit fearful of being forgotten. Benjamin Bratt doesn’t appear for a large portion of the picture, but his performance as Ernesto de la Cruz is noteworthy. Without giving away much, his personality was an interesting one, seemingly bogged down by celebrity and the need to be remembered. The rest of the cast, including Renee Victor, Alanna Ulbach, Alfonso Arau, Selene Luna, Dyanna Ortelli, and Herbert Siguenza, do their parts well and contribute something interesting to the overall package. And it might seem a little cliche to say at this point with Pixar, but this movie is just absolutely gorgeous. The level of detail found in the background is astonishing, with one shot containing at least 8 and a half million lights. In particular, the film uses the colors red and orange to a great advantage, differentiating the various landscapes with a certain panache. Apparently, the skeleton characters had to be animated separately from the human ones since their bodily structure was drastically different. And that difference is seen in how the two groups move around differently. But those details really can’t be stressed enough. Every frame of the film looks as though a real photo was taken and animated characters were added over it. It’s that realistic. But it’s still imaginative in the vein of previous Pixar films. The musical score by Michael Giacchino affirms my statement about him being one of the best film composers of his generation. Beginning with a Mariachi variation on the Disney logo and containing little bits of guitar and piano throughout, it’s some beautiful stuff. It’s not his best score, but he does make the most of it. The soundtrack also has some a selection of original songs from Robert and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, the same duo behind Frozen. Of particular notion is the lullaby “Remember Me,” which perfectly encapsulates the film’s celebration of family and memory. Some other tunes are lesser in comparison, but can still admittedly initiate those man tears. And yes, this one knows exactly how to pull your heartstrings in a wholesome and natural way. It deals with some surprisingly dark themes like death and the danger of legacy. But that’s not what makes it so emotional. Rather, it’s the filmmakers’ examination of how infinitely life and death are interconnected that’s just so beautiful. The last 10 minutes of the film are particularly powerful as everything comes to a head and everything starts to make sense. I looked around in the theater and there was not a dry eye in the house. If for nothing else, kids will learn how to process death. I’d be willing to entertain arguments that this isn’t the studio’s best. It does follow familiar story beats pretty predictably. But Coco is a beautiful and respectful examination of the afterlife through another culture’s eyes. As soon as you’ve recovered from that Thanksgiving food coma, go out and head to the theater for this one. Pixar has done it again.

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1 thought on ““Coco” Movie Review

  1. Pingback: Retrospective: 2017 Superlatives | Geek's Landing

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