By: Arlene Allen
Pixar has once again created a masterpiece. Coco is easily Pixar’s best film since 2012’s Brave and it’s sure to become a treasured favorite. Coco tells the story of Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), a little boy living on his ancestral farm with his family of shoemakers. Once upon a time, Miguel’s great-great-grandmother was married to a mariachi musician who left her to find fame and fortune in the world and never returned. Ever since then music has been banned from the family – no musical instruments and not even a hum allowed.
Miguel; however, doesn’t want to be a shoemaker. He wants to play guitar and sing like his idol, Ernesto De La Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). Miguel has set up a shrine to Ernesto in a shed and has even made a guitar that looks like Ernesto’s. On Dia De Los Muertos (“The Day of the Dead”) Miguel wants to perform in the festival’s talent showcase, but he knows his family won’t let him. He does try to ask and speak of his dreams, but his family gasps in shock and refuses to listen. After they destroy his shrine and his guitar, he runs off to the plaza by the cemetery to find a guitar. He tries to steal De La Cruz’s guitar from his shrine…and ends up in the Land of the Dead.
There Miguel meets his deceased family and he needs their help to get back to the Land of the Living before it’s too late. They want to do so with a condition that Miguel won’t accept. It’s then he meets Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal), a lovable trickster who promises Miguel an opportunity to meet his hero Ernesto De La Cruz.
So, why is the film called Coco? I can’t tell you. It’s one of the many plot twists that make this movie the marvel that it is. It’s also a very colorful film, especially once Miguel gets to the Land of the Dead. The almost neon brightness of the cityscape and the plumage of the spirit animals is simply amazing and is quite the contrast to the lush pastels of Miguel’s hometown. The 3D is incredible and combined with Pixar’s ability to make animation look alive and real makes this a visual delight.
It still amazes me that Disney/Pixar CGI can make water look like real water, with depth, ripples and reflections. When Miguel falls into water he steps out wringing wet and you can just see how laden hand heavy his clothes are and the streams of water drip and pour off him. The guitar playing is the most impressive – Miguel’s finger’s actually form, play and move with the notes and chords. In a behind the scenes look at the movie, the director spoke of how they attached capture wires to a guitar player’s fingers as he played the songs so they could get the movement just right and they most certainly get it right.
The music is wonderful too and I appreciate the fact that some of the songs are in Spanish, some are in English and some are in Spanish and English! Clearly Pixar wanted to be culturally respectful, as evidenced in the Mexican actors cast as voices. Anthony Rodriguez has an incredible voice, especially for a little kid. And who knew Benjamin Bratt could sing so well?
The film has some heartwarming messages about family, of course, but also about the power music has in our lives and how much poorer and mundane we’d be without it. It also has the usual Disney heroics and themes of courage and perseverance and of never letting go of your dreams. Most importantly, themes of remembrance and honoring those who have gone before us are poignantly presented, something that’s usually beyond the purview of children’s movies. It’s a potent and heady combination and you may want to bring a tissue. Or two. Or a box.
That being said, the film may be too intense and have too much sensory overload for very small children, those under ages 3 or 4. One other criticism the film has faced is that it is too much like 2014’s The Book of Life, but the plot is divergent enough that both films can be enjoyed without making them compete with each other. The Book of Life is a primarily a love story while Coco is about family. The animation styles are completely different.
Overall, Coco is a great holiday film to be enjoyed with relatives and friends. I am certain this will be an Oscar contender for Best Animated Picture. Don’t miss it.