FILM REVIEW: Disney/Pixar’s COCO Is A Masterpiece
Wow. Excuse me, let me start this Coco Review again.
Splashers, wow. Fresh off having seen Disney/Pixar’s Coco, nostalgia is ringing through my head. Memories of going to the movie theater as a child to see Toy Story flood my thoughts. Back in 1995 no one went into Toy Story with the expectations of having their mind blown. We saw innovative 3D animation and wanted to see an entire film with this new style. It just happened to be an excellent movie that touched everyone’s heart. Then a string of Pixar classics followed. It’s arguable to say that until 2006’s Cars, Pixar had done no wrong (don’t you dare say A Bug’s Life to me). In 2017, moviegoers have seen enough fails from Pixar, walking into Coco is very similar to Toy Story.
Let’s have a look at Coco’s synopsis:
Despite his family’s baffling generations-old ban on music, Miguel dreams of becoming an accomplished musician like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz. Desperate to prove his talent, Miguel finds himself in the stunning and colorful Land of the Dead following a mysterious chain of events. Along the way, he meets charming trickster Hector, and together, they set off on an extraordinary journey to unlock the real story behind Miguel’s family history.
Short of projects involving Tim Burton (The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Corpse Bride) not many animated films are so closely tied to death. Not only does Coco tackle the topic of death head-on, but doesn’t dwell on the fears most people have. The dead live on as long as they are remembered by their family and friends. It’s a simple message that may go over the heads of some children watching, but it’s unmistakably clear for the adults. For an animated film, that’s definitely targeting children, to tackle such a macabre subject and inject it with this much heart is no easy feat.
Admittedly, the film does start a little slow. Pacing issues seem to disappear once Dia de Muertos is in full swing. Understandably, the audience needs to understand Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) and his family, so we need the buildup. Miguel’s character may be one of Pixar’s best leads, certainly in recent memory. His love of music takes him on this journey, and rarely is the viewer questioning whether this trek is worth it. Anthony Gonzalez has a golden voice. There’s no shame in admitting there was plenty of toe-tapping during our screening. Other than the film’s beginning, there isn’t much room to complain. With the exception of the occasional waste of time when things are very critical in the final act.
To call Coco a Dia de Muertos (“Day of the Dead”) film is an understatement. The Nightmare Before Christmas was no mere Halloween film, and throughout Coco’s hour and 49 minute run-time there is an eerily similar feeling. Often when film goers see death displayed onscreen, it’s in a dark and desolate fashion. Pixar crafted a movie that is bright, visually stunning, and wildly imaginative. The Land of the Dead is so full of color, especially the spirit guides, who range from super cuddly to fear inducing. Audiences have seen 3D animation evolve over the last 22 years. This latest entry from Pixar is a visual triumph, despite the fact that we’ve come to expect that with every Pixar outing. Notice the light hairs on Miguel’s face when he speaks in the moonlight. The speckles that dance when light falls through a roof. Hats off to directors Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina and the animating staff at Pixar.
Coco is a film about family. Since Up, there has been this trend of Pixar films that have an element which is absolutely heart-wrenching. Inside Out really tugged at a lot of adults’ heart strings. The first conversation after viewing Coco, my friend said “Inside Out made me cry like a baby.” Personally, no film has brought tears to my eyes like Coco. Those who have lost someone close will have no trouble relating. But, love is just as important to the story. Not just loving someone, but the love that we experience through our family members; unconditional love. Using music as a clever distraction to keep the plot moving, truly Coco is a film about love.
There is a certain level of humor expected with a Pixar film. There was enough humor to keep the film moving along, but this was not a holding-your-sides laugh fest. Hector (Gael García Bernal) is the source of most laughter, and he delivers it well. It is a while before the audience gets to meet him, and whenever he’s not onscreen don’t expect to giggle much. Though, it would be downright unfair not to mention scene-stealing Frida Kahlo (Natalia Cordova-Buckley). To say anything more would be a crime. Also, children are sure to love Dante, the Mexican hairless-dog guiding Miguel through the Land of the Dead.
Despite its few flaws, Coco is a masterpiece. Audiences will laugh, cry, dance (in their seats), and feel deeply moved by the film’s final scene. At some point during the screening, a thought ran through my head:
Wow, Pixar found a way to make a Mexican film about death, and totally made it Pixar.
Coco is one of the best examples of ways that entertainment is changing for the better. This film would not have existed during the 90’s, and certainly not without embarrassing depictions or cringe-worthy lines riddled throughout. Coco joins the likes of Zootopia, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and The Lego Movie. Films that dared to break from the norm, and added something to the genre of animation. If this is a sign of things to come, Pixar may have gotten their second wind with Inside Out, and Coco is the studio at full sprint. Bravo Disney/Pixar!