Pixar Animation 2017: Loco about Coco
Coco is directed by Lee Unkrich and stars the voices of Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, and Renee Victor.
The meritorious history of Pixar Animation Studios has been one highlighted by films that boil down to finding sentimental charm and clever humor in stories involving non-human creatures who go on adventures that usually involve interacting within the world of humans. Whether it's the toys in Toy Story, the rats in Ratatouille, or the monsters in Monsters, Inc., Pixar has made a living off making us laugh and cry over the relationships and heartfelt emotion it develops between its cute, fuzzy, and charming characters. If we can forgive them for their shortcomings with the Cars trilogy, Pixar has done more than enough to prove that it's one of the few studios out there that hasn't lost its touch.
One thing that Pixar has done that has sort of flown under people's radars is its exploration and presentation of other, non-American cultures. Ratatouille gives a fantastic display of Paris and Brave was a neat look at a medieval Scotland. But however much cultural depth there is in Ratatouille and Brave doesn't come anywhere close to Coco, Pixar's latest adventure that pays much homage to Mexican culture.
The plot of Coco focuses on 12-year-old Miguel Rivera (Anthony Gonzalez), who lives in a small Mexican village with his family. The Rivera family specializes in making shoes, but Miguel is interested in playing music rather than shoemaking. We learn that the Rivera family hates music, because the family's matriarch, Imelda, was abandoned and left with her child when her husband left them to pursue a career in music. Despite opposition from his family, Miguel dreams of becoming a musician like the the infamous Ernesto de la Cruz, a popular musician and film star before he was crushed to death by a bell during a stage show. Miguel tries to enter a talent show at the village's celebration of the Day of the Dead, but he has his secret guitar smashed by his grandmother Elena (Renee Victor). Miguel then discovers something secret in the family's picture of Imelda: her husband is holding Ernesto's famous guitar. Miguel concludes that Ernesto is his great-great-grandfather, and so Miguel sneaks away to take the guitar and use it in the talent show. However, after Miguel strums the guitar, he finds that he is no longer visible among the living, having somehow been taken to the Land of the Dead. Miguel meets the skeleton figures of some of his deceased relatives, who refuse to send him back to the Land of the Living unless he agrees to forever give up on his musical dreams. Miguel refuses and runs away to find Ernesto, in hopes of receiving his blessing and return to the Land of the Living with his musical dreams still intact. Miguel isn't alone on his journey; he befriends a stray dog that he calls Dante and he meets a skeleton named Hector while on the run from his deceased family members.
If it sounds like Coco has a busy and heavily detailed plot, it does. I'd say it's one of the most layered plots that Pixar has come out with, being right up there with The Incredibles. Coco pays careful attention to its presentation of Mexican culture, reflected by how the Pixar team made several trips to Mexico to flesh out the story and its characters as much as possible. Director Lee Unkrich has commented on how skeletons being paired with bright colors took over his imagination, although animating the skeletons proved more difficult than animating normal humans, due to the skeletons' lack of a muscular system. But deciphering the skeletons wasn't the hardest part for Disney with Pixar's trips to Mexico. Disney proposed to trademark the phrase "Dia de los Muertos", which is otheriwse known as just "Dia de Muertos", Spanish for the Mexican holiday, Day of the Dead. This trademark was meant to enhance merchandising, but a petition opposing the trademark was signed by over 21,000 people, and Disney cancelled their attempt. Controversy over trademarking should be the last of ones worries while watching Coco, however.
- Coco's animation is simply gorgeous. The human characters almost look as if they were real-live human beings, with extra detail given to important things like facial features, such as Miguel showing off how he has a dimple on just one side of his face. The Land of the Dead is an explosion of beautiful color schemes and active city streets, never ceasing to be a visual feast for eyes both young and old. Honestly, I'm not sure how much better computer animation can get than this, but if anyone can surprise us, it's Pixar.
- As you can imagine, Coco delivers some lovely and memorable music. A song sung near the end is bound to make you at least shed a tear, once you understand the context of where the song is coming from.
- Coco doesn't win any points for originality, because it's near impossible to watch it without Studio Ghibli's Spirited Away or 20th Century Fox's The Book of Life coming to mind (the latter also revolving around The Day of the Dead). I haven't seen The Book of Life, but my understanding is that its story doesn't hold up with the visuals, while Coco's story does stand up alongside its visuals. So you could say that Coco is a better, slightly altered version of The Book of Life.
I wouldn't say that I was blown away by Coco, since you can take an educated guess about what plot twists and turns will happen before they actually happen. Plus, Pixar decided to trade in humor for music this time, as Coco is fairly light on comedic moments. It has them. They're just not laugh out loud funny. Nonetheless, Coco has everything else you'd want from a Pixar film: fantastic visuals and a thoughtful story that is bound to make audiences cry. And while the film doesn't have the innovation of Toy Story or the creativity of Inside Out, it still ranks up there as another Pixar treat that folks of all ages are bound to enjoy.
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