Comedy / Films / Reviews

Coco is a workshop in how to make animation films lovable, genuine and fun

I’m a sucker for Dia de los Muertos-themed anything, so Coco spoke to me from the moment I first got whiff of Disney-Pixar’s latest film. Directors Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina create a story that appeals to children but leaves the door open for my own adult mind to wander in imagination. And it only helps that the animation is darn near-perfect.

There’s a cute intro montage that catches the audience up to speed on where we find our young adventurer, Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez). He’s stuck between wanting to be loved by his family, who despises music due to it tearing apart their family, and his desire to become a great Mexican musician like his idol and great-great-grandfather, Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). On Dia de los Muertos, Miguel becomes motivated to disobey his family’s orders and compete in the town’s talent show, but he needs a guitar after his great-grandmother, Mamá Coco (Ana Ofelia Murguía), smashes his into pieces. Miguel scurries to de la Cruz’s memorial at the cemetery, steals his guitar and gets met with an unexpected surprise: he’s now able to communicate with the dead. Problem: Miguel now needs to find a way back to the living before he gets stuck with the dead and their world — permanently.

The plot set-up to Coco is elementary in nature, but its characters tie in the heartfelt emotion Pixar is known for. Miguel encapsulates the innocent dreamer who can’t take “no” for an answer. His second-in-command, Hector (Gael García Bernal), is the desperate lover longing for one final chance to be remembered by his family via their ofrenda. There’s depth to this film that took me by surprise, but what a marvelous surprise it was.

The animation in this film blew me away and is arguably the best I’ve seen in the past decade. The attention to detail had me sit back and mutter “wow” countless amounts of times. The film is vibrant and colorful once we get transported to the land of the dead. Coco simply feels authentic and true.

The story is, again, childish on the surface, but Unkrich and Jason Katz do a good job of appealing to adults. In the land of the dead, for instance, there’s a sequence featuring Miguel and Co. entering the family relations building. Inside, plenty of the dead are begging with employees to figure out why they aren’t remembered on Dia de los Muertos, meaning they cannot cross the bridge and reclaim their offerings from loved ones. Here’s where we meet Mamá Imelda (Alanna Ubach), Miguel’s great-great-grandmother, but what’s more is where I noticed a mother, father and two young children. For a lighthearted film — which Coco is — it touched on children dying and even entire families altogether. It’s sad, but a morbid topic that the film included to further build upon its depth.

I loved the diegetic sound in Coco. Too many times did I notice myself marveling at the sounds of the town, the allure of a mariachi band warming up before a performance and music playing on a TV throughout a home. The original songs and Michael Giacchino‘s score had me humming and attempting (ATTEMPTING) to sing them all the way home. The music did its job of getting stuck in my head for weeks. All of this added to a world that is rarely seen in animated film — or Pixar films, for that matter. Its diversity is only magnified by attention to detail, too. The sassy comments by Mamá Coco, and even parenting styles that relate to the culture, helped make this well-crafted world believable. I was immersed in a world that’s more than sugar skulls, music and tasty cuisine; I was a part of Miguel’s family during his journey.

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The only area where Coco lacked was genuine surprise, as the tale was predictable sans a single scene. Many Disney-Pixar films are victim to lacking a real shocking storyline, but that’s not a huge knock on the writing. After all, the demographic is children, and children need a bit of time to understand complex timelines. What I will give Coco is its story leaves more to be desired than Moana‘s, for example, which relied on playing it safe (don’t get it twisted, I loved Moana).

One awe-inspiring scene after the other and Coco‘s formula proves to be of a master class. I expect greatness from Pixar, but I didn’t expect for this film to rival the best the company’s ever produced. Each string plucked by Miguel emitted a mixture of fun, happiness, love and courage — which is exactly what we feel from Coco.

I was invited to an advanced screening for purposes of this review thanks in large part to Disney and Sly Fox. ❤ 

Coco is rated PG, runs 1 hour and 49 minutes and debuts in theaters on Nov. 22, 2017.


3 thoughts on “Coco is a workshop in how to make animation films lovable, genuine and fun

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