I’ve been disappointed for years now that Pixar joined the ranks of Hollywood studio sequel factories. After Up, Pixar strung together a series of cookie cutter sequels and disappointing original films. Not that they were bad, per se, but The Good Dinosaur didn’t exactly earn a spot on my Blu-Ray shelf. It felt more like something that should have come out of the Disney animation shop. With the exception of Inside Out – a writing, animating, and acting stand out – this whole decade has been disappointing. You’ll understand, then, how excited it makes me to say that Pixar has returned to form with a fun, heartfelt, beautifully animated, and wonderfully scored Coco.
Coco is the story of a young boy, Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), whose family has banned music from their household and for generations has made shoes in a small fictional village. The original sin of this music ban stems back four generations to Miguel’s great-great-grandfather who left his family to pursue a music career and never returned. But Miguel, our intrepid little artist and main character, cannot let go of music. After his grandmother destroys his guitar, he attempts to steal one from a grave site during the Dia de Muertos, a Mexican holiday that celebrates deceased loved ones. His act of theft inflicts a curse that sends him into the Land of the Dead, where he discovers his ancestors, learns about his past, and pursues his love of music.
The art and animation are gorgeous and imaginative. The concept artists made multiple trips to Mexico for inspiration and drew heavily from Mexican folk art. The music is delightful. The film will surely be nominated for best animated film, best score and best original song. Anthony Gonzalez has a beautiful, clear voice full of passion. Gael Garcia Bernal (Héctor), also performed his own vocals admirably on both the English and Spanish language releases. Alanna Ubach (Immelda) has a scene stealing number singing the Mexican folk song “La Llorona” near the end of the film that turns into a show stopper. Throughout is a hefty dose of acoustic guitar and mariachi music that’s sure to please.
It’s wonderful to see Pixar do such justice to Mexican culture. They chose Hispanic actors to perform songs mostly written by Hispanic lyricists and dialogue co-written by an Hispanic writer and director. Pixar also formed a sort of Mexican cultural committee in charge of making sure they got the details correct, not just to avoid the charge of cultural appropriation (though even with that, the Disney corporate overlords still managed to court controversy), but to really put Mexican culture front and center, from their beliefs and history to their art and music styles.
There’s a reason Coco not only won out its first two weekends against a bevy of superhero flicks including Thor 3 and Justice League, but is also now the highest grossing film in Mexican history. Like the best of Pixar’s pantheon of films, Coco works for young and old, it can make you laugh and cry, dazzle with vibrant art and rush home to listen to a catchy soundtrack. It’s also a welcome shift toward greater diversity in Hollywood. Animated films have an underappreciated historical role in opening up a window into other cultures for the world to see. While the film focuses on bringing together the living and the dead, here in the real world it should do wonders to bring us all closer together.
I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the Frozen short holiday film before the movie started. We’re all used to the little shorts before Pixar films, but this must have been a good fifteen to twenty minutes long and contained several original songs from the original cast. It seems to have developed a cult following on the internet, but not in the good way. Despite the near universal hatred I’m seeing online for the mini-movie, I thought it was cute and funny, if ten minutes too long to be considered a “short” before a feature-length film. I would have assumed it was merely a time filler for the relatively short Coco, but the main event used its time so efficiently I can’t complain at all about the overall run time. If you do wish to see it, you’ll need to hurry. Pixar is planning to pull the “short” from before Coco on Thursday, December 7.