It has been awhile since Pixar has explored beyond their own universes (Cars, Monsters Inc.), which has caused a bit of sequel fatigue. However, with the release of what I view as their animated lovenote to Mexican culture, I think it is safe to say that Pixar still has the originality that we’ve all missed.
COCO is arguably in my top 3 Disney-Pixar films. The visuals, as per the usual Pixar standard, are absolutely breathtaking and we see this to full effect with the marigolds and when we are taken to the Land of the Dead .The symbolism of the marigolds is utilized to perfection as the road connecting the living to the dead. The youthful zest behind Anthony Gonzalez’s performance as Miguel propels the audience forward and keeps us running after him as he navigates the complexities of this strange new world. You will laugh and be led through an emotional whirlwind. However, this does not mean that we are spare from tears. If you have a soul, I highly recommend bringing a pack of tissues.
Director Lee Unkrich and co-director Adrian Molina take us to Mexico, where we meet Miguel Rivera. Miguel is an aspiring musician, who dreams of becoming an accomplished musician like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz (charismatically voiced by Benjamin Bratt). However, there’s just one teensy problem. His family has a generations-old ban on music, resulting in some really hilarious scenes with Miguel and his grandmother. Miguel is so desperate to prove to his family his passion and talent. So, as any young kid would do, he decides to try to steal Ernesto’s guitar to play it in the town’s talent show. Unfortunately, this comes with complications. After strumming the guitar, he is transported to the stunning and colorful Land of the Dead. Along the way, he meets charming trickster Hector (voiced by Gael García Bernal), and together, they set off on an extraordinary journey to unlock the real story behind Miguel’s family history.
The cast and their vocal performances really sold the film for me. Benjamin Bratt’s over-the-top swagger could be felt as we watched Ernesto de la Cruz onscreen. Due to the character design and the vocal performance, all I could think of was this would probably be what we could expect if Pedro Infante was ever animated. Gael Garcia Bernal installed humor as well as a kind, caring soul in his role as Hector, who initially comes across as this trickster. However, later on we find out that he has a heart of gold and it reflects in his vocal performance. Alanna Ubach is all stern and sassy as Mama Imelda, giving a zesty flare to the typical matriarch persona. As mentioned before, though, Anthony Gonzalez steals the show as Miguel. He provides this youthful energy that is hard to escape and is able to properly convey the complexities of emotion that Miguel feels as he struggles with doing what his family wants and wanting to pursue his own dreams. His singing voice is also incredible and he will definitely be someone to watch out for as he continues navigating
I have to go back to the visuals because the visuals were so stunning in COCO. The visual differences between Miguel’s hometown, styled after towns the creative team came across when they were doing research in Mexico, and the Land of the Dead are dramatic. The team captures the aesthetics as well as the feel of a Central Mexican town. The bustling market places, the roaming stray dogs, and the sense of community are hard to miss when we are taken through Miguel’s town. However, the true beauty happens when we cross over. The Land of the Dead on Dia de los Muertos is truly a party town. Some might make comparisons to Miyazaki’s Spirited Away in terms of how the initial building designs in the Land of the Dead build on top of one another, but it differentiates itself with the stunning usage of color.
The one element that makes COCO standout among its predecessors is how utterly musical it is. However, I am grateful that they did not go the Frozen route in terms of utilizing songs that are earworms (here’s looking at you, Let it Go). The primary standout song from the film is Remember Me, which is referenced throughout the course of the film. However, its simplicity and the songwriters restructuring of the song makes it so that you can enjoy the song repeatedly throughout the film. The lyrics will also have you contemplating the depth and weight of the message in the song. Un Poco Loco is another standout, pairing off Anthony Gonzalez’s Miguel and Gael Garcia Bernal’s Hector together in a fun, showstopping number that is sure to make everyone smile.
Disney-Pixar’s COCO will be released tomorrow on November 22, 2017. I highly implore you all to go see it. It is gorgeous and stunning, but will also make sure that you will be ugly crying and calling your family members after the film credits start rolling.