Football, turkey, and food comas are all major parts of Thanksgiving, but the most important part of the holiday has got to be family. Though you may not always see eye to eye with them on everything, at the end of the day, it’s your family that will thankfully be there for you when you really need them. And while it may be really hard to see that on days where you’re not gleefully stuffed with delicious delicacies, Disney and Pixar’s ‘Coco’ acts as a great reminder.
Set in the Mexican village of Santa Cecilia on Dia de los Muertos, the movie follows Miguel Rivera, a 12-year-old aspiring musician born into a family of shoemakers that believe music ruined their family. When he accidentally winds up in the land of the dead, Miguel is reunited with his ancestors that try to get him back home before he’s stuck there forever. But when matriarch Mama Imelda only agrees to help if he swears off music, he seeks the help of his great-great-grandfather that left the family to become a musician.
With Dia de los Muertos and Mexican culture being so colorful, it was only right that Pixar injected as much color as they could into ‘Coco’. Every aspect of the animation from the background to the indigenous clothing to the families’ alebrijes was gorgeously infused with multi-colored extravagance that properly paid respects to the culture that it was inspired by. And naturally, this was on top of the expertly crafted animation that we’ve come to expect from the same technologically advanced studios that brought us ‘Tron’, ’Toy Story’, ‘Moana’, and ‘Brave’, which all changed the way animated movies are made in their own way.
But not only has Pixar consistently upped their technological game over the years, their storytelling has evolved as well. After leaving the song and dance type of tales to the Mouse House for over 20 years, the studio has produced their first musical with ‘Coco’. So naturally, they called in the big guns to mark the momentous occasion. In addition to writer/co-director Adrian Molina and Dreamworks Pictures orchestrator Germaine Franco, Pixar brought in award-winning composer Michael Giacchino and the dynamic husband and wife duo Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez of ‘Frozen’ fame to pen the unforgettable tunes for the film. And while the entire soundtrack is filled with hits, ‘Remember Me’ is the one that really packs the emotional punch and will stick with you as you exit the theater for more reasons than you think. With statue season right around the corner, it wouldn’t be too surprising if we heard much more of the heartfelt ballad in award-winning conversations.
Of course, these songs (or the movie as a whole for that matter) couldn’t come to life without an incredible cast of voices. First, young Anthony Gonzalez really shines as Miguel when he gets to show off a pretty wide range of emotions. With so much potential at this early age, one could only imagine where he could go from here. ‘Mozart in the Jungle’ star Gael Garcia Bernal lets his undeniable charisma shine through the charming trickster Hector. Veteran actor Benjamin Bratt brings just the right amount of gravitas to the wildly famous Mexican musician Ernesto de la Cruz. Alanna Ubach was excellent at peeling back Mama Imelda’s many layers. And though she may not have had many lines, Ana Ofelia Murguía did a spectacular job with Mama Coco’s well-placed and extremely impactful words.
Finally, while there isn’t necessarily a weak spot in the film per se, it is worth noting that the story of ‘Coco’ is nothing revolutionary. Aside from an unexpected villain (that comes with an unlikely villain song that’s really ingenious when you think about it), a number of the plot points become very predictable as the events of the movie unfold. However, despite beats drawing parallels to Pixar’s past hits, each and every emotional blow genuinely connects with the audience in such a way that it doesn’t even matter that the story doesn’t take many creative risks. At the end of the day, that extremely minor critique is a complete and utter afterthought that is easily forgivable due to how masterfully the family-friendly theme, fully formed characters, rich Mexican culture, and sincerely sob-worthy scenes are woven together to form delightfully colorful tapestry of a movie.
Without a doubt, ‘Coco’ is a new classic in the pantheon of Pixar pictures. It’s easily their best offering since 2015’s ‘Inside Out’. And like its successors, there’s something for every member of the family from your great-great-great grandmother to their youngest grandchild. Plus, this film is to the Mexican people as ‘Moana’ was to Pacific Islanders in that each unique detail was meticulously researched to stay true to the culture being represented. I mean, who would have thought that if you let people of a certain culture tell their own stories that they’d feel authentic, right? But even with that “revelation” aside, this movie delightfully delivers the universal message that even though they may not always agree or understand, your real family will always love you. So at some point this holiday season (probably in the brief window before ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ comes out), make sure to seize your moment and take the whole fam squad to see ‘Coco’. Also, bring tissues.
‘Coco’ starring Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Renée Victor, Ana Ofelia Murguia, Alanna Ubach, Jaime Camil, Sofía Espinosa, Selene Luna, Alfonso Arau, and Edward James Olmos is in theaters now.