I think it’s only fitting enough for me to admit that I’m a total sucker for the films of Pixar Animation Studios because of how much of an impact they had left on my own childhood. Toy Story was the first film I had ever seen as a kid and Finding Nemo was the first film that I had seen in theaters, so to say the least, I do owe them a great lot for forming many fond childhood memories. That having been said, what I miss greatly is the time in which they had been able to present one wonderful film after another and the Cars films had broken that streak of success. After a string of disappointments one after another with the exception of Inside Out, Coco is yet another hit – and hopefully a sign that Pixar may be back to what they had always been best at. It seems both blessed and cursed in the sense that it may hint at Pixar finding a sense of consistency once again, but a curse upon the thought it may merely be a fluke but as far as Pixar’s future is concerned I am hoping only for the best.
Coco is the story of an aspiring musician named Miguel Rivera, the youngest member of a family who has placed a ban on music around himself for many generations that have preceded his own. In secret he admires the late Ernesto de la Cruz and is eager to show his talent to many people on Día de Muertos. A new adventure begins from there when Miguel inadvertently ends up visiting the Land of the Dead and runs into his deceased ancestors and a trickster by the name of Hector, who helps him to uncover more secrets about his own family’s history. Although the progression might very well come off as by-the-numbers as far as Pixar’s standards have gone (an unlikely duo setting off on an adventure is arguably their most recognizable template), what they manage to work around from the core concepts they carry is what allows their work to win over audiences of all sorts.
The concept of Coco is built around Día de Muertos (the Day of the Dead), a noted holiday in Mexican culture built around aiding the spirits of the deceased within another journey. For as much as this concept alone is enough to inspire beautiful world building upon the first step into the land of the dead which showcases some of the most beautiful animation to have come out from this year, Pixar’s own love for Mexican culture isn’t stopped right there. It also happens to become even more evident from the voice cast primarily consisting of actors who are of Mexican descent whether it be the always wonderful Gael García Bernal or the newcomer Anthony Gonzalez as Miguel or even an extensive list of important figures in Mexico’s history even making brief appearances, not limited to Frida Kahlo or Diego Rivera – Pixar isn’t merely telling a story set within Mexico anymore. It is a culture that is rarely ever properly explored from an outsider’s perspective and Coco embraces every bit of it so lovingly.
As far as the familiarity of Pixar’s formula can get, the way in which Pixar works it into the concept of Coco also brings out what is arguably amongst their most mature and most thoughtful work since Up. Being based around the Día de Muertos holiday, Coco‘s journey goes beyond life and death and touches upon the unity that a family’s legacy can bring forth. It doesn’t bother me so much anymore because of the fact that Pixar’s sentimentality feels perfect within this scenario as there is only so much as to where one’s own memory of their ancestors can go in order to be passed on within the world of the living. Quickly enough, it begs the question as to how we choose to live with the legacy of a family name because this inheritance of a gift isn’t limited only to one perspective – it is universal. It was only all the more beautiful that Lee Unkrich abandoned a singular point of view to tell a story of another culture because quickly enough, it has created a feeling of universality – something most fitting especially with the film’s portrait of Mexican culture.
I do have one issue, though – and it has quite frankly been bothering me with Pixar’s films after Inside Out because of how much I had appreciated the way in which said film worked without an antagonist character. Perhaps it may seem like a bit of a nitpick, though I can’t help but feel as if he seems to be crafted from other Pixar villains that we had seen in the past. The twist to reveal his true colours was not especially surprising, but it still felt if anything like a cardboard cutout of Pixar villains that had been done in the past. Right here was where the story’s occasional predictability had only found itself faltering, because Pixar haven’t always been able to stray away from what they have already been working with for years even if they managed to hide such in the best ways possible.
There’s also another thought that came into my head about why Coco seems necessary now, because the current political climate has only resulted in a narrow-minded viewpoint of outsiders and what Pixar created was a tale of Mexico’s culture from a universal perspective. If Pixar can only continue on with the thoughtfulness as presented in films like this and Inside Out without treading merely on the surface as many of their past films have been doing so, then they may very well be on the right path to becoming exactly what I had always remembered them for. If it only gives me hope for their future, then I am set to welcome them back to the top.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.
Directed by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina
Screenplay by Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina, Jason Katz, Matthew Aldrich
Produced by Darla K. Anderson
Starring Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Renée Victor, Ana Ofelia Murguia, Alanna Ubach, Jaime Camil, Sofía Espinosa, Selene Luna, Alfonso Arau, Edward James Olmos
Release Year: 2017
Running Time: 109 minutes