TL;DR – Beautifully acted, stunningly realised, with a story that will wreck you in the feels, I cannot recommend Coco enough.
Score – 5 out of 5 stars
P.S. – There is no end credit scene but you can pretend there is one if you need to compose yourself before you leave the cinemas
Oh wow, I was expecting Coco to be good, it is Pixar after all, but what I was not expecting is to have a deeply emotional experience. So today we are going to break down the many factors that contributed to the success of the film from the acting, to the visuals, the music and of course the story. Coco is one of those films where every facet of the film supports and builds upon the next and create a whole that is amazing to watch.
So to set the scene, Miguel Rivera (Anthony Gonzalez) comes from a family of shoemakers who deeply dislike music, for a good reason. For you see his great-great-grandmother Mamá Imelda Rivera (Alanna Ubach) was abandoned by her musician husband, as he wanted to tour the world, but she wanted to stop and take care of their child Coco, Miguel’s now very elderly great-grandmother Mamá Coco Rivera (Ana Ofelia Murguía). However, this is a problem for Miguel because deep down he knows that he does not want to be a cobbler but instead he wants to be a musician just like his idol Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt) a great musician that came from nowhere to become the star of movies and loved by everyone, who dies in a freak bell incident. So Miguel is torn between what he loves and respecting his family’s wishes, and his grandmother Abuelita Elena Rivera (Renée Victor) is insistent that no music is the official family stance. Well, this all comes to a head on Día de Muertos, or as it is known in English The Day of the Dead, and through an impulsive action Miguel finds himself trapped between worlds, with a looming sunrise a ticking countdown. Now as we start unpacking the film there will be some small spoilers ahead so a [SPOILER] warning is now in effect for those who have not seen the film.
The first thing you notice in the film is the art style that they have created which mixes that Pixar style you have seen before in films like Zootopia (see review) with iconography from the Ingenious peoples of Central America. This is accomplished in a number of ways, the first is the lighting. This is such a beautiful and colourful film, which you see clearly with the reveal of the city of the dead. However, what really stood out for me was the colour orange which is metaphorically, and in one case literally, is the bridge that brings the two worlds together. This is because of the symbolism of the Aztec marigold that is traditionally used to allow members of a family to visit relatives on the other side, walking on the flower petals. From here the colour orange is used as a unifying force between the two worlds and helps translate some of the more emotional moments. As well as this, it was good to see Disney/Pixar approach this film and its setting with a bit more consideration than they have in the past. One of the last times Disney looked at indigenous themes from the Americas was The Emperor’s New Groove, which just took some of the iconographies from the region and used it as a setting for buddy/cop type of film, and of course the time before that with Pocahontas, which was strangely worse (there is also Brother Bear but I have not seen that so I can’t comment on how good or not it was). However, in the proceeding years, Disney has become a bit better in engaging with the people whose stories are being depicted in the films. You can see this with Moana (see review), and you also see it here with Coco and it shows. Yes it is still Disney, and “Disney still gotta Disney” as Lindsay Ellis put it correctly, but it is making big steps, and while I will leave it to people from that culture to comment about how well they got it right, however for me there were a lot of touches here that I really appreciated. Also the music, how good was Michael Giacchino’s score, I loved it, and it is built upon so wonderfully with the songs that capture that time and place.
The story and the characterisations are where all of this comes together to shine. Much like this year’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 (see review) which I loved, at the heart of this film is the theme of family, and what it means to be a part of one. The struggle of trying to fit into a family and their expectations when all you want to do is follow your heart is a powerful motivator. While for most I don’t think the issue will be that your family has banned all music (maybe for some it is) but everyone has experienced this at some point in their lives, even if it is was for something really trivial, so it is something we can all relate to. This is told through the fantastically realised Rivera family, and specifically our protagonist Miguel. One of the interesting story threads is the fact that there is a ticking clock for Miguel, if he does not go home before the sunrise he will be stuck in the city of the dead, however, he could go home at any time as long as he accepted his family’s conditions of never playing music. This creates an interesting tension for the character, as it reinforces his emotional journey. Also, if he didn’t run he would never have met Héctor (Gael García Bernal), and thus we would not have been emotionally ruined at the end of the film, nor would the second ticking clock, the more emotionally resonating one, have come into play. Now, of course, this is a film pitched for a younger crowd, so you will probably have worked out how it will be resolved so there won’t be any big surprises for you. However, they will probably be a surprise for any of the younger people you may see it with, and even then, the way they reveal the surprises is so emotionally impactful you won’t mind. Indeed, for anyone who has ever watched an elderly parent or grandparent lose their perspective on who they are, you will relate to the ending of the film.
In the end, do I recommend Coco, of course I do, but with a warning that you may want to prepare yourself with some tissues because I ended up ugly crying in the cinema at the end of it. The visuals are stunning, the cast is amazing, the music is on point, and the story is emotionally impactful. Good films engage, great films impact your life, and I am still thinking about the joy that was Coco, one of Pixar’s best.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Coco
Directed by – Lee Unkrich & Adrian Molina
Story by – Lee Unkrich, Jason Katz, Matthew Aldrich & Adrian Molina
Screenplay by – Adrian Molina & Matthew Aldrich
Music/Songs by – Michael Giacchino, Germaine Franco, Adrian Molina, Robert Lopez & Kristen Anderson-Lopez
Cinematography by – Matt Aspbury & Danielle Feinberg
Edited by – Steve Bloom & Lee Unkrich
Starring – Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Renée Victor, Ana Ofelia Murguía, Edward James Olmos, Alfonso Arau, Selene Luna, Dyana Ortellí, Herbert Siguenza, Jaime Camil, Sofía Espinosa, Luis Valdez & John Ratzenberger
Rating – Australia: PG; Canada: G; Germany: 0; New Zealand: PG; United Kingdom: na; United States: PG