2017 certainly has been a down year for animated movies. While there have been a number of animated movies released throughout the year, quantity has far outweighed quality. As such, it’s certainly shown in diminishing box office numbers for almost all the animated movies released this year (minus Despicable Me 3). Luckily however, as far as animated movies are concerned, 2017 is going out on a high note with Coco, the latest offering from Pixar Studios. After three straight lower caliber movies (The Good Dinosaur, Finding Dory, Cars 3) from the well-respected animation studio, Coco is more of what we’ve come to expect from Pixar over the years. Thanks to the movie’s uniquely told story, respect to culture, beautiful animation, and catchy, original music, Coco is another noteworthy winner from Pixar.
Despite his family’s generations-old ban on music, young Miguel dreams of becoming an accomplished musician like his idol Ernesto de la Cruz. Desperate to prove his talent, Miguel finds himself in the stunning and colorful Land of the Dead. After meeting a charming trickster named Hector, the two new friends embark on an extraordinary journey to unlock the real story behind Miguel’s family history.
The story of Coco, while simple, is not what you might expect, which works in the movie’s favor in delivering its genuine, yet familiar message. Early on we see Miguel, a 12-year-old aspiring musician, play guitar in secrecy since his family banned music due to an old family wound. Once the secret is out, Miguel eventually finds himself transported to the Land of the Dead, where he meets members of past generations and races against time to uncover his family’s history. Families might find themselves enjoying Coco more than other Pixar movies because of the family history angle alone. We meet a number of Miguel’s living and dead relatives, who all draw laughs, which may remind viewers of members of their own family, both past and present. While Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) is the center of Coco, some of the supporting characters are equally good. The highlights include trickster Hector (voiced by Gael Garcia Bernal) in the Land of the Dead, famous musician Ernesto de la Cruz (voiced by Benjamin Bratt), Miguel’s great-great grandmother Mama Imelda, and Dante, a street dog that becomes a friend of Miguel’s.
Centered on Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), a holiday in Mexico that honors the dead, Coco is Pixar’s most daring movie since the birth of the animation studio solely because it’s their first animated movie where the humans in the story aren’t predominately Caucasian. From the beginning, Coco could have been a failure had its views on Latino culture been incorrect. Luckily however, director Lee Unkrich (who directed Toy Story 3) pays homage to the movie’s roots with its characters, surroundings, traditions associated with the festive holiday, and especially the music, which is the heart and soul of Coco. From the lyrics of the movie’s original songs sung by the cast, to the sounds of strumming guitar chords, to the mariachi-like score heard throughout, the music of Coco is quite charming.
With Pixar, you get the best of the best in animation. So, it’s no surprise that the visuals in Coco are stunning, especially when the movie takes audiences to the Land of the Dead. Sure, Pixar does animation better than anyone else, but something about Coco feels special, where the colors in the land of the afterlife are even more decorative. Along with that, when the movie focuses on its musical aspects, the animation pays even closer attention to detail; the guitar strumming feels meaningful and not lifeless like you might see in most animated movies. Director Unkrich wanted to make sure the music of Coco felt authentic, so he strapped GoPros on musicians who played instruments depicted in the movie and rendered them for animation purposes. Needless to say, they look great on film.
Without spoiling things, Coco really hits home with its ending, which is one of the best in a Pixar movie to date. As sweet as it is touching, it helps make a strong case for Coco being the best Pixar movie since Toy Story 3 (Minus Inside Out). Sure to win Best Animated Film at next year’s Oscars, Coco is a must-see for families looking for something to watch over the holidays. Be it the movie’s wonderful characters, beautiful animation, or terrific music, there’s something for everyone in Coco.