Coco (2017)

“All of this work to bring the family together.”

I’m not sure what to make of Coco. Its tedious and at times benign beginning is riddled with Chatty Cathy exposition right up until, in typical Pixar fashion, the picture gains its footing and crescendos into an emotional powerhouse. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I cried, or if I failed to mention the claps that came when the credits rolled. But for how incredibly intricate this film is with its visuals and for how breathtakingly beautiful it is to behold – the animation is absolutely stunning – I also couldn’t help but feel the force of watching the standard Pixar formula simply been dressed in a different cultural garb. Coco is a solid film, but as far as the animation studio’s pedigree is concerned, the story dwells somewhere in the middle of the pack, winning the race in expected fashion even though it’s the last one through the starting gates.

The family trade is shoe-making. Passed down from generation to generation, started by an Abuelita whose talented musician of a husband left her alone, music now banned from their lives entirely. This is a familia which makes soles without the rhythmic nature of the soul. Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) is the odd little man out though, sharing his plight with mariachi men as he shines their shoes in the town square against his parent’s (but mostly his stern Grandma’s) well-wishes. To him, music is life, and the world’s self-prescribed late “greatest musician alive” Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt) inspires this self-taught prodigy to forsake family traditions in order to chase his dreams. But Miguel’s quest begins on the Day of the Dead, and it takes him to unexpected places both physically and emotionally. The best part of Coco is its multi-faceted sense of transportation.

Once we’re all aboard, Coco really begins to take shape and finally embraces its differences. As Miguel crosses over to the world of the dead – a vibrant blend of bones, creatures, and Pixy Stix colored landscapes as ornate as they are complex – the story transitions from one about the pressures from family members to be similar towards one of an earned destiny to be different. Miguel’s guided around by Hector (Gael García Bernal), a seemingly skeevy skeleton who wants to help the kid so long as he’s returned a favor (in this case – his photo taken back to the living and placed on an ofrenda before he’s completely forgotten, passing on to another unknown realm). Coco might be completely inevitable in its plotting here, but it’s also spun with a refreshingly different twist. Most people will guess exactly what’s going to happen even though we don’t know all of the particulars. That’s the hook and I imagine most audiences will happily bite.

While Coco doesn’t belong in the pantheon of Pixar’s truly best efforts – I maintain that Inside Out is its most ambitious work, that the Toy Story series is its most deeply relatable franchise, and that Wall-E is its science fiction pièce de résistance – it’s still a great piece of work, layered with so much artistry and minute details that nearly every frame could be broken down and studied (a one-second shot featuring nameless characters eating elotes proves this point). The film tackles the same mortality driven material as last year’s shatteringly exquisite Kubo and the Two Strings (currently on Netflix), and while its take on existence and the after-life is packed with a vibrant punch, the latter simply has more focus on the theological themes at play. Coco is a great picture to look at and a pretty good movie to experience on the big screen, even if that dreadfully stiff/pointless 20+ minute long Frozen short film before the actual movie almost drove me towards the EXIT doors. The specificity of those involved in the technical craft departments help to elevate the script’s elaborate yet undeniable sense of predictability.

“The music…it’s not just in me. It is me.”

Rating: 4 out of 5

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