"Coco" is Pixar's best effort in years
Pixar, the king of making you cry during cartoons, is back with “Coco,” a new film centered around the Mexican Day of the Dead.
Pixar Animation Studios has produced some of the best animated films—and as far as I’m concerned some of the best films period—to have come out in the past 22 years, since“Toy Story” was released. In more recent years, they haven’t been as consistently on top, with films such as “Cars 2,” “Brave,” “The Good Dinosaur” and this year’s “Cars 3” not living up to the incredibly high standard that they set for themselves. “Inside Out” in 2015 was a wonderful and refreshing return to form for the studio, but does “Coco” reach those lofty heights?
A Journey Through the Afterlife
“Coco” follows a tried-and-true formula of “follow your dreams” and “be true to yourself”—etcetera, etcetera. This does at times feel a bit too familiar in some parts, and the narrative twists and turns are sometimes easy to spot, but that doesn’t matter—because the movie has so much heart and joy that its more conventional elements are easy to overlook in the face of the greater whole.
Through a series of events, young aspiring musician Miguel finds himself in the land of the dead on La Día de los Muertos, the one day of the year that deceased ancestors may return to the world of the living. While most of the movie takes place in the land of the dead, it is not dreary or macabre, but rather a celebration of life. The land of the dead itself is drenched in vibrant oranges and purples and is brimming with vitality. Fun characters populate the film, a standout being Miguel’s rule-enforcing, shoe-toting grandmother.
To say that Pixar makes good-looking movies is almost a cliché at this point. That being said, this movie is beautiful to look at. Pixar somehow outdoes itself yet again, with textures and lighting like I’ve never seen in animation before bringing the world of the movie to life.
La Familia y Música: The Themes of “Coco”
“Coco” is all about family, so it was nice to be able to see this movie with my family as it made the themes hit a little bit closer to home—in fact, maybe a little bit too close. The emotional core of this movie revolves around an elderly character losing her memory, and given the circumstances of how I watched this film—with my mother two seats to my right and her mother, who has been dealing with her own memory loss, right between us—it had a profound impact on me that will go down as perhaps my strongest experience in a theater this year.
Having family as the central theme is nothing new to animated family fare, but “Coco” takes the extra step and makes it feel truly genuine and effective by using a uniquely Mexican setting with strong, fleshed-out characters and the message that everything comes second to family, even your dreams.
The other central theme of the movie is the power of music. A movie that is so focused on music better have good music in it, and “Coco” certainly does. Composer Michael Giacchino infuses the same level of joy in Mexican culture as he did in French culture in his amazing score for “Ratatouille.” On top of that, the original songs here are wonderful and infectious—especially “Remember Me,” which I don’t think I’ll be able to get out of my head for some time (nor do I want to).
The Mexican setting and culture really bring out the most in both of the main themes here. In fact, it’s such a strong and important aspect of the movie that I almost felt at times like I should be watching the film in the Spanish language dub rather than the original English version.
The World of the Living: Why “Coco” is Worth Your Time
“Coco” is yet another example of why Pixar is the best in the business and is easily the best animated film I have seen all year. The gorgeous animation, fantastic music and touching story explore a beautiful culture that is under-seen in American movies. The storytelling formula is a bit familiar, but this is one of those cases where it is executed so well that it reminds you why these themes are explored time and time again. “Coco” is the perfect movie for this time of year, and I definitely recommend seeing this one with your family if you can.
We Need to Talk About that Frozen Short
As is the case with all of Pixar’s movies, a short animated film shows before the feature. They are usually wonderful little films made by Pixar, lots of fun and frequently even heartwarming. Sometimes I even like them more than the actual film, such as was the case with the short film “Piper” that showed in front of last year’s “Finding Dory.”
In a strange turn of events, that was not the case for Coco. Instead of the usual 6-7 minute short, Pixar attached a 20-minute “Frozen” short. Okay, I get it: Disney wants to keep “Frozen” in people’s minds for when the sequel comes out in a few years, but this felt a little bit excessive to me. Now it’s kind of nice and the songs are good, but the animation is a little lacking for the big screen, and at 20 minutes it’s excessive for my taste—especially since “Coco” is on the longer side for feature animation at 109 minutes. My mother even leaned over to ask me about 10 minutes in if we had walked into the wrong theater.
The short isn’t bad by any means, but I feel like you should definitely be aware of it, and if you want to show up 20 minutes late that wouldn’t be such a bad idea.
Runtime: 109 Minutes
Rated PG for thematic elements
“Olaf’s Frozen Adventure”:
Runtime: 21 Minutes