Movie Review: COCO

Movie Review: COCO

Director: Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina
Starring: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Renee Victor, Edward James Olmos, John Ratzenberger, Cheech Marin

When Pixar isn’t cranking out sequels to their greatest hits (Finding Dory, Cars 3), they are creating timeless original stories that touch the heart and prove their staying power as one of the best studios in Hollywood. Coco comes from the mind of Pixar titan Lee Unkrich who’s the master behind Toy Story 2 and 3, Finding Nemo, and Monster’s, Inc. and shares directing credit here with animator Adrian Molina (The Good Dinosaur). They set off to educate children about a whole new culture unlike their own. For Miguel (Gonzalez), he bears the weight of a family curse that has been passed down from one generation to the next. His great-great grandfather left his wife and baby daughter behind to pursue his passion of music. His actions led his family to ban any and all music to be heard or played within their vicinity. Miguel finds himself at a crossroads, as the only thing he loves in life is music. His idol, Ernesto de la Cruz (Bratt), was considered one of the greatest musicians of all time thanks to his beautiful lyrics and ability to strum the guitar. Miguel wants to be just like Ernesto and learns how to play guitar by watching his old performances on VHS tapes. Of course, this is all done in secret as the music feeds his soul.

On Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, his village throws a massive celebration in honor of the loved ones who have since passed away. Miguel decides to take Ernesto’s advice to “seize the moment” and try out for the talent show. He sneaks into Ernesto’s exquisite mausoleum and attempts to steal the guitar on display. His bold move conjures up the spirits as he is transported to the Land of the Dead where he is reunited with his ancestors. Here he realizes that he can meet his idol Ernesto but the only way back home is to get a blessing from his ancestors. That blessing comes with a cost that Miguel must come to terms with if he wants to see his family again. Along the way, he’s guided by his rascally dog Dante and a vagabond named Hector (Bernal) who is also looking to reconnect with his loved one.

Much like Brave or even Ratatouille, Pixar invites the audience into a world and culture that may be unfamiliar. The celebrations around Dia de los Muertos showcase the cultural importance towards family and honoring those who came before us. The cultural folk music is a huge part of the story and is carried out in the film’s score by Michael Giacchino (Pixar’s Up, Inside Out). There are a variety of original songs by Frozen Oscar winners Kristen Anderson-Lopez & Robert Lopez. Their song “Remember Me” poses as the movie’s theme and will surely get stuck in your head. I wouldn’t be surprised if they won another Oscar for this tune.

Pixar never takes the easy road as we can see how the filmmakers and creative team have meticulously done their research in order to honor the culture in a respectful way. I sat in awe of the creations put forth on screen. After visiting the touring Pixar exhibit and interviewing the set supervisor of Coco, it’s fascinating to learn how they will create technology and programs in order to pull off certain effects or shots if they don’t already have the tools to do so. Coco continues that legacy with its dazzling and jaw-dropping creation of the Land of the Dead and the bridge that connects it to the living world. Both have their own distinct looks with the Land of the Dead using soft cool colors for its nighttime setting with a variety of glowing neons to light up the night sky and the creatures that inhabit it. There are some impressive effects including a flying jungle cat that may be one of Pixar’s greatest creatures even if it’s not a huge part of the story.

In order to stay true to the film’s spirit, Pixar has an all Latino cast with Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Edward James Olmos and Alanna Ubach voicing some of the vital people in Miguel’s life. It’s a smart casting choice and proves you don’t always need an A-list ensemble of quirky voices to carry a kids movie. Newcomer Anthony Gonzalez shines as Miguel. He can easily carry the movie to bring us along on Miguel’s journey to find the truth about his family. The character has such a strong determination and love of music, which effortlessly comes through with Gonzalez’s performance.

Coco has its sillier moments, but it doesn’t have that abundant amount of humor like Pixar has done before with some of their franchises like Toy Story, Cars, or the Monsters movies. It’s not that kind of movie, which is a mature change of pace for them. Part of the film’s message is to encourage kids to follow their dreams even when others around you may discourage you. You cannot deny what you are meant to be. It’s not always shooting stars as its tale of encouragement comes with a reminder that sometimes the things we want most in life can come with a cost. It’s a pretty heavy realization to teach kids. More importantly, it’s a story about family. You get that warm and cozy feeling inside, especially now around the holidays, as Miguel learns more about his family and forgiveness. Coco reminds us that we must not forget those who came before us. We need to honor our ancestors and remember their stories and sacrifices as a way of learning more about ourselves. The older crowd will want to have a tissue nearby, as you will inevitably think about your grandparents and the memories you carry of them.

Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? Pixar continues to astonish with their magical original stories. One to be cherished for years.


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