REVIEW: Coco (2017)

US Theatrical Release Poster – Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The following is a review of Pixar’s Coco — Directed by Lee Unkrich.

“Our dead are never dead to us until we have forgotten them,” English novelist Mary Ann Evans once wrote under the pen-name George Eliot. That tiny quote encapsulates a fear we all hold. That we will be forgotten once we are no longer here, and that we could forget the loved ones that have passed away.

Both thoughts are terrifying to have, and the latter thought is soul-crushing whenever the small reminders of those who have passed creep up in day to day activities. Pixar’s Coco attacks those fears head-on and molds them in a truly wonderful animated film that is sure to result in theaters filled with spellbound children and choked up parents.

Pixar’s Coco — directed by Lee Unkrich, who also spearheaded the production of Pixar favorite Toy Story 3 — is an immensely entertaining animated film about Mexican culture, family, and music. It follows Miguel Rivera (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) an aspiring musician who is not allowed to follow that dream due to the fact that his great-great-grandfather left his family to pursue a career in music.

When his family finds out about him wanting to sign up for a music competition on ‘Dia de Muertos,’ his grandmother breaks his guitar to prevent him from participating. As a result, Miguel runs away from home. However, Miguel still wants to pursue his dreams, so he breaks into the famous musician Ernesto de la Cruz’s mausoleum and steals his guitar.

However, when he tries to play it immediately, he becomes invisible to people around him and he is suddenly able to see and interact with the skeletal ghosts all over the Mexican town. Although his dead relatives are desperate to bring him back to life, they will only do so if he agrees to never pursue a career in music, which is something Miguel simply is not interested in doing.

So he runs away again, this time into the Land of the Dead — brought to life using these wonderfully vibrant colors that make Coco a beautiful film to watch — hoping to find his great-great-grandfather who may give him his blessing to seize the moment and follow his dreams.

The film has received a lot of praise for being a tribute of Mexican culture in a world dominated by films — and animated films — with stories about white people. It does, indeed, deserve that praise. The film is set in Mexico, all of the characters are Mexican, and most of the voice cast consists mostly of Latin American actors. This is a huge Disney-Pixar film that pays attention to the power of representation by telling a Latin American story that has already moved many to tears.

And yet, though the concept of the story is based on the Mexican holiday ‘the Day of the Dead,’ Coco‘s story and its neat little tricks are not distinctly Mexican. Its influences are very interesting. Its story is inspired loosely by the legend of Orpheus’ katabasis, and it has visual references to E. T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (the red hoodie) and, most obviously, Back to the Future.

Coco is, however, somewhat predictable, and that may actually be my only real problem with the film. Because carping criticisms all wash away, when Coco really works its wonders. It has that infectious joy that permeates most Pixar films and it is as charming and heartwarming as films can be.

Like we’ve come to expect from Pixar film’s, Coco also has these moments that work as incredibly effective emotional punches to the gut. I was choked up several times as I was watching the film, and there is one scene in particular with Miguel’s great-grandmother (the title character) — you’ll know the scene, when you see it — that absolutely broke me. It was beautiful.

And it was made even more beautiful by an incredibly touching song that is played multiple times. “Remember Me,” is such a great song for this movie. At one point it is used as a major song for an artist apparently based on Pedro Infante, in another it is used as a lullaby, and then there is the great scene that I mentioned in the previous paragraph. “Remember Me,” isn’t the only great song in the film. It has now been a few days since I saw it, but I’m still humming and singing each and every song from the film as I go about my daily activities.

Its central messages are also very beautiful. At its core, Coco is all about family, but it also deals directly with this idea of remembering our loved ones for their best qualities — celebrating them, even. In what is, to be honest with you, somewhat of a complex story, this message might’ve been muddled for the target audience — but, in actuality, I think it is going to work to perfection. I think this movie might end up helping children deal with the loss of a loved one. That’s a big thing for a motion picture to do.

As I was watching the film, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was watching a new classic — a classic-in-the-making, if you will — of animated films. Only time will tell if I am right, but make no mistake — Pixar’s wonderful Coco is quite frankly unforgettable like many Pixar films are.

9.5 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen

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