Let the guitar cry…
Pixar has had ups and downs over the years, to the point you never know what you’re going to get from the seasoned studio. Sometimes you’ll get something breathtaking like Up or Wall-E, sometimes you’ll get something mediocre like The Good Dinosaur or Finding Dory, but it’s hard to top their absolute worst of Cars 2. Their original ideas free from corporate mandates for sequels tend to hit far more than they don’t, and additionally seem to benefit from some genuine imagination in the story and visuals department. So I was all set to check out their latest, Coco, only to hear it’s one of their biggest tearjerkers. Now, as I had explained yesterday, moving me to tears is a tall order, so how did Pixar fare?
Miguel Rivera (Anthony Gonzalez) is the great-grandson of the titular Coco (Ana Ofelia Murguía), and he dreams of becoming a musician like his great-great-grandfather. However, the rest of the Rivera family, particularly his grandmother (Renée Victor) shun any form of music in their household as the great-great-grandfather left his wife, Imelda (Alanna Ubach), and Coco by themselves so he could pursue his own dreams of becoming a famous musician. Through a series of mishaps, Miguel discovers that said great-great-grandfather is in fact Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), one of the most famous singers in all of Mexico; but when Miguel tries to pursue his ancestor’s footsteps, he ends up getting trapped in the Land of the Dead. Assisted by a mangey dog and wayward soul named Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal), Miguel tours the Land of the Dead in search of Ernesto de la Cruz to find a way back to the Land of the Living.
A lot of the story beats from Coco have shades of Up, Brave, and other Pixar properties, especially in the first hour of the tale. While that did dampen my initial positive reaction to the film, I was still too busy admiring the beautiful aesthetic the animators employed in depicting the Land of the Dead. In many ways, Coco takes Mexican culture and breathes life into a beautiful animation into aesthetic the way Moana did for Polynesian culture. Now, some have drawn comparisons between this film and Dreamworks’ The Book of Life, pretty much exclusively based on the fact that both stories deal with a living person hanging out with skeleton people typically seen in Mexican culture. But that’s pretty much where the similarities end, because the tone, story, score, and characters are a completely different animal all together in Coco. And these important qualities are what set the film apart from not only The Book of Life, but even major productions vying for attention as best of 2017.
I liked the characterization of our protagonist Miguel. With a strong performance from newcomer Anthony Gonzalez, Miguel takes everything that I like about a child protagonist and goes the extra mile. Displaying a character with ambition and major faults that are easily explained by very human reasons relating to family obligations and loyalty. It’s a struggle for him to reconcile his own desires and for what his family expects out of him, in a manner not unlike what Moana had gone through with her father in leading their village. Actually, I keep coming back to Moana, because your main protagonist in Coco experiences a very similar arc in terms of setting about his journey upon discovering something incredible about his family history that his elders have tried to suppress and fulfilling said journey upon finding what the protagonist needed versus what they wanted. But what helps set Coco apart from Moana in the right ways is an emotional gut punch of a ending and a much more interesting side character that experiences an incredibly poignant character arc.
This where Gael Garcia Bernal’s Hector comes in, though I admit I didn’t really like him upon his introduction. The character initially reminded me of the typical Disney goofy sidekick, up until the end of the first act when you realize that Hector is indeed in mortal danger. But wait, how could he be in danger if Hector is already dead? Pixar has ironically found a fate far worse than death, and the film truly does not shy away from confronting it head on and making you both appreciate the danger and traumatizing your kids in the process. Hey, helpful scenes like this that remind us of our mortality are what made hits like Bambi stick out all the more, so it’s not entirely unwelcome. Going back to Hector, I slowly became enamored of his and Miguel’s bonding in ways that other Disney properties didn’t fully sell me on their buddy-buddy relationship, which is why the climax works as well as it does and succeeding where other purported tearjerkers failed: it got me to cry.
No I do not mean the film merely made me tear up, I mean I had full blown waterworks from both eyes. Coco absolutely delivers a knockout to your feelings, especially if you had a close relationship with a grandparent or someone who suffered from Alzeheimer’s or any neurological illness. All of it accomplished through a single song that plays throughout the film called “Remember Me” that many of the movie’s characters all huge fans of and sing wonderfully. But it’s not until the finale when it’s revealed the meaning behind the words that you fully comprehend why it’s so important, so moving and so beautiful.
Now that I mention, all of the music is truly superb. The original songs were composed by the duo that wrote all the highly memorable singles from Frozen, and are complimented by a wonderful score by Michael Giacchino. The songs are also used to far different effect than in other Disney productions like Frozen and Moana, in that they’re not simply there in the format of a musical. Rather, all the songs have a narrative purpose for what they’re used for, and many contribute to some of the best scenes in the film. One particularly funny moment came in the middle as Bernal’s Hector sings a song for another character played by Edward James Olmos (the Latino cast list in this film is another thing that I absolutely adored) that was both humorous and just plain bittersweet. Honestly, it only reminded me that there’s barely any fat to this film as each sequence weaved into the next and dropped an important clue to build up to the film’s spectacular finish.
The film deserves all the love in the world for giving me a the biggest happy-sad cry I’ve had in a long time, but the fact it’s also a gorgeous looker with a fantastic musical composition along with memorable and relatable characters is what truly separates this film from the rest of the pack this year. We’re winding down to big finale of 2017 as we determine which films truly rank as best of the best, and the fact that we had one of our strongest years in animation shows just how damn memorable Coco is. This truly belongs in my Top 5 of 2017 right now, and you should check this film out as soon as possible. Because this movie is not merely worth a trip to the theaters, it deserves my highest possible rating. Yes, for the second time in 2017, I’m giving a film a perfect rating. The one, the only…
BETTER THAN SEX!