06/01/18 23:08 Filed in: 2017
Directed by: Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina
Starring: Anthony Gonzalez
What follows is the full-length review based on comments that were originally tweeted in Real-time from the back row of a movie theater @BackRoweReviews. Though efforts were made to tease rather than ruin this movie’s memorable lines and moments, some spoilers may exist in the following evaluation. For concerns over objectionable content, please first refer to one of the many parental movie guide websites. Ratings are based on a four star system. Happy reading!
For their latest animated adventure, Disney/Pixar has selected main characters of a different kind. Instead of focusing on toys, cars, fish, robots or insects, they’ve returned to the world of people. However, not all of these people are alive. No, the animation studios haven’t gone all zombie on us (although, how cool would that be?). Focusing on the Mexican people and their Day of the Dead holiday (Nov. 1&2 annually), the studios have given us a glimpse of what life is like in the Land of the Dead. The story focuses on Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), a young boy who wants to be an entertainer like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). Performing at the local talent show can help launch Miguel’s career, but first, he must borrow a guitar. But not just any guitar…the signature guitar that Ernesto played during his heyday, before the bell tolled and he met an early demise. Since he must ask for permission to play Ernesto’s guitar, Miguel embarks on a journey to the other side. Once Miguel has crossed the petal covered bridge that connects both worlds, he sets out to find Ernesto among the teeming masses of the macabre metropolis. As he navigates the Land of the Dead, Miguel encounters Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal), a lanky, fun-loving skeleton man who serves as both humorous sidekick and voice of reason for Miguel. Despite his seemingly silly persona, Hector holds a secret that literally busts open the story like a smashed piñata. Coco’s explosion of color rivals the visual vibrancy of the Finding films. Though certainly a marvel in its own right, Coco’s prismatic palette pales in comparison to its brilliant plot, which is chock-full of colorful characters and meaningful moments. This is the studios’ first attempt at spotlighting the customs and values of a minority culture. Director Lee Unkrich and his team of writers wisely avoided populating the story with clichéd characters and worn-out stereotypes. This is a deep dive into the hearts and minds of a people devoted to artistic expression, exuberant celebrations, fervent spirituality and, above all, the love of family. We’re treated to some traditional and modern Latin music including “Remember Me,” a top-tier, tear-jerker that should be a shoo-in for Oscar’s Best Song. Despite the fact that most of the movie works like magic, Coco has a fatal flaw—it borrows too heavily from other sources. The film mirrors Back to the Future in several key areas. Like Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox), Miguel wants to be a famous guitar player. Another point of comparison is that Marty and Miguel both travel through time (actually, the Land of the Dead probably exists outside of time, but close enough). Also, Marty and Miguel frequently reference family photos to learn clues about their family history and identity…and very existence. Ironically, the most obvious instance of plot theft in the story involves another Pixar movie. The trajectory of this film’s villain is so similar to that of Up’s Muntz, the only word that comes to mind is derivative, which I never thought I’d use to describe a Pixar movie. The film has problems with its premise too. For instance, is it really necessary to travel to the world beyond just to borrow a guitar? Admittedly, these are minor grievances in a movie that thoroughly entertains. The film subtly tempers its follow-your-dreams theme with a cautionary tale regarding the dangers of hero worship. Unkrich does a remarkable job of making morbid subject matter relatable and even, at times, humorous (e.g. the nude skeleton portrait scene). In the final analysis, Coco is rich in culture and character, sight and sound. It’s also a heartwarming tale of multigenerational connection between a young boy and his grandparents. Coco delivers an emotional wallop at the end, just to remain consistent with Pixar’s MO of leaving its audience in tears. But this time they’re tears of joy. Over a family reunion. Over fulfilled dreams. And over a young boy returning home…to the Land of the Living.