Coco is muy grandioso. Winning 2 Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song. Much like Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur in 2015, there was no competition between Cars 3 and Coco in 2017. The idea for Coco came from Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich. He was fascinated by Mexican culture and the holiday Day of the Dead or Día de los Muertos. Coco asks the question, what if a human was lost in the land of the dead? Unkrich and Pixar made an effort to respect Mexican culture as much as possible. Apart from Disney’s attempt to trademark the holiday. Coco was the first movie with an entirely latino cast to have a big budget.
The moment I heard about Coco, I had a feeling it would make an impact since it was based around a culture with a lot of influence. I thought the first trailer was interesting and bared a strong resemble to The Book of Life. Another computer animated movie about Day of the Dead, a musician, and a magical realm of the dead. At 22 years old, my brother and I saw Coco in a theater almost exclusively packed with hispanic families. Coco is definitely one of Pixar’s best films, but I couldn’t relate to much. I’m not hispanic, but you don’t have to be to understand the universal language of music and family. Coco is another human focused Pixar movie with music as the central theme and the dead being the one’s given emotion…
Coco was foolishly paired up with the 21 minute Disney “short” Olaf’s Frozen Adventure. A woefully misguided decision that forced audiences to endure another piece of Frozen media against their will. The short was obviously removed after many complaints. Coco itself was worth the endless wait. Like with any culture focused Disney movie, Pixar artists researched Mexican traditions and architecture with trips to the country. The fictional city Santa Cecilia is a fine representation with sparing uses of color. Coco has a respectable latino cast that consisted of Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Renée Victor, Ana Ofelia Murguía, and child actor Anthony Gonzalez. With the exception of smaller parts for Cheech Marin, Gabriel Iglesias, and Natalia Cordova-Buckley, Benjamin Bratt was the only major performer I recognized.
After having no clue what the title meant, I learned while watching the movie that Coco referred to Mamá Coco. The emotional core of the story. Coco is the great-grandmother of Miguel and the daughter of his great-great grandmother Mamá Imelda. A woman who banned all music from her house after her husband left to pursue the career and never came back. Sure the anti-music element has the same problems as Footloose, but it is handled well enough to be different. The large Riviera family stick to shoemaking and their Abuelita keeps all forms of music out of their house. One of which comes from a Pizza Planet truck radio. The ban is particularly tough on 12 year old Miguel. Your standard precocious child with a deep love for music. Despite the more Disney-like focus on culture, characters still retained the traditional Pixar look. With even greater attention to detail that rendered more natural looking skin. Coco actually looks like a woman in her late 90’s. Miguel spends a lot of time with her, but she slowly starts to lose her memory.
Miguel keeps his musical talent from his family, along with his admiration for the musician Ernesto de la Cruz. A Mexican Frank Sinatra famous for his musical movies and songs like “Remember Me,” before he was crushed by a bell. Miguel has more interest in a talent show than Day of the Dead. Outside of its basic honoring the dead message, I knew practically nothing else about Día de los Muertos. So I at least learned what the ofrenda display of portraits and offerings meant. I don’t believe in the ritualistic side, but I do agree that remembering loved ones is the best way to keep their spirit alive. A portrait accidentally falls off the ofrenda and Miguel discovers his great-great grandfather might be Ernesto de la Cruz when he folds back the torn photo to reveal his guitar. Miguel takes it as a sign to pursue music, but his Abuelita smashes his guitar in defiance. When Miguel runs away from his family, he attempts to take Ernesto’s guitar.
A single strum of his guitar sends Miguel into the spirit world à la Spirited Away. Where he’s invisible to all except the dead and his hairless stray dog pal with a floppy tongue Dante. Pixar had a hard time animating skeletons, but they’re rife with comedic possibility. They just have eyeballs since proper Day of the Dead skeletons would have been too creepy. Miguel runs into his many deceased family members who take him to the Land of the Dead to sort the mess out. The computer animation is most impressive in the crisp, vibrant, and extra colorful Land of the Dead. Petals create a bridge to the world with buildings stacked on top of eachother. The gateway between the Land of the Living is like a train station where the dead can only pass if their picture is on an ofrenda. One of the dead passers by is voiced by John Ratzenberger. He only says one word so as to not call attention to the fact that he’s not hispanic.
Although Miguel’s deceased family is pretty nondescript, his Mamá Imelda has all the personality. She’s unable to cross since Miguel took her photo and Miguel is stuck due to his stealing from the dead. If he’s not returned by sunrise, he’ll become a skeleton and be stuck forever. Only a petal blessed by a relative can send him back. Imelda sends him back at first, but he returns when he breaks her condition to never play music. Miguel runs off and bumps into Héctor. A trickster who desperately wants to crossover into the Land of the Living. Miguel agrees to take Héctor’s picture to an ofrenda in exchange for getting him to his only remaining relative Ernesto. Miguel & Héctor are an unlikely Pixar duo getting to know each other as they travel. Héctor disguises him with makeup and he reveals small details about his death, musical background, and connection to de la Cruz. They also meet famous hispanic figures like painter Frida Kahlo.
Meanwhile, Imelda has her families alebrije track down Miguel. Alebrije are colorful fantastical creatures that supposedly look over the dead. Héctor gets the idea to enter Miguel in a talent competition where the winner meets Ernesto. He gets a guitar from an old friend at a forgotten part of town and we learn that being completely forgot by the living results in a final death. Héctor convinces Miguel to play something other than “Remember Me” and he also teaches him to loosen up. Their singing is a hit, but they separate when Miguel’s family tracks him down. Imelda reveals her secret singing talent, only it’s not enough to convince him that she only wants what’s best for him. When Miguel sneaks into Ernesto’s lavish mansion, an impromptu performance washes away his makeup. Ernesto accepts him as the great-great-grandson he never knew he had and they bond over music and his career. Just as Ernesto is prepared to give his blessing, Héctor confronts his ex-partner.
SPOILER ALERT! Twist villains weren’t exclusive to Disney, since Pixar has a major plot twist that reveals the celebrated musician to be responsible for Héctor’s death. Ernesto is a really evil villain since he’s a murderer who poisoned his partner and stole all his songs. He throws Héctor out and does the same to Miguel when he questions his actions. It’s only in a pit that we discover a second more unexpected twist that Coco is Héctor’s daughter. Making Héctor, Miguel’s real great-great-grandfather. Imelda finally catches up to Miguel and has an awkward reunion with her husband. It’s also revealed that Dante was an alebrije all along. In order to retrieve Héctor’s stolen picture from Ernesto, his family devises a plan to sneak into his Sunrise Spectacular performance. They fight off guards and Imelda ends up singing on stage after retrieving the photo. Just as she has a change of heart about music, Ernesto admits to his crimes in front of a hidden camera and throws Miguel off a building. The crowd rejects Ernesto and a bell crushes him once again.
With the photo lost, Miguel reluctantly returns to the living with the goal to help Coco remember her Papá. Although the entire movie is understandably emotional, the central tear worthy moment is when Miguel plays “Remember Me” for Coco and she slowly starts to remember. I came very close, but I didn’t manage to cry. Really it’s the heartfelt musical conclusion where Coco joins her parents and everyone comes together to celebrate Día de los Muertos that pulls on my heartstrings the most. Coco isn’t technically a musical, but it did come closest to being Pixar’s first. The music in Coco was very necessary and captures authentic Mexican music beautifully. After their success with Frozen, Robert & Kristen Anderson-Lopez provide many songs with the help of other writers. Every song has latin charm, but the Oscar winning “Remember Me” sums up the message the best. Coco goes to shows us that a loved one is never truly gone as long as we remember them.