COCO review by Rahul Vedantam – Disney & Pixar make the afterlife look beautiful and fun

COCO review by Rahul Vedantam – Disney & Pixar make the afterlife look beautiful and fun

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COCO wears its influences on its sleeve, both culturally and theatrically speaking. A young boy gets “spirited away” to the land of the dead and must recruit the help of the locals to get back to the world of the living, or else he will become a permanent resident. In classic Pixar fashion, through his adventure he will learn his lesson on the importance of family, and always being true to them. And none of this is a knock on the film, at this point, Pixar knows how to make movies that follow a formula yet still manage to touch the heart (see INSIDE OUT if you doubt this). But it’s cultural influence, bolstered by an all Hispanic cast and Co-director Adrian Molina, that sets the film apart to make it special.

Luckily enough, Hispanic culture is not the wonderland set for exploration in the film. Everything from Abuelita fear-inducing chancla-throwing to the little strips of corn husks lovingly tied around her tamales, to the bright flowers embroidered on the blusas of the women in the household makes it feel like a real Mexican family. And that not even considering the boisterous Land of the Dead, where traditional zapateados are carried out and The Book of Mormon and FROZEN alum Robert Lopez’s beautifully composed “Remember Me” is performed. The film treats its subject matter with not just respect, but a reverence.

As for the plot, that’s where it gets a little messy. Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) is a 12-year-old living in a small Mexican town with his extended family and dreams of becoming a famous musician like his hero Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). The issue is Miguel’s family has banned music in all forms for anyone in the family. No guitars, no radios… nothing. This stringent rule was put in place because Miguel’s great-great-grandfather abandoned his wife and daughter (the titular Coco, who is now Miguel’s elderly grandmother) to pursue a career in the music industry. Miguel has a passion however, and on the annual Day of the Dead celebration, he slips off to find a guitar for his local talent show. Unexpectedly, when trying to obtain the instrument, he manages to pass over to the Land of the Dead and must seek the blessings of his deceased relatives to return, but when they insist he must give up his dreams of music he runs off to find the also-deceased Ernesto de la Cruz, whom he believes to be the ancestor of abandoning infamy.

One remarkable cornerstone of Pixar is that you know no matter what, the movie will be stunning to look at. With the sheer number of lights and colors in the Land of the Dead scenes it’s hard to imagine each one of them was individually animated. Ironically, it’s only once Miguel gets here that the film really comes to life. And Kristen Anderson-Lopez and her husband do a fantastic job composing the songs. From a technical standpoint, the big budget makes this production shine with polish.

On the critical side, the plot eventually gets a little too convoluted for its own good, with many twist and turns. I may be underestimating the ability of today’s kids to handle it, but it may require a bit of explaining after. Overall though, COCO brings together Pixar’s signature heart and polish along with some fantastic performances from everyone involved to make the film feel alive with authenticity.

EDITOR’S NOTE – Firstly, I saw this as well, and I adored it… would ever go so far as to call it one of Pixar’s best films. Since Rahul didn’t mention it here, I wanted to note that there is a short film which precedes COCO featuring the FROZEN gang and a plot centered around Olaf (Josh Gad) trying to come up with a Christmas tradition for Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell), since the sisters never had one growing up, a direct result of their parents keeping them separated due to Elsa’s powers. It’s cute and funny, featuring multiple songs (five I think?) and lots of that FROZEN charm, even if the songs aren’t quite as memorable, but as a intro short it overstays its welcome a bit. I didn’t time it, but it felt like at least 20 minutes, and at some point I just wanted to get to COCO. Still, if you liked FROZEN, this will serve as a nice treat until the legitimate sequel hits theaters. -Mark Walters

COCO opens November 22, 2017
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