Pixar Animation Studios lets us escape once more. It’s easy to relish in the studio’s latest film, ‘Coco,’ which exudes rich, cultural delicacies of tradition and music. It’s rejuvenating to see a shift into diversity in one of the year’s biggest animated films. Lee Unkrich, with the help of co-director Adrian Molina, brings Mexican culture to the spotlight in such a graceful and energetic fashion.
It’s a story about afterlife and legacy, as much as it is music and tradition. Miguel Rivera comes from a family that holds an ancestral grudge against music after a member of their family seemingly disowns them for a life of glamour and fame as a musician. Even on the Day of the Dead, his family insists he take up a special role in their long-running shoe making business. Miguel is a musician at heart and it sways him enough to confront his family and run off to compete in the town’s talent show. His idol, the late, great Ernesto de la Cruz, is what keeps Miguel fighting for the chance to prove himself to his family that music is the melody of his life. With the honoring of the dead, crowded festivities lead him to find de la Cruz’s guitar. With a strum of the dusty guitar, Miguel is suddenly transported to the Land of the Dead. He meets trickster skeleton, Hector, voiced by ‘Mozart in The Jungle’s’ Gael García Bernal.
Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) is the Mexican holiday in which friends and family gather to pray and remember their deceased loved ones. It is celebrated to help support the dead in their spiritual afterlife journey. ‘Coco’ is so very enthusiastic in the way it educates us and presents it in the style of childlike dreams. The pictures on the “ofrendas,” and the use of neon-lit “alebrijes,” as the spiritual, whimsical animals that guide the dead and scare away evil, really breath life into an animation that one would at first dub as “a little kid’s movie.” ‘Coco’ quickly becomes something much more than that after its midpoint. With a patient first half, the film soars into storytelling momentum and we see a young boy take brave steps to secure creative freedom for himself and an understanding of how important it is to honor your family’s love and memory.
‘Coco’ is a colorful visual achievement that celebrates culture and legacy in a way that is enjoyable for all generations of viewers. The importance of family and tradition is very much ingrained into Mexican culture, and it’s beautifully represented in this film. A warm color palette with strikingly beautiful cool tones balances the film. To watch ‘Coco’ is like taking a walk through real Mexican towns and fiestas at night. It is the collaboration of many artists that create the boundless architecture of The Land of the Dead. Layer over layer, Pixar imagines and displays a fluorescent and neon land where our Miguel journeys through for most of the story. Even his walk across the marigold bridge in the other land is so wonderfully lit. I sat in awe as I was transported to a vibrant land that I know my eight-year-old sister beside me was marveling at as well.
The family dynamic toward the end really pulls on those heartstrings. This animated film has a way of reeling in a lesson so pure and close to the heart, it drives the story back home for the win. I found myself relating to its Hispanic culture charm that makes it all so refreshing to watch. In a way, this PG-rated voyage connects us to its adoration for the arts. ‘Coco’ is a colorful visual achievement that celebrates culture and legacy in a way that is enjoyable for all generations of viewers.
Directed by: Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina (co-director)
Starring: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Renee Victor, Jaime Camil