Pixar’s latest addition to their lineup of amazing animation is Coco, a colorful, vibrant film about remembering the importance of family while following your dreams.
The story centers on the Rivera family celebrating Dia de los Muertos. Young Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) wants to be a musician, but his family forbids music since his great-great grandfather left his family to pursue his musical ambitions. The rift caused by this patriarch’s absence has been upheld through the generations. The family offering does not even feature him, his head has been ripped out of the family picture. When Miguel discovers that the picture has also been folded to crop out his great-great grandfather’s guitar, he realizes that the guitar belonged to a famous musician, Ernesto de la Cruz (voice by Benjamin Bratt), who happens to be Miguel’s idol. When Miguel is accidentally transported to the land of the dead, he meets his ancestors and tries to find his great-great grandfather, so he can get his blessing to pursue music.
The writers at Pixar have done it again crafting a smart story that entertains and compels their wide audience. My husband and I took our three year old son to see Coco and all three of us loved it. My husband said it reminded him of Up, from the poignant family story and all the color. Our son loved all the skeletons and thinks Coco is a Halloween movie, even though I’ve explained the differences between that and Dia de los Muertos. I spent much of the movie with tears in my eyes, I found the themes and characters so moving. I think a good portion of the audience was wiping tears away as the film ended.
Visually, Coco is another beautiful step forward for animation and reminds us of the importance of color. In depicting a Dia de los Muertos celebration, color is so important and juxtaposed against the white skeletons and brings both the characters and the celebration to life. The Land of the Dead is an amazing feat of animation, depicting a huge city with a wide variety of buildings stacked and layered. The scenes in the Land of the Dead have a lot of depth and character. The animation of the skeleton characters is a great blend of accurate and imaginative. It takes a bit of creativity to give skeletons so many facial expressions, yet seeing one play a guitar so accurately is a delight. And the art nerd in me loved the comic use of Frida Kahlo.
One of my favorite scenes is when Miguel auditions to perform at Ernesto de la Cruz’s party. It’s his first musical performance, ever. Thankfully, he’s met Hector (voice by Gael García Bernal) who helps him stay calm and confident and becomes a wonderful addition to his performance as they sing Un Poco Loco and steal the show. It’s a wonderful mix of energetic animation and catchy music where we start to realize there is more to Hector than he seems. While I would not call Coco a musical, this scene gives me confidence that Pixar could make musicals just as well as Disney.
I seriously doubt Coco will be forgotten during the Oscar season. It is the obvious choice for Best Animated Feature. Remember Me could be nominated for Best Song and the writing here is so strong I would not be surprised if the film earns a nomination for Original Screenplay. While it’s rare for an animated film to be nominated for art direction awards, I wonder if Coco could be considered.
This film has many lessons to teach, to children, adults and to the aspiring artists, but one rings with more importance and resonates for all: Appreciate your family, especially the elders. Let them tell their stories and listen to their past. They are often our last link to those who have passed long ago. Take time to learn about your family, past and present, and celebrate them.
“Never forget how much your family loves you.”