By: 3-Deep (Three Beers) –
Coco is a celebration. A visual feast and emotional extravagance filled with life, warmth, heart, and acceptance, providing a beacon of love and hope and tranquility in our bleak and morally askew time. Disney/Pixar’s best original animated film since 2015’s excellent Inside Out is a firm reminder of what makes the powerhouse animation company among the best moviemakers in the business. But more than that, Coco is an affirmation of the power of great and simple storytelling, and how passionate, wholesome, intelligent, and socially progressive filmmaking can make a difference in such turbulent, troubling times. Coco isn’t merely another exceptional film from Pixar; it’s a proud, loving reminder of why we love movies.
The story follows Miguel Rivera (Anthony Gonzalez), a 12-year-old boy living in Mexico with one simple dream: to become a famous musician, just like his idol, the late Ernesto De La Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). But there’s a problem: his family has firmly denounced music in their household for generations after Miguel’s great-great-grandfather walked out on his great-great-grandmother, Imelda, and their daughter, Coco, to pursue his music dreams. But Miguel is not deterred. Playing in the attic in secret alongside his best friend, the stray dog Dante, Miguel harbors his dream of becoming a famous musician. And when he discovers there’s a talent show on Dia de Los Muertos, Miguel follows his hero’s mantra and “seizes his moment.”
But when Miguel’s family discovers his musical aspirations, they promptly destroy his guitar, killing his chance of playing in front of a crowd for the first time. In a fit of rage, Miguel runs away from his family and attempts to play in the talent show anyway, even if he doesn’t have an instrument at his disposal. With little time and even fewer options at his disposal, Miguel attempts to raid Ernesto’s shrine and retrieve his guitar for the night. But when Miguel first strums the strings on the instrument, a magical thing happens: he is transported to the Land of the Dead, where Miguel comes in contact with several deceased family members, including Mama Imelda (Alanna Ubach), the matriarch who continues to rule even in death. She promises to bring Miguel back to the Land of the Living, but only if he does one solemn deed: never play music again. That’s a promise Miguel cannot keep, and therefore he winds up trapped with the undead.
Now, the clock is winding down. If Miguel doesn’t make his way back to the Land of the Living before Dia de Los Muertos comes to an end, Miguel will be living with the unliving for the rest of his existence. In the process of making his way back, Miguel runs into Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal), an undead beggar without a family to claim as his own who is desperately trying to make his way back to the Land of the Living for the holiday. If Hector can return Miguel to the living, Miguel will help bring Hector back to the living for this special day. It’s a compromise! But in the process of beating the sun, Miguel and Hector discover how much they have in common, and that’s before Miguel and Hector wind up crossing paths with Ernesto.
After churning out a couple of good, if underwhelming and mostly unnecessary, B-grade sequels, including Finding Dory and this summer’s Cars 3, along with the disappointingly average The Good Dinosaur, Coco is the firm return-to-form Pixar has needed for years. Blistering with creativity, cleverness, inspiration, and excitement, directors Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3) and Adrian Molina make a new family classic that scorches with the burning enthusiasm that’s mostly been absent from Pixar’s filmography post-Inside Out. The characters, even though most of them are dead, ironically, are more lively and well-envisioned than many we’ve seen from the studio of late, and the passion and imagination that went into making the Land of the Dead such a festive, beautifully-crafted wonder is yet another testament to Pixar’s terrific world-building talents. There’s very little I can say about this movie that I didn’t like. It’s everything you hope a Pixar movie would be: inclusive, dynamic, pulpy, fun-loving, and quick to hit all the right emotional beats.
That said, Coco isn’t a perfect film. The film’s biggest flaw is that, for all the inspiration that went into its characters, backdrops, and designs, the story itself is pretty formulaic by design. That’s not to say that the story is bad. It’s sweeping, empathetic, tender, engrossing and impactful. But the beats are — for the most part — expected. There’s very little here that’s surprising, and very little you won’t predict, and that ultimately makes it hard to put it in the same ranks as, say, WALL-E or The Incredibles or Toy Story 1-3.
But that’s not to suggest Coco is without its charm, of course. In fact, it’s often a testament to the film’s success that you’re not often bothered by its by-the-numbers predictability. You’re so engulfed in its grand vision that the fairly familiar, yellow brick road outline it follows isn’t necessarily a grievance as much as it’s a roadmap to its success. It hits all the expected beats, but you want it to hit those beats. You’re hoping it gets those emotional beats down pat. And while some might consider it a B-level Pixar effort for its route storytelling framework, it’s ultimately a credit to the success of the filmmakers that you’re engaged anyway.
But since Coco is constantly in motion, and because it follows a racing clock to the finish line, there are some elements of the story in the third act that, without getting into spoilers, deserve some firm criticism. It’s hard to describe without getting into specifics, but let’s just say that the movie ends just a little too neatly for its own good, especially when you consider the complexity of the emotions and family dynamics at play. It’s a shame it couldn’t quite reach the layered complexity of Inside Out or even The Incredibles. But with all that said, however, if you’re not moved by the end, you might want to get your heart checked.
Coco isn’t quite on par with some of Pixar’s other well-established masterpieces, but it gets pretty close. Above all else, it’s a triumph for inclusivity and Pixar’s broadening horizons, promising a future that will promote new perspectives, new ideas and hopefully a lot fewer sequels (with that said, Pixar, please feel free to release Incredibles 2 as soon as possible. That movie looks like it’s going to be a real blast.) In a year as dark, dour, and miserable as 2017, Coco is the perfect remedy for the broken heart and soul. You’re not likely to watch a more heartwarming, inviting, and emotionally swelling family picture this holiday season.
Coco (2017) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time a character breaks into song.
Take a Drink: anytime Dante hops onto the frame.
Take a Drink: anytime one of the characters says “Dia de Los Muertos” or “Land of the Dead/Living.”
Take a Drink: every time you cry or are on the verge of tears. It’s okay to admit it. Put your pride aside.
Do a Shot: when you get to the big reveal.
Do Another Shot: when you get to the next big reveal.