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Coco – Movie Review

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Coco – Movie Review

Rating: B+ (Very Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Walt Disney Studios

The beauty of Coco is how it sets out to portray Mexican culture and director Lee Unkrich, his co-director/co-writer Adrian Molina and the rest of the Pixar team do so quite lovingly. The principal theme of remembering our loved ones is done with the proper heart and while some predictable turns occur, Coco is heartfelt and inventive enough to make an easy impression. It succeeds at taking us to the Land of the Dead and providing the necessary context to get us emotionally invested. Coco also becomes surprisingly relevant in other ways, although revealing why would count as a spoiler. While not among their classics, the storytelling hallmarks Pixar is known for are all over this film.

Starting with the opening Disney logo playing “When You Wish Upon a Star” in the style of a mariachi band, it’s clear Unkrich and Molina are intent on washing the audience with Mexican iconography and music. The small town protagonist Miguel inhabits feels genuine, a credit to the research trips Pixar is known for. There are likely plenty of in-jokes and cultural nods that will only be understood by Mexicans, but the film also does a lovely job of bringing the viewer in. Miguel’s family history is strongly established as is the central conflict. What could have been derivative of Footloose instead feels unique to Miguel. Even though he has a tendency of shouting his lines, there is enough likeability there to make one root for him.

The most inspired portions of Coco come from the depiction of the Land of the Dead. Production designer Harley Jessup and the Pixar animators bring a vibrant colourful world to life and the little touches in the various locations are quite clever. The concept behind how skeletons are allowed to visit the living world is inspired as is the DMV-like building with its bureaucratic pencil pushers. The use of music is an extra bonus in Coco, which could technically be called Pixar’s first musical. Characters breaking into song becomes more important here than in the Hopping Lamp’s previous productions with one song in particular, “Remember Me”, serving as the central theme. Unkrich and songwriters Kristen and Robert Lopez find multiple ways to weave the tune into the narrative.

The stand-out character of Coco ends up being Hector, who accompanies Miguel on his journey. The trope of characters with different goals teaming up is a common plotline in Pixar works, but Unkrich finds a way to bring new ideas to the table. The animators also clearly enjoyed themselves with Hector’s unique walk and movements. What slightly holds Coco back is the story’s surprisingly easy to spot beats. It doesn’t take long to figure out what direction the film is going, but Unkrich’s solid direction keeps one’s interest. The climax also seems to create multiple conclusions, stretching it out with one obvious trick after another. However, the final moments end Coco on a high note.

It’s almost unfair to compare each new Pixar film to the masterpieces of Wall-E and the Toy Story trilogy. That’s putting unnecessary pressure on the filmmaking team to develop perfection each time out. Pixar is a studio that has a keen sense of story and knowing what will please an audience. Most importantly, they are never afraid of tapping into our emotions and touching our sweet spots. Coco does succeed at that, despite its more obvious moments. By making both a musical and an ode to a celebrated culture, Unkrich clearly wanted to step outside of the box a bit and develop something enriching for other reasons than we might anticipate. It’s almost expected that each new Pixar film will have incredible visuals and some fun characters. However, the filmmakers and artists never coast by on their laurels. Coco may not stand among their best work, but it still deserves a worthy place on the shelf.

 

Stefan Ellison
THE SCENE


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