I know I can hear you guys yelling at your screen ‘finally! She posts her review of Coco!’. It is long overdue, but I wanted to do it right because it is a movie that I loved. In fact, Coco was my favorite movie of 2017, and I saw nearly 150 new releases!
One of the great things that Disney has always done for little kids is help them understand the tough things of life. They have never been a studio that is satisfied to just make kids laugh. They took on themes of death, despair, frustration and anger in movies like Bambi, Dumbo, Lilo and Stitch and more. Pixar has also carried this torch with moving films like Up, Toy Story 3 Inside Out and Finding Nemo. Coco continues this proud tradition by being an important film about forgiveness, family and death. It is honest with children about the struggles of family life while still telling an engaging story with a likable protagonist.
Coco tells the story of a boy named Miguel who wishes to sing more than any thing else. Unfortunately his family is against singing and forbids him from entering a local talent show. On the Dia de los Muertos, Miguel decides to take the guitar from his grandfather Ernesto de la Cruz’s mausoleum to use in the show. This act of theft takes him into the World of the Dead where only his dead relatives can see him. He must get a blessing from a relative in order to return to the living and this is where the majority of our story lies. His dead relatives also hate music and want him to disavow it as part of their blessing. Then Miguel meets a man named Hector who is about to lose his spot in the Land of the Remembered unless his picture is placed on the offrenda.
In some ways Coco is predictable. We know that certain story beats are coming, but I thought they were executed really well and so they still worked for me. For example, when Ernesto proves to not be the person he is praised to be on earth it isn’t surprising but it still works because it feels surprising to Miguel. His response feels so genuine and sweet that it involves you into the story and his journey. I also love the way his relationship with Hector grows in a sweet and authentic way.
One of the things that has always bothered me about Bambi is we have this gut-wrenching scene of Bambi‘s Mother getting shot and then she is never talked about again. This is not a problem with Coco. The whole point of the movie is memories and how memories keep those we love alive in a tangible way. The song Remember Me tells us as much:
Though I have to say goodbye
Don’t let it make you cry
For even if I’m far away I hold you in my heart
I sing a secret song to you each night we are apart
Though I have to travel far
Each time you hear a sad guitar
Know that I’m with you the only way that I can be
Until you’re in my arms again
My Grandfather died in 2001 and to this day when I think of him I start to cry. I miss him now as much as I did those many years ago. There was never a person like him in my life and there will never another. When I remember it helps me feel him close by and that our love has power to make my life better.
Honoring and finding out more about our ancestry is something that is also a very important part of my religion so the themes of Coco really rang true for me. Miguel begins to understand this importance as he grows increasingly desperate to save himself and Hector. When he is pleading before Grandma Coco it is one of the most emotional moments I’ve had watching a film in a long time. Please Grandma Coco! Don’t forget!
The artistry in Coco is also phenomenal and I love that they introduced me to a whole new culture. Yes, I have seen The Book of Life but that didn’t feel as immersive in Mexican culture as Coco (partly because it is narrated by a white tour guide…). Everything from the marigold petals to the offrendas was moving, beautiful and interesting.
Fortunately, Coco is also very funny with wonderful skeleton gags that will definitely make you smile along Coco’s cute dog Dante getting into trouble. For people that thought The Good Dinosaur was too drab and Cars 2 was too silly, Coco gets the tone just right making it a joy to watch.
Some of Miguel’s family can be a bit off-putting but I think it is similar to the families in movies like Footloose or Dirty Dancing where they don’t want the children in their lives to grow up and make mistakes. They think they are protecting them when they are actually limiting their joy. This is why Miguel’s victory in the end has added meaning and power. He has come to know for himself who he is and what really matters in life- family, tradition, music and love.
In some ways Coco reminds me of Coraline. Both movies are about young children who must learn to love and forgive their imperfect families and go into a magical world that tempts them to throw off that family. They both must fight for who and what is right (and they are both visually stunning films to boot!). Miguel just like Coraline learns the value of a single human soul and once he understands that he will do anything to save Hector. It’s the connection with the Other that separates us from the animals and this connection continues after death with our memories. This is the message of Coco.
Coco is a triumph in every possible way. The message is beautiful. The animation is stunning. The music is touching. The look at Mexican culture is immersive and wonderful. It’s the last original film we will have from Pixar for a little while, and I am going to treasure it.
Overall Grade- A+