Note: This is a Spoiler-Free Review
Pixar endeavored into uncharted territory with its recent release Coco, a film unique for its focus on Mexican heritage and emphasized music element. Not only was Coco successful on both fronts, but it provided us a cinematic triumph and the best release for Pixar since Toy Story 3 in 2010.
Coco follows the journey of a young boy Miguel Rivera, who lives with his family in Mexico. Miguel’s family specializes in making shoes and hasn’t tolerated music ever since Miguel’s great-great-grandfather, a star musician, left the family. That doesn’t fit well with young Miguel, whose interest and talent in music, especially the legendary Ernesto De La Cruz, leaves him at odds with his relatives. Hoping to play in a town talent show on the holiday Dia De Los Muertos, also known as Day of the Dead, Miguel attempts to take the guitar from De La Cruz’s grave, but eventually finds himself transported to the Day of the Dead. When Miguel’s ancestors force him to promise to stop playing music, Miguel flees in search of De La Cruz.
The greatest triumph of Coco is its originality, something that stands out amidst all of Pixar’s recent sequels and cookie-cutter flicks. The Land of the Dead is an enchanting and visually stunning environment and is developed well enough to engage the audience, even those (like me) unaware of the Day of the Dead. I loved the skeletal versions of the Land of the Dead’s inhabitants, the ancestors of the living characters, and they lend a comedic effect and pay homage to certain figures in Mexican history, such as Frida Kahlo. While the overall story structure of a boy pursuing his dreams in spite of his restrictive family may be a common formula, this film has plenty of twists and turns and puts a unique spin on the idea. The musical element also adds something to make Coco stand out in the Pixar family.
While Coco journeys where no Pixar movie has gone before, it also hits many of the same notes that have made its predecessors so beloved. Miguel is a relatable, energetic protagonist and is surrounded by a wealth of interesting and complex skeleton companions that all add something to the story. The music and animation is flawless, which has now become the norm for Pixar movies. The story tackles a topic uncommon of Hollywood, in this case Mexican culture, and makes it resonate with any audience. And as any top-tier Pixar movie does, Coco hits hard on an emotional level, as it weaves themes throughout that come together to build a powerful and tear-inducing finish.
As for my knee-jerk reaction, I wouldn’t lift Coco to an upper echelon of Pixar movies populated by classics like The Incredibles and Toy Story, but it certainly is a notch above the other films of this decade. The best comparison for Coco is the 2015 release Inside Out, which deals with many of the same themes such as remembrance, but I’d slip Coco a bit higher on the merits of its more masterful and entertaining storytelling. I’d rank Coco a strong 9th and 82/100, under Toy Story 3 and above Finding Dory, and recommend it for any audience.
Coco definitely achieved what it set out to do by presenting an authentic, rich spin on a classic storyline. Make no bones about it.