Set during the Mexican holiday of Día de Muertos, Coco follows Miguel, a young aspiring musician, as he ventures into the world of the dead and finds himself uncovering family secrets that hold the key to his future, and his family’s legacy. With uncompromising technical artistry, inspired music, and a dose of trademark Pixar magic (i.e. tears), this film is easily one of their best in recent memory.
Coco is a film about Hispanic history, family, and culture. The entire voice cast is Hispanic and key members of the creative team spent time in Mexico for inspiration in creating this colorful world of life and yes, death. Despite death being a key plot component in children’s entertainment since time immemorial, it is rarely afforded such a front and center exploration of what it means to be dead both to those who are still alive as well as in the ground. The nature of life and death is woven into a beautiful cultural tapestry throughout the film that honors tradition while simultaneously entertaining the hell out of the audience.
The color used in this film is the best I have seen in a Pixar film to date. And while Miguel’s world of the living is imbued with the contemporary vibrancy of modern Mexico, it’s the world of the dead where the party rages on. Tiers upon tiers of meticulously sculpted architecture ranging in diverse color families from pastels, to neons, brilliant autumn golds and oranges to deep purples and moody blues. How the light bounces and illuminates this world is breathtaking as strings of lights adorn each layer of a building as it scales ever higher. The inhabitants of this world are of course skeletons, each embellished with familiar sugar skull patterns that add further dimension to the characters.
The animation in this film is beyond exceptional, almost to the point of it being too good. Too good, meaning they could have just made this a live action film. I found myself torn during some sequences wondering if technology has brought us full circle from creating fantasy worlds to recreating the reality we live in (albeit a slightly more vibrant one). Of course Coco’s world of the dead benefits from qualities unique to animation, color being one of them. But the facial depictions of the human characters, especially Miguel, are near perfection. The emotions these characters are able to express via an animator’s hand, and a computer’s rendering, rival that of Hollywood’s best live actors. Really, anything to do with liquid is rendered gorgeously, whether it’s tears streaming down a face, a drink in a glass, or a body of water. There’s one sequence where Miguel is thrown into a subterranean lake and climbs gasping onto a rocky shore. I asked myself in the moment whether that water was real, those rocks actual rocks the directors randomly decided to film and put in the movie. The thought makes no sense, but it looks that good. Also, ever wonder how clothes would look on an actual skeleton? Look no further. You’ll never see hip bones the same way again.
I’ve saved the best for last. The music in Coco is infectious and is the heart and soul of the film. It ties generations of Miguel’s family together and remains the only way throughout the film that the characters relate to one another. Using a combination of newly written songs and reworked traditional music, this is the closest Pixar has come to Disney’s musical formula. But rather than be a device for plot movement, the music is a central character of the film and a vital way culture, history and family is explored.
I could go on but if ever there was a film to shut up about and just experience in a dark theater with a giant smile on your face, it’s this one. Pixar usually scores well with me, but rarely does it resonate on so many levels. A visual and aural feast for the senses, Coco is the next giant leap into the future of feature animation.
Coco opens today in Philly area theaters.
Author: Jill Malcolm
Jill is happiest attending midnight screenings with other crazy film fans at her local theater. Her other passions include reading, traveling to faraway places, cat videos, pugs, and jalapeño peppers. She is co-founder of the blog Filmhash.