Voices of Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Anthony Gonzalez, Cheech Marin

Mexico’s Day of the Dead is an incredibly lively and colorful event. It’s fascinating, and I was amazed that it wasn’t featured in more films. Sure, I saw it somewhere in the background of John Huston’s Under the Volcano, but it wasn’t until 2014’s Book of Life that the annual  holiday was given a full film. Now the Day of the Dead is given the Pixar treatment which means tons of heart, humor, and glorious animation. While Book of Life was good, Coco will be the film best remembered and linked to Dia de los Muertos. It’s another feather in Pixar’s cap. A wonderful movie.

Miguel Rivera (12 years old) was born into a family that loves each other but hates music. Long before he was born, his great-great grandfather left home, a wife and child, to pursue a career as a musician. His great-great grandmother, left alone to raise a child, worked hard to overcome, but banned music from her life and the lives of her descendants. Miguel knows all of this, but also knows that his destiny is to be a musician. He can sing and play the guitar just like his idol, Ernesto De La Cruz, but how can he follow his dreams without alienating his family? With that he embarks on a journey through the Land of the Dead, where he meets his ancestors and an untrustworthy rogue named Hector on his way to finding his hero Ernesto.

There’s an entire history of American cinema borrowing elements from foreign cultures through half-baked representations. Coco gets it all right. The voice cast (all stellar) is hispanic. The animators clearly and typically went to painful stakes to nail the small details. The writing conjures up a foreign culture lovingly and believably. The amazing thing is the film’s ability to show a separate culture but make it relatable to all. I loved the characters in this film, loved the family. I was impressed by the teamwork between animators and actors in creating them. The Day of the Dead offers a wealth of imagery for Pixar to play with, and they do their best work since Brave (which was technically brilliant, but weak story-wise).

When it comes to original, high quality animation, Pixar is in a class of their own. There was a period when Pixar was doling out an original, creative, masterful animated film every year, culminating in Oscars and huge box office returns. Lately, like the film industry as a whole, they’ve turned to a number of sequels: Monsters University, Finding Dory, Cars 3. These efforts though entertaining, beautifully animated, and well-crafted, they’ve failed to generate the same acclaim and excitement that Pixar was accustomed to. Coco is a return to form, in league with Inside Out, and Pixar’s early efforts.

-Walter Howard-

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