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Movie review

Coco: Music and Family Come Together in the Afterlife

WRITER : Admin | DATE : 19-10-19 | CATEGORY : Movies
Pixar’s best films work when they deliver on a world we’ve never seen before with a story that plays itself strong and mature. Coco provides spectacularly on both with another animated masterpiece that is ideally suited for the Thanksgiving season. Here is a film that not only takes a colorful and creative approach to the Day of the Dead holiday but also weaves a wonderfully thoughtful and emotional tale of lineage and passion. The timing of releasing a film on Thanksgiving that stresses the importance of family is impeccable.

The story begins in a Mexican village where the plucky Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) has a dream of music that his family doesn’t share. The Rivera family has prided themselves on the production of shoes ever since Miguel’s great-great-grandfather left his family to pursue a career in music. Miguel’s grandmother lays down the law by keeping this art out of the house and away from her son, be it a guitar or a whistling tune, armed with one good shoe off her foot for throwing. So hated is music that the Riveras refuse even to acknowledge Miguel’s great-great-grandfather by name, cutting out his picture from photos and refusing to display it on the Day of the Dead.

Still, Miguel remains committed to his musical passion, going so far as to steal the guitar of the beloved Mexican celebrity Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt) to play in a talent show. When he does so on the Day of the Dead, however, he is transported to the afterlife, meeting the many ancestors that have passed to a world of lively skeletons. There’s order to this world and how spirits can travel to and from the plain of existence. Long story short, Miguel can’t return home and still play music unless he finds an ancestor that will agree to let him strum a guitar. If he doesn’t get home by nightfall, his stay will be permanent, and his skeleton makeup won’t be a disguise any longer.

Aiding Miguel is the vagabond Hector who has something to gain as well. The dead apparently can’t visit the realm of the living unless their loved ones place a photo of them up as a tribute on the Day of the Dead. Too much time away from the land of the living results in the passing into the next world. Hector doesn’t know where they go, but it mostly means you’ve been forgotten and Hector’s time is coming up quick.

Though Miguel’s journey through the Land of the Dead is a gorgeous experience with its bright nightlife, comical citizens, and obligatory music numbers, it’s a story more engaging for the sordid affairs of the Rivera family. The further Miguel travels, the more he learns about his family history and the somewhat tragic events that led to his family being the music-hating shoemakers. There are a few twists that come with such reveals, some that come almost telegraphed from the start, but the expert writing keeps the story continually moving and surprising that by the time we arrive at the expected conclusion, there’s a genuine thrill for the ride to get there.

Accompanying the strong script is Pixar’s usual order of breathtaking aesthetic with theatrical animation. The city for the Land of the Dead is a detailed design of skyscrapers, castles, and huts; the entrance for the realm of the living is a nice touch with a registration turnstile leading to a mystical bridge of flowers. Miguel’s best dog pal follows him into the Land of the Dead as a spirit animal, donning the appearance of an otherworldly creature that looks as though he took a neon bath. The Pixar animators find plenty of fun stuff to do with bones in the Land of the Dead, from Hector’s juggling of limbs to the wild artistic performances of skeleton Frida Kahlo.

The voice cast is an effortless mix of mostly Latino actors that put forth their best performances and never try to chew the CGI scenery. This especially impressive when you consider the small roles for the likes of Cheech Marin, Gabriel Iglesias and Edward James Olmos that blend effortlessly into their skeleton characters, none of them taking you out of the movie. Even the obligatory Pixar inclusion of John Ratzenberger is alluding my memory at the moment.

Of course, for a movie about music, there’s impressive soundtrack. Michael Giacchino provides another stellar score, while the singing talents of Benjamin Bratt, Gael García Bernal, and Anthony Gonzalez provide unforgettable melodies. I’m going to have to let them stew a while, but these very well could be some of Disney’s best songs for a Pixar production.

Coco indeed isn’t the first animation to construct a fantastical afterlife for the Day of the Dead. The Book of Life offered up a stylish and manic presentation amid a love triangle and the video game Grim Fandango staged an art deco world for a noir story of finding your way to the next life. But Coco easily surpasses all of these previous incarnations with a stunningly beautiful location, a sound enough grounding of the afterlife mechanics and an emotionally engaging story that breeds buckets of tears. It’s a surprisingly intricate tale and is rather grim for the elements it weaves, but it’s a masterpiece of a film for being so tender, melodic and hilarious for the whole family for a picture with murder, the afterlife, and skeletons.


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