Pixar takes a venture into the land of the dead: ‘Coco’ review

Dying has never looked so fun.

After releasing something of a stumbling block named Cars 3 earlier this summer, the animation empire known as Pixar has returned with a new original property — Coco.

Coco follows a young, aspiring musician named Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), growing up in Mexico. While Miguel hopes to someday follow his dreams and become a famous guitar player like his hero — Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt) — did, his family has other plans for his future.

Miguel’s family doesn’t just dislike or not approve of a couple different genres of music, no. They hate the entire art for itself. It all relates back to Miguel’s great-great-grandfather, who walked out on the family long ago to become a musician.

Since then, the family has turned to shoe-making as a means to get by, and won’t stand for anything music related. Even a foot-tap would be convinced as too much by Miguel’s Abuelita (Renee Victor).

However, despite his better judgment, Miguel’s passions are too strong to be put on the back-burner. After landing a chance to show off his guitar in the town’s square on the Day of the Dead, he decides to proceed without telling his family.

That’s when everything goes wrong. Through a series of whimsical mishaps, Miguel doesn’t end up singing for the town — he ends up in the land of the dead.

Credit: YouTube

Which sounds like it would be terrifying and scary, but it’s actually not. The dead, at least in Mexican culture and in Coco, have it pretty good. They live in this great, enormous world and, on this night only, their allowed to return to the land of the living to see their ancestors (should their ancestors remember to put their picture out, of course).

On arriving in the land of the dead, Miguel finds his deceased family who is all surprised to see him. They offer to help bring him back to the real world on one condition: he gives up his dreams of becoming a musician and returns to the family business.

While Miguel loves his family and wants to make them proud, he knows he can make no such promise. So he, along with his new undead friend Héctor (Gael García Bernal), set off on an adventure in the land of the dead to try and sort everything out.

Credit: YouTube

First and foremost, Pixar gets credit for taking the culture and traditions in Coco so seriously. Much like last year’s Moana, this represents Disney attempting to branch out from their typical fairy-tale prince and princess who, more often than not, just so happen to be white. Coco is a celebration of Mexican heritage and values, telling the story of those who may not have had an opportunity to have been heard before.

The world that Pixar creates is also a breathtaking one. The animation is drop-dead gorgeous, and the land of the dead is overflowing with imagination. It’s a world that feels inhabited and lived in, with well-defined rules and characters that inhabit it, making us want to spend time exploring it along with Miguel and Hector.

Credit: YouTube

While Pixar breaks new ground in these terms, the story doesn’t exactly fall onto the same page. They aren’t really covering unprecedented territory here — we’ve seen the young artist learning to follow his dreams despite the obstacles that stand in his way done before in many, many movies. The plot-points are also all relatively predictable, as most audience members will likely see the big “reveal” coming from miles away.

That doesn’t, however, take away from the effect that it may have. While Coco may follow a worn storyline, Pixar knows how to crank up the emotions while they do so. The film is an emotionally crafted one — especially in the last ten minutes or so, which reaches Up levels of sensitiveness, making everyone leave the theater in tears.

Coco also brings in a welcome host of new characters, all lovable in one way or another. The biggest stand-out of the bunch, for me at least, was Héctor. At first, Héctor felt like he was going to be an annoying comic-relief character. However, as the story progressed, more and more layers were revealed about him and Héctor becomes something else entirely. By the time the film ends, he’s given the full Pixar treatment and has become his own memorable and amiable personality.

Miguel, along with his stay dog Dante, is the one who obviously takes us through this journey, and Anthony Gonzalez — who’s new to the acting business — does a great job at voicing him as well.

Coco
Credit: YouTube

The problem with Pixar is that they’ve done such ground-breaking work in the past, each new film that comes out is expected to raise the bar even higher. After Inside Out, I’m partially convinced that’s as high as the bar can get, and Coco never quite reaches those levels. Coco isn’t going to re-define animation for generations to come, but it’s still an impressively well made and competent movie that knows what it wants to do and does a good job at doing it. If you’re searching for that film the whole family can enjoy this holiday weekend, look no further than Coco.

Watch the trailer for Coco here and let us know what you thought of the film in the comments below!

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Pixar takes a venture into the land of the dead: 'Coco' review
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Brandon Schreur

The fella over there with the hella good hair. Movies and TV are my jam, and the fact that I get to write about them on a regular basis is the bees knees.