Coco tells the story of Miguel Rivera (Anthony Gonzalez), a small-town Mexican boy with dreams of becoming an accomplished musician, much like his idol Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). The Rivera family, shoe-makers in occupation, have a generations-old “no music” ban in the household, causing Miguel to resort to extreme actions in his journey of accomplishing his dreams. During his town’s Dia de Los Muertos celebration, Miguel finds himself being transported to the Land of the Dead. Here, Miguel meets Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal), who attempts to help Miguel get back home before sunrise. Along the way, Miguel learns valuable lessons in accomplishing one’s dreams, the power of music, and family.
As my absolute favorite movie studio, it pains me to admit that Pixar has been on a rather “meh” streak lately. Excluding the fantastic Inside Out in 2015, almost all of Pixar’s films since Toy Story 3 have fallen squarely in the “meh” to “it was pretty good” range (Monsters University, Brave, The Good Dinosaur, Finding Dory, Cars 3). Now while I wouldn’t categorize any of these films as outright bad (I very much like every single one of those films), they’re a long way away from being in the same conversation as Pixar’s prior classics, such as The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Finding Nemo, Toy Story and Wall-E, just to name a few. The studio gave us Inside Out in 2015 and showed everyone that they, in fact, still got it, and were VERY much capable of putting out incredible new IPs. Coco is that new reminder, and may very well be the best Pixar movie since Toy Story 3 in 2010.
Coco‘s use of Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and Mexican culture serves as much more than just a backdrop for the film, but it’s own character. Coco truly brings it’s culture to life for its viewers with outstanding visuals, eye-popping colors, and an immense amount of heart. There’s a reason this is currently the highest-grossing film of all time in Mexico at the moment. No film in recent memory has done as excellent a job in bringing Mexican culture and heritage to life than Coco. The music, the accents, the lifestyle, the clothing, the sense of familial heritage. The film doesn’t feel like it’s trying to capture and recreate the Mexican culture, it is Mexican culture. Although not Mexican myself, I am from Hispanic heritage and grew up in a Hispanic family very similar to the one in Coco, and I’m sure that many fellow Hispanics would agree that not only is this film immensely relatable to Mexican families, but Hispanics from all over Central and South America.
The film does a beautiful job of constructing the film’s narrative around its central characters. Each family member (both in the living and the ones in the Land of the Dead) manage to push the plot forward in organic ways. Dante, Miguel’s dog companion, could easily have gone the way of “annoying animal sidekick” the frequently plagues Disney films, but even Dante subverted those tropes and manage to push the story forward, coming through in crucial parts of the film to help Miguel on his journey. Most of the family members (the more prevalent ones in the film) are fleshed out with interesting and engaging backstories. A beautiful score from Micahel Giacchino and an absolutely spectacular soundtrack, you can pen Coco in as a nominee for the “Best Original Score” category and you can mail Pixar it’s Oscar for “Best Original Song” for the immensely catchy “Remember Me.”
Each twist and turn is beautifully handled, and while seemingly obvious in the moment, is never cheap or unearned. The film builds itself up to its crescendo of emotion very carefully, and while now a staple of Pixar films, still manages to be subverted and surprising, and results in one of the most beautiful moments in film of the year.
While certainly not churning out masterpiece after masterpiece like before, Pixar has shown time and time again they are more than capable of producing refreshing, quality films. Coco is no different. A bonafide Pixar/Disney classic, I’ll be surprised if it isn’t contending for a spot on many people’s “Top Pixar Films of all Times” lists. It certainly is on mine.