Many years ago the notion that an animated film could be considered the best of any given year was preposterous. Then in 1991 the Academy Awards acknowledged Beauty and the Beast as one of the five “Best Picture” nominees. Since then, professional critics and casual fans have felt justified in heaping deserved praise on animated films. Since their debut with Toy Story in 1995, Disney/Pixar has dominated the conversation for excellence in animation; that conversation continues with the inclusion of Coco.
Pixar’s Coco follows a young Mexican boy named Miguel as he traverses the Land of the Dead on Dia de Muertos. Along the way he learns of the joy of music and the importance of family. Coco is filled with a heart that rivals that of it’s Pixar predecessors. Visually, it is the most stunning Disney/Pixar film to date. In fact, it might be the most stunning animated film I’ve ever seen.
This film has proven to be a hit among general audiences however, the positive response of Mexican audiences is of the utmost importance. It’s easy for a powerhouse company like Disney to take the celebrations and customs of Dia de Muertos and appropriate them to fit a formula. Instead, Disney carefully crafted a film that is applauded and celebrated by the Mexican people. Much like 2016’s Moana, Disney made sure that Coco had several consultants and producers dedicated to maintaining a level of cultural authenticity and sensitivity. I am no expert in Mexican culture but the widespread response of approval has eased any fears in misappropriation of a people’s culture in Coco.
There are inevitable comparisons between Disney/Pixar’s Coco and the 2014 film The Book of Life. The two films may have a similar setting and premise but are quite different in execution. The Book of Life is a fantasy tale with very modern sensibilities. It features fun covers of modern songs and traditional famous voices like Channing Tatum and Ice Cube. There is nothing inappropriate in the use of a Mexican setting in The Book of Life but it does not have the same dedication to tradition and culture that is in Coco. Both films are enjoyable but they’re very different and both worthy of consumption.
Most of Pixar’s films are set in some version of our world; Coco breaks from the pack as much of the film is set in the Land of the Dead. This beautiful setting is supported by excellent writing, character development, and pacing. The characters and rules are seamlessly woven into the script and story. Disney/Pixar has raised the bar with a stable of films that don’t just rely on bright colors and catchy songs. They maintain the same level of excellence through all aspects of the film; writing, voice acting, singing, visuals, to name a few.
Speaking of visuals, it isn’t hyperbole that Coco might be the most gorgeous animated film ever. The design of the Land of the Dead is gorgeous and bright. There are dozens of layers of intricacy behind every background piece. The set design and color scheme are supported by unparalleled visual effects. There are several moments where the CGI is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. Coco is a must watch on a big screen.
One of the reasons Coco has proven to be so popular among audiences is the portrayal of the generational gap between the main character Miguel and his abuela. Miguel’s desire to be a musician is against everything his family stands for; an experience that can be found in countless families across the world. Families of color in particular suffer through this type of internal conflict. In Coco, the motivation behind the backlash towards music and creativity is almost comically silly but it remains a struggle that young people of color identify with.
Miguel Rivera can rise as the voice of a generation for young adults from immigrant families. Almost every successful artist out there has faced the resistance that Miguel suffers through in this film. The message behind the film is supported so strongly by how beautifully the film is crafted. It’s like every creator that worked on the film was inspired by Miguel and his family’s journey towards accepting the joy of art and music. If your pursuit of art or music was discouraged by a family member then I highly recommend watching Coco.
There are several painfully average animated films released every year where anthropomorphic animals sing popular tunes and teach life lessons straight out of fortune cookies. Coco is the antithesis to those shoddily thrown together films. It is wonderfully written, emotionally heavy, musically original, and has a beautifully crafted world. Don’t let it go out of theaters without your patronage.