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Pixar’s ‘Coco’ is a cultural adventure with many twists and turns, but ultimately finds its way to your heart

Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures/Pixar Animation Studios

There are three key elements that come to mind when I think of Pixar movies: creativity, adventure and emotion.

Despite minor setbacks, the latest Pixar movie, “ Coco” manages to tackle each element brilliantly, making it a film the whole family can enjoy.

The animated film follows the story of Miguel Rivera ( Anthony Gonzalez), a young Mexican boy with dreams of becoming a musician amidst his music-loathing family. Their hatred of music began generations earlier when Miguel’s great-great grandfather left his family to pursue a music career and never returned, leaving his great-great grandmother to raise their daughter on her own. After stealing the guitar of his musical idol Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt) to go against his family and perform in a talent show during Día de los Muertos, Miguel is transported to the Land of the Dead. Here, those ancestors remembered by the living travel to Earth to visit family before sunrise. Miguel embarks on a journey to retrieve a blessing from music-loving Ernesto in order to return home before he is trapped in the Land of the Dead forever.

Coco
Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures/Pixar Animation Studios

The artwork captivates audiences in a way that is absolutely breathtaking. Vibrant colors and bright lights set the scene of the traditional holiday, in which the dead are celebrated and decorations transform bones into majestic works of art. While viewers will leave knowing more about the holiday than before, it is done in a way that doesn’t feel didactic. Spanish music and language is embedded throughout the film as well, immersing audiences in a culture that transcends beyond the holiday without becoming a musical. Most of all, Pixar successfully delivers a creative, magical experience built on the stories of various Mexican families to tell a story deeply rooted in the connections we share with our loved ones.

When it comes to the adventure aspect however, the film runs into a few issues. The storyline seems slightly convoluted, packed with elements meant to progress the plot but often ends in confusion. For example, although Miguel turning into a skeleton should give audiences a sense of urgency, it easily gets lost amongst so much other action in the film. His family wants to take him home as quickly as possible, but it feels like it is motivated by the need to fulfill his great-great grandmother’s wishes rather than to prevent him from becoming a total skeleton. Also, throughout the plot, Miguel performs at talent shows and other events in the Land of the Dead that feel parallel to the living world. It becomes hard to determine if Pixar wants to transport the viewer to an entirely different world, or simply recreate the same world we live in by filling it with a bunch of bright lights and people who happen to be dead.

Coco
Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures/Pixar Animation Studios

For a while, it felt as though there was something missing from the film. Nonetheless, where the film lacked in adventure guidance, it was strengthened by emotion that helped drive the plot further. Dark stories of betrayal are balanced with various styles of humor, telling a story the whole family can get invested in. As the internal conflict of several characters became clearer, viewers see a sense of growth that strengthens the familial bond between the characters onscreen. The next thing you know, you have tears in your eyes and you’re sitting there hoping the kids next to you can’t hear your sobs.

Is it really a good Pixar movie if you aren’t a blubbering mess at some point during the film? I think not.

Overall, “Coco” manages to teach audiences more about the significance of the holiday of Día de los Muertos and presents it in a way that stays true to the extraordinary artistic scenery. Raw voices tell a story of a love for music and family with sprinkles of bilingualism to dig deeper into Mexican culture. Although the journey can feel overwhelming at times, the twists and turns of drama keep the excitement alive, making the tension of the final scene more impactful. Sit tight and get ready for an emotional roller coaster because this film is definitely worth watching, at least once.

Grade: A-

cjames@theeagleonline.com


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