FlixChatter Review – COCO (2017)

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Directed By: Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina
Written By: Lee Unkrich, Jason Katz , Matthew Aldrich & Adrian Molina
Runtime: 1h 49min

Before I get into this review, I want to address one of the main arguments I’ve heard about it: that Coco is a rip-off of DreamWorks’s 2013 film The Book of Life. I don’t think this is a fair assessment. The only major similarity is that they’re both centered around Dia de Los Muertos, the Mexican holiday honoring the dead. Besides that, each movie has different storylines, tones, and animation styles. If there are going to be two movies about a holiday from an underrepresented culture, all the better.

The young protagonist Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez)

Coco is the story of Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), a young aspiring musician whose family bans music from their home after Miguel’s great-great grandfather abandoned his wife and daughter (Miguel’s great-grandmother, Mama Coco, played by Ana Ofelia Murguía) to become a famous musician. On El Dia de los Muertos, Miguel breaks into the tomb of his idol, the famous Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), to borrow his guitar for a talent contest. As soon as he strums the strings, he is transported to The Land of the Dead, where, along with his new friend and guide Hector (Gael García Bernal) he learns more about his family and their past, and the role music has played in it.

Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt)

This is easily my new favorite Pixar movie. The story is so unique, and there are some surprisingly dire stakes and dark twists, but it’s still accessible to all ages. Yes, it’s a kids’ movie, but it’s a kids movie that is centered around a holiday dedicated to the dead, which isn’t exactly a light subject. The film handles the subject beautifully, though, sending a strong message about the importance of family and remembering lost loves ones, passing stories from generation to generation. And, of course, the end of the movie will make you cry, because PIXAR THRIVES ON YOUR TEARS. If I had to nitpick, I’d say that some of the exposition about Dia de Los Muertos felt like someone reading from a Spanish textbook, not like a grandmother (Renee Victor as Abuelita) explaining it to her grandson (Anthony Gonzalez as Miguel), who would presumably know about the holiday already anyway. It’s not a huge deal, but it still stood out to me.

Renee Victor as the voice of Abuelita

A strong script like this requires a strong cast to bring it to life, and the cast of Coco is fantastic, but there are a couple actors who especially stand out. Anthony Gonzalez is incredibly talented for such a young actor; he manages to be endearing without being cloying and holds his own alongside veteran performers. Gael García Bernal (AKA my celebrity husband ever since I saw El Crimen del Padre Amaro in college) is wonderful as Hector, giving both excellent comedic delivery as well as genuinely touching, emotional performances.

In addition to the acting, the cast is made up of incredible singers. The music in this movie is easily my favorite thing about it, blending a mix of classic Mexican folk songs with original pieces. The styles range from ranchera to Golden Age Mexican cinema ballads, and it’s all masterfully performed by the cast. Anthony’s voice is angelic but surprisingly full; I was delighted when he first burst into “Un Poco Loco,” his big number he performs with Hector. I had no idea Gael could sing so well (my only experience hearing him was in the baffling cover of “I Want You to Want Me” in Rudo y Cursi), but he has such a warm, rich tone, and his lullaby version of “Remember Me” is heart-wrenching.

Miguel with Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal)

I didn’t realize Benjamin Bratt, the actor who voices famous musician Ernesto de la Cruz, could sing as well; I had to check IMDB after hearing his smooth, booming voice to make sure it was actually him singing (the insanely talented Antonio Sol sings for the character for “The World is Mi Familia” and “La Llorona,” but Bratt holds his own in “Remember Me” and “Much Needed Advice”). The musical show stealer, though, is Alanna Ubach as Mama Imelda. Her rendition of “La Llorona” toward the end of the movie is phenomenal. My only complaint is that its her only full song in the movie.

Miguel with Mama Imelda (Alanna Ubach)

The only thing more vibrant than this film’s soundtrack is, of course, its animation. Pixar has really outdone itself with this movie. It’s as technically impressive as its predecessors, with incredibly realistic detail, but Coco is so much more colorful and imaginative than anything I’ve seen from them so far. Their interpretation of the Land of the Dead is breathtaking, and the way they animate the movement of its skeletal citizens is so creative. I especially love the brightly-colored alebrijes, these fantastical creatures ranging from cute and goofy to majestic and intimidating. There’s too much to take in in one viewing-so, obviously, I plan on watching this multiple times.

Not only is this my new favorite Pixar movie, it’s my favorite movie I’ve reviewed this year. It’s incredibly well-written, the acting is solid, the music is moving, and the animation is visually stunning. I strongly recommend checking this out if you get the chance. You will not be disappointed.

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Have you seen ‘COCO’? Well, what did you think?