It took 80 years since the first feature length animation (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs) was released, for Disney to realize that there are Hispanic people in this world. It only took Pixar 22 years, but since their first feature length film (Toy Story) was released in 1995, we won’t be handing out gold medals just yet.
Coco tells the story of Miguel (Anthony Gonzales), a young Mexican boy, who loves music and wants to achieve stardom. However, his family of shoemakers hates music because it broke up their family three generations prior when Miguel’s great-great grandfather abandoned his family to purse a musical career. Nevertheless, Miguel spends much of the movie rebelling against his Papa (Jaime Camil) and his Abuelita (Renée Victor). Rebellion causes Miguel to make the mistake of stealing Ernesto de la Cruz’s (the “greatest” musician of all time) guitar from his grave and strumming it. This is a big no-no as it is Dia De Muertos (Day of the Dead). This offense lands Miguel in the land of the dead.
Most of the film happens in the land of the dead. Coco does a fantastic job of really blending together colors. The amount of colors represented in the dead city, a kaleidoscope of rising towers of memory, is incredibly vibrant and juxtaposed well from a realm that is filled with the deceased. In the land of the dead Miguel meets his long-gone relatives, including his great-great grandmother, Mamá Imelda (Alanna Ubach), who basically gave the big F-you to all musicians.
Miguel meets other relatives too, but they aren’t well developed. We know their names because Miguel has seen their pictures on his ofrenda, but we don’t find out anything about them, their prior lives, or how they died. For a film about family, there’s not much family. In fact, we don’t find out much about Miguel’s living family either. Still, Miguel is given the chance by Mamá Imelda to return back to land of the living if he gives up music. That would be a no-no.
Instead, Miguel spends most of Coco on the run from his family. While on the run, he bumps into Hector (Gael García Bernal), a forgotten soul who can’t visit the land of the living on Dia De Muertos. Instead, Hector has to resort to disguising himself at a “land of the dead” check point, or running past check point security. With each attempt to visit his daughter, and quite literally the land of milk and honey, he’s stopped. The parallels with immigration are incredibly noticeable.
Hector is probably the highlight of the film, as he’s really the only character that has any depth to him. The rest of the characters are pretty much played-out cliches, even Miguel. Coco, follows the line of Moana, Mulan, the Little Mermaid, the Lion King, Inside/Out, or another Disney/Pixar film of children running away from the adults who don’t understand them. The same cliche can also be found in Dante, a dog/alebrije, who fulfills the same wacky animals that’s seen in Moana and Finding Dory. That’s the biggest issue with Coco, it thinks that making a story about Mexican culture is enough. When really it’s the same old story, but with different colors.
Nevertheless, Coco isn’t without its triumphs. It is commendable that Disney did not perform the songs strictly in English. Instead, it mixes English and Spanish. Before you wonder why that might be too easy to applaud, check Mulan.
Additionally, though it tells the same story again, with little character development, it is a story worth telling. In a country with an ever increasing Hispanic and Mexican population, a film like Coco should have come around a long time ago. For the most part, Coco worships and venerates Mexican heritage, and employs a mostly Mexican cast.
Also, the jokes are incredibly funny, especially the constant use of chanclas. However, they do run their course as the film becomes more serious (this might be the least jokey Pixar/Disney film since Up). Also, the songs are fantastic. Of the songs, “Remember Me” is probably the most memorable.
Coco continues the line of strong Pixar/Disney showings, even if it doesn’t tread completely new ground. Still, it is a movie that will make you cry by the end.
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Photo Credit: Indiewire